Saturday, July 08, 2006

New Era?

Jaunais Laiks (New Era Party) emerged in 2002, on a promise of fighting corruption. After 2002 election, New Era Party leader Einars Repse became the prime minister of Latvia. His coalition government only lasted for slightly more than a year but the New Era Party now leads municipal governments in several cities, including Riga.

This week, I saw two news stories on what the New Era Party has become:

The first story reveals interesting coincidences between decisions by national and city governments and large donations to the New Era Party. One example. "Ionica" company signs a 70,000 lat (100,000 euro) contract with city of Riga (whose mayor, Aigars Aksenoks belongs to the New Era Party) for creating an open-air skating rink. On the same day, the owner of the company donates 9,960 lats to the New Era Party. The article from "Diena" newspaper reveals several other stories similar to this one.

The second story involves the city government of Jurmala, a sea-side resort town. The city is lead by mayor Inese Aizstrauta who used to belong to New Era Party, until she was expelled from it a few days ago. The conflict between her and the party was over the city development plan which determines which parts of the city are open to new construction. Many parts of Jurmala are fairly prestigious places to live. Free land is scarce and a lot of it is protected for enviromental reasons. As a result, permits to build new buildings can be very valuable.

According to Aizstrauta, she was pressured by Dans Titavs (an influential New Era member who used to be one of two aides to New Era's prime minister Repse) to allow several construction projects to go ahead. Aizstrauta-lead city council voted for the development plan without Titavs-supported projects. In a few days, New Era party declared that the development plan was corrupt and expelled Aizstrauta, together with two other New Era city council members, from the party.

Meet the New Era. Same as Old Era?

Aizstrauta says that she joined the party hoping to change Latvia for better. But later, she discovered that there is "another New Era" of people who abuse popular trust in selfish interests. Besides Titavs, she named party's secretary-general Edgars Jaunups as one of those people.

For myself, I will be even more skeptical of political parties that promise an end to "politics as usual".

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