Sunday, January 14, 2007

Presidential pronouncements and domestic party political rebalancing

There is less than two months left until Estonian parliamentary elections. Lithuanian Prime Minister Kirkilas leads a rather stable minority government and Lithuanian parliamentary elections are expected in a little bit more than a year.

Vaira Vike Freiberga spends her last five moths in the office and presidential elections in the Latvian parliament will take place in May. Knowing that her time in the office is running out Latvian president has been more than vocal about several domestic issues. It should be noted here, that Latvian president main focus during her two terms in the office was foreign policy. It obviously did not leave her much say in the Latvian domestic policy due to the fact that she does not really have a power base in Latvia. Her pronouncements about graft or post - Soviet legacy were traditionally diplomatic. However since January 2007 her pronouncement are unusually harsh.

When Prime Minister Kalvitis bureau prepared amendmends in the Law of security organizations she expressed her dismay about the speed of passing thus controversial law without consulting either her or legislative branch of the government (Article 81. of Latvian constitution stipulates that government can pass the law if there is emergency situation in between parliamentary sessions). When Latvian parliament failed to elect ombudsman this Thursday Vaira Vike Freiberga called it as a irresponsible act because she had offered parliamentarians to propose her own candidate for the post of ombudsman.

While Latvian president made her pronouncements there were somehow sudden but still expected shake - ups of the traditional party political landscape. Rumours about possible merger of the First/Latvian Way (FLWP) with the Reconciliation party (RP) were heard already after the elections. There was a precedent of left wing party members joining First Party fraction in the parliament under te leadership of energetic Ainars Slesers already in the 8th Saeima, when 5 members of the Human rights Party (PCTVL) changed their affiliation and joined ranks of the FLWP.

Rumours of merging FLWP with the RP is of a different caliber alltogether. The first aspect that makes possible merger special is the fact that while FLWP has only 10 members it is RP who has 18 members in the 100 member Latvian Saeima. However, it is FLWP who is a member of the present governing coalition. If Mr Slesers wants to make a merger from a seemingly weaker position perhaps he has something in the sleave from the position of being in the government. Merging Reconciliation Center Party (Jaunais Centrs - 5) with FLWP (4) in the 60 member Riga City Council does not have any effect for the present situation, but that might be an ace in the municipal and European parliamentary elections in 2009. All in all, last two government crisis (2003 and 2004) in Latvia were directly or partially initiated by Ainars Slesers. Thus, when unusually rainy winter will be over, new EU 2007-2013 budget millions assigned and Latvia will be on the brink of housing bubble explosion perhaps FLWP shall start reap benefits of its still rumoured merger with RC.

So, shall it be a surprize and an obvious answer is no. Inflation can not be contained in the situation when the spiralling of prices is already built into the expectations of the people. Real estate boom can not sustain itself while about 150 000 Riga citizens will start paying free market rents for their apartments as of end of this month. Thus, newly formed FLWP and RC alliance can easily blame People' s Party (PP) being incompetent while managing both economy and coalition government and propose their own coalition (28 MP' s) with Farmers Union (ZZS -18) and PCTVL (6). In such occassion PP, New Era of Fatherland parties would be left into opposition with 48 MP's. This would be a bold move, and would finally assign Mr Slesers the post of Prime Minister and that is what he has craved for quite a long time. However, politics is a long term business, the 52 member coalition would be very thin and would taint Mr Slesers image among Latvian speaking electorate. Also there are no signs yet proving possibility of such a bold move in upcoming spring unless external shocks affect Latvian economy drastically.

There are two aspects that should be kept in mind here. First, how to buy off the PCTVL fringe party and second, how to accomodate Farmers Union while Aivars Lembers is still nominal patron of this political grouping? One may speculate that ZZS may feel indispensable in both occassions, because either in the present coalition or newly founded one, they shall be the central figure in political bargaining process. Or one may perhaps speculate that Mr Slesers knows that the criminal charges against Mr Lembers are so serious and thus they might expect ZZS in a rather weak bargaining position?

So, why is there late announcement about election alliance talks between ZZS and Social Democrats (LSDSP)? True, there is no representation of ZZS in the Riga City Council and 7 members of LSDSP would be a hand in the 2009 elections. Therefore, today's conclusion about the rebalancing of the party political landscape in Latvia is an example of consolidation of Latvian demos. ZZS and FLWP are looking already into 2009 where new identity of governing coalition party might be a good asset in the municipal and European parliament elections. But that might be also a liability especially in European parliament elections, because since 1979 European voters tend to punish those parties that are in the member states government.



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Mel said...

Problem with Latvian politics was, is, and always will be, personality differences. Everything is being held up because of people like Slesers, Lembergs and so forth.

The current division is just unsustainable, and without some form of CREDIBLE consolidation, minority governments will remain for some time -- and Latvia will remain the "Italy" of the Baltics with the most volatile domestic politial situation. Better a stable minority government than an unstable barely majority coalition.

Latvia, for the near future, will always be governed by the centre-right, as the left is always "tainted" by one of the radical units (and there is no way the centre-left, sans Rubiks, will ever get 51 seats in a fair election for another generation).

So if the centre-right will keep bashing each other a la Skele-Lembergs and Lembergs-Slesers and Skele-Kristopans, there is no hope for stability.

Maybe Vaira really needs to get in a bully pulpit to force politicians down before she herself is unemployed. And of course, if they can't even come up with a REAL working majority, how can they get 51 people to agree on anything but a Plan C again? (Sure, Vaira turned out good, but...).

Baltic said...

Hi Mel!

Agree on you about Latvia being Baltic Italy, but I do not agree with your assessment on Latvia being ruled by center right in near future. Why? Because personalities do not care about experts putting them in one spectrum of political analysis or the other, and why could not the political elite of Latvia transform itself from within and become leftish:)

Border agreement is going to be discussed in Saeima today and we cannot not take into consideration a row over it, thus perhaps someone bets on Minister of Foreign affairs replaced with the head of the PM office? Anyway, Mr Kalvitis is proposed as presidential candidate and according to Diena Mr. Slesers is endorsing him:) So, Transport supremo as a PM, Kalvitis as president and La republica transita Letonia is built...:)

I am off the screen now and heading to Helsinki now. Shall be back in Riga on Friday, cheers!

mel said...

Hey V,

No, I see Latvia for the next generation as centre-right. Even with the Ivans injection the LSDSP could not get anywhere because the left is constantly tainted by the Rubiks/Zdanoka crew -- and anyone connected to it (Jurkans, etc) are similarly tainted.

Until the nationalities issue disappears in daily Latvian politics (which will take a generation longer than Estonia, I am afraid), this will remain. And even left-leaning people will vote centrist/centre-right for the nationalities issue...

Any scheming politician who wants power quickly realises that the centre is the only place to play, or the centre-right. At this point, no matter if you win 25+ seats in the Saeima, if you lean to the left, you will never be able to put a centre-left coalition together due to the aformentioned issue.

So it's just easier to fight the crowded right wing for all those opportunists. And goodness, if Kalvitis becomes president, Latvia will go through a "Rüütel slump" like Eesti did...

Head reisi tagasi Soome.