Latvia's first woman PM wins confidence vote

2014-01-22 16:48
Laimdota Straujuma (Picture: AFP)

Laimdota Straujuma (Picture: AFP)

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Riga - Latvia's parliament on Wednesday gave the green light to a new centre-right coalition government led by its first ever woman prime minister.

Laimdota Straujuma, aged 62, won the parliamentary vote after Valdis Dombrovskis stepped down over a supermarket roof collapse that killed dozens in the capital Riga in November.

The technocrat and former agriculture minister won by 64 votes to 27 with two abstentions, in the 100-seat parliament.

She heads a broad coalition commanding a solid 66-seats comprising four of the five parties represented, plus six independent MPs.

Straujuma vowed in parliament to continue Dombrovskis's austerity-oriented economic policies during her nine months of power in the run-up to October's general election.

"The government will be professional and enthusiastic. We are ready for lots of serious work. We'll work together and work honestly", she told lawmakers.

Dombrovskis stepped down on 27 November saying he took "political responsibility" for the deadly roof cave-in that killed 54 people and so far not disclosed his plans for the future.

Dead end economy

The 42-year-old trained physicist then presided over Latvia's entry into the eurozone on 1 January, the central goal of his administration in a caretaker capacity.

Polls just prior to entry showed only a fifth of people in the austerity-weary nation favoured the changeover while nearly 60% opposed it.

This can be explained by the fact that Latvians were asked to a take steep pay cuts amid a deep recession as the government pushed on to meet eurozone entry targets.

Straujuma's coalition adds the small Greens and Farmers' Union (ZZS) party to Dombrovskis's previous right-of-centre trio including the Unity party, Reform Party and the National Alliance.

Lawmaker Igors Pimenovs of the pro-Russian leftist Harmony Centre party, now the sole opposition party, on Wednesday slammed the coalitions plan to press on with tight spending.

"It is a road to nowhere and will lead to a dead end economy", Pimenovs said.

Populism

But those policies have driven a spectacular recovery from the world's deepest recession in 2008-2009 during the global financial crisis.

Latvia is now expected to top the EU's gross domestic product (GDP) growth rankings for a third consecutive year when 2013 data is released next month.

President Andris Berzins has urged the new government to steer clear of populism before the October general election and European Parliament elections due in May.

"This is a government based on reasonable compromise", Berzins said in a Tuesday endorsement.

Straujuma served as agriculture minister since 2011, a key post in a country with a strong farmers' lobby.

She is widely regarded as having done a good job in demanding a better subsidy deal from Brussels for Latvian farmers under the common agricultural policy .

Straujuma, who had held the portfolio as a non-partisan, was given fast-track membership in the Unity political party in order to become their official nominee for the head of government.

The portly technocrat is compared at home to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and known for an endearing giggle and slightly professorial, absent-minded manner.

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