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Latvia: It's Out with The Old And In With 'New Era'

By Ieva Raubisko

Latvian voters have reaffirmed a trend since independence by voting into office an entirely new political party. "New Era," a new group headed by the former head of the central bank, came out on top in the 5 October parliamentary vote. A center-right coalition government, supporting Latvia's EU and NATO ambitions, looks like the most probable outcome. Latvia's Way will not be part of that. Latvia's longest-serving ruling party failed to clear the 5 percent threshold needed to get into parliament.

Riga, 7 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The center-right New Era party, lead by the former chief of the Latvia's central bank, was the biggest vote-getter in Latvian parliamentary elections on 5 October. New Era won about a quarter of all votes, securing 26 seats in the 100-strong Latvian parliament, the Saeima.

In choosing New Era, voters once again followed a trend in Latvian politics since independence by selecting an entirely new political party. New Era has no experience in government or opposition. It entered the political stage with promises to curb corruption.

Einars Repse, the leader of New Era, is internationally credited for Latvia's successful currency reform while heading the Latvian central bank in the 1990s. He told his colleagues and supporters during the election night there would be no corruption in his government: "Our government should not only be open and honest, it should be efficient, that is, professional. We have to completely forget and get rid of corruption, first of all, in the government and the highest echelons of power."

According to preliminary results, the center-left For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL) came in second with about 19 percent of the votes, good for 24 seats, thanks to the firm support of Latvia's Russian-speaking voters.

The right-of-center People's Party, the largest party in the outgoing Saeima, got 17 percent of the votes, securing 21 seats in the new parliament.

Latvia's Way, the party of current Prime Minister Andris Berzins and the longest-serving party in Latvia's government, suffered a shocking defeat, failing to overcome the 5 percent threshold needed to enter parliament. Analysts say the party, which had worked in all governments since 1993, gradually become estranged from its constituents.

Experts say the emergence of new parties in each of the last three elections shows that Latvian voters are constantly becoming dissatisfied with parties in power.

Arnis Kaktins, the director of the marketing and public-opinion research center SKDS, says another reason, largely based in Latvian history, is the lack of a clear-cut ideological structure with a stable balance between right-wing and left-wing political parties. Instead, new center-right organizations are created before every election.

Kaktins says, however, that he does not believe another big center-right party will arise: "Latvia is a small country, and the human resources here are very small. It looks like this year the new project -- [formation of] New Era -- took all people that had net yet been engaged in [in politics]. At the moment, I don't have the slightest idea who could engage in a new mega-project before the elections of the ninth Saiema [in four years]."

But Viktors Avotins, a columnist at the daily "Neatkariga Rita Avize," is not so sure. He thinks the relatively weak opposition in the new parliament will contribute to continued discontent.

"I think that with such a weak opposition, the negative momentum in the next Saeima will be even bigger [than in the outgoing parliament]. We all hope for some kind of a Messiah. It would be very good if Mr. Repse could carry out his promises fully. Will that be such an ideal success? We will see that in a while."

Repse is now engaged in forming a government but says he does not want the government to be bound by a coalition agreement. Instead cabinet ministers would be engaged as technocrats. People's Party leader Andris Skele, a former prime minister, disagrees, and is demanding a coalition agreement signed by all parties in the government.

One thing that is clear, though, is that the No.2 party, the PCTVL, is not likely to be part of any new government. PCTVL has been the main political force representing the interests of Russian-speakers in Latvia. Despite its popularity, center-right parties say they won't form a government with PCTVL because of the union's perceived pro-Moscow inclinations.