Latvia’s New Government Faces a Steep Learning Curve

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Latvia’s New Government Faces a Steep Learning
Curve

New Prime Minister Einars Repse has formed a
government dominated by political babes.

The former central banker founded the New Era
(JL) party a year ago on promises to fight corruption and renew
people’s faith in government. The JL controls nine cabinet posts,
including foreign affairs, which it gave to an independent, Sandra
Kalniete.

The conservative, Christian-oriented Latvia’s
First Party (LPP) earned four cabinet seats, and the Greens’ and
Farmers’ Union (ZZS) three. Both are also newcomers to politics.
The LPP’s key posts are the ministries of economy and social
policy, while ZZS members will take the agriculture and environment
jobs. The ZZS was also given the post of parliament speaker.

The only “old soldier” in the coalition,
nationalist conservative For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK),
controls the defense and transport ministries.

In his first speech as prime minister, Repse
promised to narrow the divide between the ruling elite and the
people. He also repeated his pre-election slogans on fighting
corruption, introducing transparency and openness into politics,
and solving social problems. The new cabinet plans to bring health
care spending up to the European Union average of 7 percent of
gross domestic product. The 2002 budget allots about half that much
to health care.

Repse wants to turn around the previous
government’s deficit spending policies, mainly through more
efficient collection of taxes.

With the promise to bring a new era to Latvia,
Repse also created a new ministry for social integration and
parceled out some of the Welfare Ministry’s responsibilities to the
ministers for health care and children and family affairs.

Another new post, that of deputy prime minister,
was a compromise solution to the LLP’s demand for a greater stake
in the government, said Aldis Berzins, editor in chief of the daily
Neatkariga Rita Avize.

But while the coalition parties showed “their
will to sit in as many ministries as possible,” Berzins added, they
failed to live up to the call for more transparent and open
decision-making in the process of forming a government.

Several political analysts echoed his opinion.
“The parties did not explain the ‘why’ behind their interest in a
specific ministerial post. We could clearly see their ambitions,
but not their policies,” political scientist Ivars Indans told
TOL.

Coalition talks also revealed a squabble between
the Greens’ and Farmers’ Union and Latvia’s First–and the parties’
financial sponsors–over the Economy Ministry. The split could
hamper the new cabinet’s work, especially on the budget.

A more formidable obstacle may await the
government in the form of strong and experienced opposition
parties–the former ruling People’s Party (TP) and the leftist
political union For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL).

A pressing task for the new government is to win
the support of the bureaucrats behind the scenes at the
ministries.

“Many of the new ministers, who are now making
their first steps in the political arena, will have to learn a lot.
So the question is whether the experienced bureaucrats will want to
help the newcomers,” Indans said.

Veteran officials and newcomers alike will have
to work together in the coming days and months to smooth Latvia’s
invitation to join NATO at the 21-22 November summit in Prague and
accession to the European Union from the beginning of next
year.

Repse says he will continue the present
Western-oriented foreign and defense policies, and has allowed
Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis to stay in his post.
Kristovskis has been widely praised for his efforts to bring Latvia
into NATO.

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