Sunday, February 03, 2008

Latvian opposition crisis: three days later

For now, New Era Party (Jaunais Laiks) has lost 4 of its 18 MPs: Ina Druviete, Kārlis Šadurskis, Sandra Kalniete and Ilma Čepāne. The fifth supposed defector, Uldis Grava, decided to stay in the party. The party also lost a number of regional leaders, including almost all the chairmen of the local New Era organizations in the Vidzeme region. There are rumours about more defections next week.

This is the biggest split in a Latvian political party in about 10 years. And it's very high profile people leaving: in 2006 elections, Kalniete and Druviete were #1 and #2 by the number of individual votes among all New Era candidates. Čepāne was #5, Šadurskis was #8.

Here is what is a roundup of what various parties are saying:

The New Era official story

The current coalition is directing government investment to towns where the local governments are controlled by their allies. The towns with New Era mayors are being bypassed. Regretably, this has made some of local New Era leaders to switch parties so that their towns would finally get some money for school repairs etc. As for MPs, some of them (e.g. Kalniete) have been conspiring to destroy New Era from within for a while.

My opinion: the current coalition directing funds to their favorites? Likely true. Is that the main reason for the mass defection? I doubt that. Among the defectors, there's a fair number of people who do not hold positions with any local government and, thus, do not depend on funds distributed by the coalition. And Kalniete being an agent of the coalition, after the same coalition mistreated her in 2004 by not reappointing her to European Commision... that's simply ridiculous.

Defector's stories

The stories vary by the person. Some of defectors say that they wanted New Era to be in the Godmanis' new coalition government, which was formed in December. Others say they want to stay in the opposition.

The common thread is that they complain about their opinions being ignored. During the coalition negotiations in December, the key decisions were made by the party chairman and very small number of people around him, leaving the rest of party leadership out. This is not uncommon in Latvian politics. But New Era was supposed to be a different type of party, with more democratic decision-making within the party. And it didn't turn out that way.

What's next

The New Era Party chairman Krišjānis Kariņš has taken responsibility for the crisis and resigned. The party will elect a new chair on March 1. This will likely lead to the party's founder Einars Repše and the people around him consolidating power.

People's Party is trying to talk the defectors into joining it. People's Party defector
Aigars Štokenbergs also wants them to join his new party. And the defectors are talking about starting a new party themselves, possibly together with some MPs from the current coalition who don't feel happy there.

In short, we will probably see more than one new political party in Latvia between now and next spring's municipal election. And there will be more defections from the existing parties in the process.

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