Lembergs opts not to run in election

Lembergs' decision to bow out of the race comes as he rides atop the latest polls for prime minister. Photo by Nora Krevneva.

RIGA – Aivars Lembergs, the seemingly unstoppable long-time Ventspils mayor, has announced he would not participate in the October election, but analysts don’t doubt the leader of the Greens and Farmers Union will remain active in Latvian politics.

“I’ve decided that I won’t be part of the election lists,” Lembergs told reporters Thursday. “This was a difficult decision since polls indicate that voter support would be great despite the campaign directed against me.”

Previously Lembergs, who remains the Greens and Farmers Union’s candidate for prime minister, had said that he would participate in the election if he was confident the party, now the largest in Saeima, would gain a majority of parliamentary seats in national elections. Only with a majority could he govern for four years and accomplish anything substantive, he previously said. While recent polls show Lembergs as the most popular candidate for prime minister by a wide margin, they also show his party lags far behind Harmony Center and Unity.

“If there isn’t such a result [parliamentary majority], then I’d have to stay in Parliament. I think my work in the Saeima would be less effective than in Ventspils,” Lembergs, who remains one of Latvia’s most popular politicians, said.

The Greens and Farmers Union had offered Lembergs to lead the party list in the Riga district, which would have placed him head-to-head against Ainars Šlesers, head of the Latvia’s Way/Latvia’s First Union, and Jānis Urbanovič, who leads the center-left Harmony Center.

Despite the decision, analysts believe that Lembergs, who has been Ventspils mayor since the 1980s, will remain a powerful force in national politics. Ivars Ijabs, a political scientist, said that the whole “decision-process” was for show and that Lembergs knew all along he would ballot for a seat in the Saeima.

“This circus…was necessary for self-advertisement, to remind society that Lembergs still exists,” Ijabs told the LETA agency.

“His decision not to participate in the election shows that he is quite comfortable in the backrooms playing the mystical guru who, if he wanted, could do everything well. But the fact is that he is not ready to accept responsibility,” Ijabs said.

Lembergs is still under investigation for graft and money laundering and sat nearly a year in pre-trial detention before being released. Nevertheless, in July 2009 he was re-elected as Ventspils mayor, showing the immense support he enjoys in the seaside town.

Lembergs is a notorious maverick in his political views, tirelessly criticizing the United States and NATO and often accusing billionaire George Soros for manipulating Latvian politics.

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