People’s Party votes to dissolve; Zatlers readies new movement

A longtime Latvian political party—once a darling among voters in the homeland and abroad—has thrown in the towel.

During its 15th annual congress on July 9 in Rīga, and at the urging of its leader Andris Šķēle, the conservative People’s Party (Tautas partija) voted to disband.

Meanwhile, former President Valdis Zatlers is readying his own political party, which would be expected to field candidates in a parliamentary election later this year should a July 23 referendum on dissolving the current Saeima succeed.

Šķēle, one of three oligarchs whose power in Latvian politics has been under fire, urged his party to close down in the face of not only its low ratings in opinion polls, but because the movement has suffered insurmountable damage to its reputation.

Referring to the party’s trademark color, Šķēle told the congress that “orange has become the new black,” according to a transcript of his speech posted on the party’s website.

“No matter what kind of proposals come from our party,” Šķēle said, “no matter what ideas our people express—no matter if they are a Saeima deputy, a city mayor, a rank-and-file member or just a simple supporter—what they say is taken as if it were a message from an apocalyptic monster.”

The party also faces having to pay nearly LVL 1.03 million to the government for allegedly violating Latvia’s campaign finance rules. The Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (Korupcijas novēršanas un apkarošanas birojs) found that the party illegally received and spent the money during the 2006 parliamentary election. The party has appealed the ruling.

Formed in 1998, the People’s Party appeared to represent a break from the political stagnation in which Latvia found itself just a few years after regaining its independence. The party presented itself as conservative and oriented to reform. At its head was Šķēle, who was viewed as a successful businessman.

In the 1998 parliamentary election, the People’s Party scored 21.19 percent of the vote and earned 24 seats in the Saeima. Among the 10,008 voters abroad, 33 percent supported the People’s Party, second to the more conservative For Fatherland and Freedom (Tēvzemei un Brīvībai/LNNK), which garnered 46 percent of diaspora balloting. MPs elected from the People’s Party included Vaira Paegle, who had spent most of her exile years in the United States.

Zatlers readies new party

Zatlers, whose term in office ended July 7, announced on July 9 that his next step in politics will be formation of the Reform Party.

The former surgeon, much criticized when he was elected president four years ago, has become a folk hero in Latvia. His announcement May 28 that he was using his consitutional power to call for the dissolution of the Saeima came just a week before his possible reelection by the parliament.

Zatlers lost the vote to Andris Bērziņš, a member of the Union of Greens and Farmers (Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība) who took the presidential oath of office on July 8.

However, Zatlers is riding a wave of popularity ahead of the July 23 referendum. (Under the Latvian constitution, the president may initiate a national referendum on dissolving the parliament.) Should the referendum succeed—and many observers believe it will—a new parliamentary election would be scheduled for the autumn.

Zatlers told a July 9 press conference in Rīga that the party will be formally founded on July 23, according to press reports.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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