Prominent MEP switches parties ahead of election

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In the latest example of parties and politicians jockeying for position ahead of October parliamentary elections, a prominent MEP has announced he is switching his allegiance.

Artis Pabriks, a former Foreign Minister and Defense Minister confirmed June 3 he is leaving the Vienotiba (Unity) political party and joining the new For! political party.

"The decision was not easy, but I have decided to leave the Unity party to join For! I am sure that without a new wake-up in Latvian politics, without a small revolution in parliament and government, we will continue to stagnate," Pabriks wrote on Twitter.

He has been an MEP for Unity since 2014 and before that was a member of the People's Party when serving as Foreign Minister 2004-7. He was then part of the proto-party Society for Political Change which was eventually absorbed into what became Unity when various parties amalgamated, and served as Defense Minister 2010-14.

However, ever since the ousting of Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma - due entirely to bickering within the party, when it was riding high in both polls and political power - Unity's fortunes have collapsed catastrophically. Latest polls suggest it will be close call whether it actually makes it across the 5% threshold to get into Saeima.

For! meanwhile is a new liberal-oriented party that has in turn teamed up with another small liberal-leaning party called Attistibai (For Development). Projections are that this alliance too is hovering around the 5% threshold so may or may not win parliamentary seats. In fact the party was founded by six breakaway Saeima deputies from Unity - though they subsequently returned to the Unity fold.

Pabriks' defection reduces Unity's number of MEPs from 3 to 2, and Pabriks will now find himself battling against fellow MEP Krišjanis Karinš, who has been named as Unity's prime ministerial candidate in the October Saeima elections, Pabriks having signalled his willingness to participate in Saeima elections too.  

It is common practice for MEPs to be on Saeima election tickets while having no intention of swapping their seat in Brussels for a seat in Saeima, but at a press conference June 4 Pabriks explicitly said he was ready to lay aside his Brussels mandate and return to Latvia if elected, while hoping for "a new start in the Latvian Saeima."

However, he did not rule out running in the next European elections.

"We first need to win Saeima elections and then see what happens after that," Pabriks told reporters, adding that Latvia needed "a captain who is capable of steering the ship through unknown waters."



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