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Cablegate: New Era Party in Disarray; Ponders Leadership Change

VZCZCXRO6899
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHRA #0168 0651241
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 061241Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY RIGA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3837
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS RIGA 000168

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR LG
SUBJECT: NEW ERA PARTY IN DISARRAY; PONDERS LEADERSHIP CHANGE


1. Summary. Following the removal of Riga mayor Aivars Aksenoks on
February 19, the New Era party has lost all of its positions of
political influence and may face the threat of disintegration. The
party's declining fortunes have prompted its board to call an
emergency congress on March 31 for a vote of confidence in its
leader Einars Repse. Many party members have hinted that Repse, who
founded the party and served as prime minister from 2002 - 04 may be
voted out. Repse, who still has loyal following in the party, has
vowed to fight for his position. End summary.

2. The center-right New Era (JL) party, the largest opposition
party in the Saeima, has announced that it will convene an emergency
congress on March 31 to "assess the political situation in the
country" and to "re-elect the party chairman and the board." After
the Riga City Council voted to oust New Era's mayor Aivars Aksenoks
on February 19, the party has virtually lost all political power in
the country and is struggling to survive. Moreover, there have been
increasing calls among the party members to dump its founder and
long-time leader Einars Repse in the hope of returning to the
political limelight. Former economy minister and JL parliamentary
faction head (and AMCIT) Krisjanis Karins has been mentioned as
Repse's successor although Repse has stated that he will not step
down and will run for party chairman again.

3. Comment: It appears increasingly likely that New Era will dump
Repse in March, although Repse's demise is often predicted and he
manages to hang on. The party's fortunes have been fading since it
left the governing coalition last April over what it felt was
insufficient action to deal with revelations that Transport Minister
Ainars Slesers had been involved in a scheme to influence the
election of the mayor of Jurmala. New Era's anti-corruption
position has made it anathema to other parties who complain that New
Era "doesn't understand how things are done in Latvia." Although it
has 18 seats in parliament, it could not win a place in the ruling
coalition following the October 2006 Saeima elections. In fact,
distaste for New Era often seems to be one of the uniting elements
of the current coalition. The last blow to JL was the ouster of
Riga mayor Aksenoks and the party's relegation to the opposition
ranks in rich Riga (which has a budget larger than the national
government), the last important New Era political bastion. To add
insult to injury, three New Era faction members in the Riga city
council defected and helped topple Aksenoks. Repse has reacted
calmly to all the turmoil and has kept a low profile, prompting even
some of his loyalists like Karlis Sadurskis and Linda Murniece to
express concern. There is a strong possibility that the election
could result in a split in the party, which would only weaken its
declining political influence. Realistically, if New Era wants to
have any influence in Latvian politics, it will have to either find
a way to build a stronger base of support or, more likely, bury the
hatchet with at least some of the ruling coalition parties,
particularly the People's Party.
BAILEY

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