Latvia eyes broad coalition including pro-Russian party

15th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Latvia's political parties on Friday formally began moves to build a broad coalition government in the slump-hit Baltic nation, two weeks after the ruling centre-right won a general election.

Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said he had made an offer to four parties, including the pro-Russian left-wing opposition Harmony Centre.

"We've received an answer from Harmony Centre. They agreed, and we are ready to start talks," Dombrovskis told reporters after meeting with President Valdis Zatlers, who holds the power to name the government after an election.

Dombrovskis said the goal was to find as much support as possible in Latvia's 100-member parliament, ahead of more tough budget cuts and tax hikes aimed at stabilising the economy, as the nation of 2.2 million inches out of the world's deepest recession.

Zatlers was spending Friday meeting with leaders from across the political spectrum, among them Harmony Centre's Nils Usakovs.

"We are ready to start talks with Valdis Dombrovskis," Usakovs said after meeting with Zatlers.

No date for talks was set, Usakovs said. The new parliament's first sitting is on November 2.

Harmony Centre is mainly backed by Latvia's Russian-speaking minority, which makes up almost a third of the population.

It has long been seen as a political pariah because of its ties with the Kremlin, which ruled Latvia for five decades until the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991.

In addition to deep differences over the Soviet past and the fact that Latvian has since independence been the only official language, splits between Harmony Centre and other parties have more recently centred on how to tackle Latvia's economic crisis.

Dombrovskis's existing coalition -- his Unity movement and its allies the Greens and Farmers Union and ultra-right National Alliance -- won 63 seats in the election.

While that means it does not need Harmony Centre's 29 votes for a majority, analysts say Dombrovskis would be wise to get the left on side as more cuts loom.

Dombrovskis, in office since March 2009 after another centre-right coalition fell, is steering a draconian austerity drive under the terms of an international bailout.

Latvia, a 2004 EU entrant, enjoyed a spectacular boom but went off the rails in 2008.

© 2010 AFP

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