On Thursday, 30 May, members of Riga City Council elected Dainis Turlais from Honour to Serve Riga (HSR) political party as Mayor of Riga.
No other candidate was proposed. Turlais was picked by the previous mayor – Nils Ušakovs. 32 deputies of the ruling coalition voted in favour of Turlais, whereas 23 opposition deputies decided to not participate in the vote.
«It was far easier for me to do my job, including in wartime, than it is now to take the seat of chairman of Riga City Council,» said Dainis Turlais after his election.
He thanked Riga City Council deputies for their support and the opportunity they gave him to work, adding that he has proved his readiness. «I have proved my readiness to work to ensure the capital grows, people are happy and satisfied. I promise to not betray your trust and I fully understand it will be a hard task,» said the politician.
The mayor said there is no difference who could take the post because all deputies present at the meeting «were made to serve their people and Riga». «We are committed to doing everything to make people friendlier, hardier and more respectful to their neighbours regardless of nationality, age and religious beliefs,» said Turlais.
In his farewell speech, Ušakovs said it was ‘a great honour’ to have worked as Mayor of Riga. He extended gratitude to all municipal workers and colleagues for the work they have done together.
Initially it was planned to elect the second Vice-Mayor of Riga at an extraordinary meeting after electing the mayor. The post became vacant when Oļegs Burovs decided to step down. The meeting was scheduled for 20:00 30 May but because of the opposition the meeting in which the mayor was elected took longer than expected. After his election, Turlais announced there would be no election of the vice-mayor on the same day and that this decision will be resolved at another meeting later.
The name of the candidate to take the seat of the second vice-mayor in Riga remains unknown. However, unofficial information states that Harmony’s member Sandris Bergmanis will likely be the chosen candidate. He has confirmed that he is ready to take this post. This means Harmony’s politicians will likely hold the posts of both vice-mayors.
Until now Turlais was head of Riga City Council’s Security, Order and Corruption Prevention Committee.
Turlais’ interview lasted six hours, but together with breaks and debates regarding election of the new mayor the total time spent in discussions exceeds nine hours. During debates opposition deputies said replacing the mayor would not improve the situation in the city. They said that the coalition has started to collapse.
Opposition deputy Ģirts Lapiņš from the National Alliance said replacing the mayor is akin to painting the fence in a new colour. «The old face of corruption goes away and the façade changes with it, but nothing really changes,» he said, adding that Turlais will not stop the plague of corruption in the municipality.
Opposition deputy Druvis Kleins from the New Conservative Party said that looking at the situation in the city council one gets the impression of «sitting in a bus that is actively steered by the coalition towards the wrong driving lane». He said Ušakovs has done some good deeds, but he also added that the many bad deeds have ruined all the good that has been done. «Maybe Turlais will be able to stop the bus, but I believe we will end up in a situation when the two men who have left will be watching with cocktails in hand how KNAB goes through the emptied bus,» Kleins said.
City council deputy Ansis Ansbergs said that
«we can be happy that Harmony is sinking», adding that he is nonetheless worried that Riga is sinking with them.
«I can hear a wave of depressive talks in the city council. They’re saying we should wait until elections and then fix everything, but gods help us if we let our hands down and do nothing for two years. We have to continue submitting proposals and do something,» proposed Ansbergs.
Opposition deputies also said that Turlais is being used. Thus, it is unclear why he even agreed to take the seat. «Turlais is like a janitor who clears the table of the big lords. The party was great – people ate and drank for years, and some drinks were even without excise tax labels. But all of it was paid for using other people’s money,» as opposition deputy Mārcis Kūlis describes the situation in the municipality.
«I am surprised the ex-general even agreed to all this. It seems to me you stood in a queue and picked the longest straw to become the one to last until elections. By doing so you will kill Turlais, he is retired – he still want to live,» said opposition deputy Marija Balcere.
Several coalition deputies sprung to Turlais’ defence. For example, deputy Eiženija Aldermane shared experience working in the European Council, where, if someone disliked another member’s report, he was still treated with respect. «But now you’re bashing a person who holds authority in Europe,» she said.
Vjačeslavs Stepaņenko said was surprised to hear such negativity from the opposition, adding that to him it seems like the coalition is in charge of the city council four days a week and the opposition is in charge for the other three. «It is unlikely you could compete with ideas, because today you could propose alternative options in every field, but I heard nothing of the sort today. You do not offer support or creative approach, you only know how to criticize,» Stepaņenko told the opposition; at the same time thanking Turlais for his bravery in taking mayoral duties.
Vice-Mayor Vadims Baraņņiks said the long interview process proved the opposition «is afraid of a strong person leading the city council». «This proves we have picked a very strong candidate. I am confident he will be an excellent mayor,» he said.
Turlais was born in 1950. He started his career in the Soviet years in the military. He also served in Afghanistan. He was also the commander of Latvia’s Armed Forces in 1992-1994. Later he served as then the President of Latvia Guntis Ulmanis as advisor in defence and strategic planning affairs.
Later Turlais entered politics and was elected to the 6th Saeima from Saimnieks political party’s list. He also served as interior affairs minister in Andris Šķēle’s government. He stepped down after the tragedy in Talsi, when eight children died during celebration of Fire Fighters Holiday.
In 1999 he changed parties and became a member of Latvian Way, which he quickly left and instead joined National Harmony Party in 2002. He was also elected in the 8th Saeima.
In 204 he once again changed his political allegiance and joined Latvia’s First Party. In 2009 he was elected to Riga City Council from the list of Ainārs Šlesers’ party LPP/LC. He has since worked in the city council, only switching to HSR at one point.
Riga’s previous mayor Nils Ušakovs, who was previously suspended by Environment Protection and Regional Development Minister Juris Pūce, announced on 29 May that he is stepping down from his post. He and ex-Vice Mayor of Riga Andris Ameriks was elected to the European Parliament on 25 May.