Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Valdis Zatlers - a year in the office (updated)

It is a year since Valdis Zatlers was elected the 7th* president of Latvia. A year ago I was sceptical about the ability of a surgeon to become a statesman and the first anniversary proves that I was almost right. The former surgeon could have performed even more faceless, but there are also positive outcomes from his first year in the office. He nominated Ivars Godmanis as a PM very much against the will of the People's Party "iron guards", returned three bills to the parliament (The bill about prevention of Money Laundering among them), publicly gave a support to the August 2 referendum, and he tried to argue with president Putin, thus supporting Georgia and Ukraine MAP plans in the NATO Bucharest Summit.

In the meantime he is still looking for his niche and trying to answer the ominous question he presented to himself during a press conference last year: "who am I"? It is impossible for him to reach the stature of the former president Freiberga due to his background and education. His foreign visits, apart from seeing the most important allies in Brussels and Washington, were taking place mostly to the countries of the former Soviet Union. The foreign policy isn't thus much an issue here, because according to constitution its the parliament who forms the foreign policy, thus his visits must be coordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Also here the bulk of responsibility is on his chancellery, that seems pretty fractional at the present moment.

All in all, the greatest expectations in Latvia is about his ability to consolidate the divided society and possibly to sack the present illegally elected parliament. Consolidation of the society is a hard task for a surgeon who openly admitted that he did not pay taxes. He promised that he would solve the problem of illegal payments to doctors within a year in the office, but the year has passed and there is no solution found. V. Zatlers was too inexperienced a year ago to give such "an impossible" promise. Nevertheless, for now he should have realized that the major cause, for such promises not being possible to fulfill, is networks of the political class that have stagnated in Latvia and serve as a drag for further development in this country.

According to the present constitution (Art.48) it is only the president who is entitled to dissolve the parliament. However, he risks his own post in case the population should not support his decision to dissolve the parliament in the referendum. Until now he openly supports the idea and the need for the referendum. We shall see after August 2, 2008, whether it was just another public relations campaign prepared by his chancellery or it was a sign that the incumbent president matures as a statesman in his office. As if representing those Latvians who doubt president's ability to mature as a statesman Onslovs came out with a poignant cartoon. ("Strength is in the loaf of bread!" (the word kukulis has a double meaning (a bribe) in Latvian)
"XXIV Latvian Song & Dance Festival! Take bribes, you will be elected as a president in Zoo and in the nearby Song Festival Ground you would be able to have a speech. Just beautiful!"


Photo: Kristians Putniņš

Incumbent president just finished his press conference. It seems that his distancing from the governing clique is straightforward. In the press conference president rather harshly approached the parliament. The president said: "the Saeima is working more intensively now if to compare with last autumn, but the quantity of work produced is not always bringing qualitative results." He reiterated about the need after a definite procedure of electing the new head of the Corruption Prevention Bureau (KNAB) transparently, the return of three bills to the parliament (ill famous law about prevention of Money Laundering in particular).

In case the governing clique would proceed with the previously mentioned bill in its present form, the president has a right to interrupt it signing into the law for two moths (Art. 72 of the Satversme). To do that he needs a request from no less than a third of MP's, and these rights the president and the third of parliamentarians can exercise within ten days after parliamentarians passed the bill. The bill goes into popular referendum if a tenth of Latvian electors (140 000) demands it so within two months period when the president interrupted the law. If such a turmoil should happen, the parliament has a right to reconvene and amend the dysfunctional law, and thus the referendum is called off. In case a tenth of signatures is not collected the president must sign the bill into law after the period of two months passes.

So, the civil society eagerly awaits the July 17, 2008, when the Saeima must discuss the ominous bill on prevention of money laundering. In the meantime LETA announced that inflation has slowed by 0,2 %, and thus the PM believes that the peak of inflation has been reached, and the Bank of Latvia announced that next year Latvia could see the deceleration of inflation to the single digit number.

* Kārlis Ulmanis elected himself as the president of Latvia after coup d'etat in May 15, 1934, when the tenure of democratically elected Alberts Kviesis ended in 1936.


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