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Latvian prime minister retains power after crucial confidence vote

Published on 05/02/2009

Riga -- Latvian Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis survived a vote of no confidence comfortably in the national parliament on Wednesday.

The motion against the embattled prime minister was lost by 40 votes to 51 after a debate lasting more than five hours.

"We are in the same situation as much of the rest of the world and it will require a lot of work — a lot," Godmanis told parliamentarians in a powerful address before the vote.

During the debate, opposition members accused Godmanis’ government of a range of failings including "criminal liability" for a collapsed economy. However, few laid the blame for Latvia’s troubles at his door.

Even some members of parties within the ruling coalition said that the prime minister was being forced to do the jobs of his ministers in addition to his own responsibilities. There is a general feeling that a capable prime minister with an unrealistic workload is leading an ineffective cabinet.

"People feel humiliated,” said opposition MP Sandra Kalniete. “They say how come I can be fired but the government can’t?"

Pressure has been building on Godmanis for months as the Latvian economy slipped into Europe’s deepest recession after decade of spectacular growth.

In December, his government brokered a 7.5-billion-euro (9.5- billion-dollar) international aid package with the help of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The introduction of a hard-hitting austerity package that cut public spending, raised taxes and slashed wages has proven particularly unpopular with the electorate. Unemployment is also rising.

Anti-government demonstrations on January 13 turned into the most serious civil unrest Latvia has experienced since it regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. On February 3, disgruntled farmers blockaded Riga with their tractors and forced the resignation of agriculture minister Martins Roze.

The tense mood in the Baltic state was reflected in the fact that during Wednesday’s session, police manned barriers around the parliament building and public access was restricted.

Despite winning the vote, Godmanis’ grip on power remains tenuous. Further pressure is being exerted by President Valdis Zatlers, who has issued a March 31 deadline for a range of constitutional reforms backed by a threat to call a referendum that would dissolve parliament.