Politics experts weigh in on Ušakovs' Brussels bid

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The move by Rīga mayor Nils Ušakovs' (Harmony) and former vice-mayor Andris Ameriks (Honor to Serve Rīga) to partake in the European Parliament elections amounts to an elegant stratagem, political scientist and professor at the University of Latvia Faculty of Social Sciences Iveta Reinholde told Latvian Radio February 27.

Reinholde said that it will help preserve their public image, but it is likewise a signal that both Ušakovs and Ameriks want out of the critical situation that has arisen in the capital during their time in office.

She said that the Audit Office report, as well as the ongoing corruption probe and potholed roads are the most likely reasons why Ušakovs wants to leave the Rīga City Council.

"I am unable to tell you right now whether they will be able to escape punishment upon being elected to the European Parliament. But it's possible that it's part of the plan for them, because [upon being sent to Brussels] they'd be far enough from Latvia for the electorate to forget the matter," she said.

"Tactically speaking, it's maybe a smart move, but politically and strategically it gives a specific message, namely that these two misters are about to flee from what they've done in the Rīga City Council," said Reinholde.

Sociologist Aigars Freimanis, head of the Latvijas fakti pollster, said that Ušakovs' image in the eyes of his electorate is close to the ideal, and therefore he will be elected to the European Parliament. It's possible that Ušakovs' political "satellite" Ameriks will achieve the same goal.

However, remaining in power at the Rīga City Council and within the Harmony party would prove more challenging. 

"Nils Ušakovs' departure may, of course, lead to unpredictable changes inside the party and its electorate. On the other hand, clearly the party is sturdy enough to find a replacement, similarly to the way Nils Ušakovs was found. Before [becoming a member of Harmony], he had no relation to politics whatsoever," said Freimanis.

Meanwhile street interviews by Latvian Radio show that some Rīgans sympathize with Ušakovs while others think he's escaping problems.

"It's irresponsible. It's looking for salvation. Everyone's looking out for number one," said a Rīga local. Another man added: "I think it's not about defending Latvian interests, but rather their own."

"I don't think he's escaping. He's been the mayor of Rīga for long enough. I think he's not escaping or something, it's rather that he's bored here and wants to do something different in his life," said another Rīga local.

"I'm satisfied with his run as Rīga mayor. But people become dumb from all the good life there. The good life spoils people and they don't understand what we need anymore," said a woman Latvian Radio spoke to in Rīga.

As reported, Rīga mayor Nils Ušakovs, one of Latvia's highest-profile politicians, confirmed February 26 that he will run in European parliamentary elections in May.

In his announcement of his candidacy, Ušakovs tried to counter the suggestion that he is hoping to evade the clutches of a major anti-graft investigation involving the Rīga municipal transport company, Rigas Satiksme by fleeing to Brussels.

Standing next to Ušakovs, and also hoping to book a ticket to Brussels was Andris Ameriks, his former vice-mayor from the Honor to Serve Rīga party and still a board member at Rīga port. The partners in ambition said they intended to operate a joint party list in the elections.

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