Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Referendum - PRO et contra

It is nice to meet colleagues, politicians, and simply people on the streets and hear their concerns about the future of Latvian democracy. All the people I have met last couple of days are definitely going to election booths and would vote AYE the coming Saturday. In the meantime politicians from the governing parties have perhaps woken up from living in their power bubble, and have acknowledged that probably Latvian voters would turn out in their hundreds of thousands.

Today's Diena published answers of the Latvian top notch politicians while talking about their intentions prior the ominous referendum.

PM Ivars Godmanis (LPP/LC): "Even prewar Latvia was characterised with political instability, when governments were changing every 8-9 months, but there were no snap elections. Today, if people are not happy with their MP`s they can elect new ones in next elections, or become candidates themselves. Electing the parliament is creative process, while referendum would be a destructive process without any result."

Speaker of the parliament Gundars Daudze (ZZS): "Referendum would create a deep crisis in Latvia and therefore I shall not participate in the referendum and so shall ask also other people. These amendments are judicially questionable and are undemocratic. The basic principle of democracy is that minority must yield to majority, but constitutional amendments are not offering us this. These constitutional amendments could create a huge crisis and the situation might be created when there is neither elected parliament nor president in Latvia."

The head of the People´s Party parliamentary fraction Māris Kučinskis (TP): "referendum is an instrument in hands of opposition parties. I will not take part in referendum because amendments are dangerous. They allow a small number of people (150 000) to change election results.

Former PM and member of the opposition New Era party Einars Repše (JL): " I will vote AYE because the stagnating governance system must be changed. In order to change this system the constitution should contain a clause that would enable the voters to recall politicians who work against the state interests. I do not remember that there was ever a vote of no confidence looming over Saeima when it was passing heavy but needed reform packages. Only those MP`s are despised who work for the benefit of their "Godfathers". Proposed amendments are in accordance with the basic principles of democracy, because it is a universal norm when half of the electors participating are considered as eligible to decide about constitutional amendments, and a positive decision of half of those participating is enough for making proposed constitutional changes."

Leader of the Civic Union party Ms Sandra Kalniete (PS): "I will vote AYE. Present governance in Latvia is not a true democracy but a dictatorship of a narrow circle of political elite. Proposed amendments could finally make MP`s to listen to the will of their voters, because the bone of contention is the necessary quorum for the dissolution of the parliament. I must remind that the necessary number for eligibility of the vote (half of the voters in the last elections) is the same as was used in the 2003 referendum prior Latvian voters decided whether they want to become members of the EU."

MEP Roberts Zīle (TB/LNNK): "those amendments would not strengthen democracy and I will not participate. If we want to find a way out of the present situation that has been created by present MP`s, then such amendments will only weaken political institutions in the middle term, and we will not be able to pass serous decisions. Thus, we will do damage to our own political strength."

MP Juris Sokolovskis (PCTVL): "We are calling our voters to participate because the elite is alienated from voters in Latvia. Of course the free trade union proposed amendments are important, but even more important is the principle - the people can remind MP`s that the power belongs to the people (Art. 2 of Latvian constitution). Even if the quorum for having the result of referendum as valid would not be reached and only 30—40% voters would take part in the referendum still politicians will not be able to ignore the will of electors. "

Leader of the Reconciliation Party Nils Ušakovs (SC): "People must have their say. Of course I will go to referendum and we are agitating both in Latvian and Russian media. Those amendments are extremely important because they would finally enable voters to control their representatives. "

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Artis Pabriks (Sabiedriba Citai politikai): "I will use my voice and will take part in both the August 2 and 23 referendums. I am convinced that participation in the plebiscite is mandatory for every citizen who lives in a democratic society. I think that I must use my voice, while there are folks who openly declare that they are not interested in politics, and thus they will not take part in referendum. I must unfortunately conclude that still their unused voice will be used by others. Finally, I have not heard any tangible argument why the proposed amendments would be bad."

P.S. My conclusion is simple - so called political elite in this country with rather few exceptions really think that their voters are stupid, and thus the politicians are locked into their imaginary power bubble.

July polling data

It is a tradition to have political party ratings at the end of every month published in Latvia and "Latvijas Fakti" July data was just published in Diena. The number of swing and alienated voters is still very high although the number of alienated voters has declined if one compares it with the June data. The leader of the polls - the Reconciliation Centre (SC) party - has increased its lead, the New Era (JL) has regained its strength and the Union of Greens and Farmers has lost quite a bit of their support. However, the fact is that if elections would take place tomorrow then the 5% threshold, that is needed to enter into the parliament, would be able to pass only two opposition parties (SC + JL) and only one governing coalition party (ZZS), who's PM candidate is accused for money laundering and graft.

Q: For which party you think you would vote if the Saeima elections would take place tomorrow?

Because of the ongoing referendum campaign "Latvijas Fakti" also polled the latest intentions of Latvian voters prior referendum this Saturday.

Q: Will you participate in the referendum that would make constitutional amendments, thus enabling Latvian citizens to initiate the dissolution of the parliament?

"orange" - definitely participate=35,5%

"brownish yellow" - rather participate=26,6%

"green" - definitely will not participate = 17,6%

"lime green" - rather not participate = 14 %

"grey" - do not know N/A = 6,4%

Monday, July 28, 2008

Flying to vote in referendum!

I am going to embark into the green tailed Air Baltic jet tomorrow. As much my dissertation research is concerned, it was a very productive July in my second home here in Istanbul. However, with all the tasks to be done prior the new 2008-2009 academic year starts I am still flying to Riga, to take part in the decisive referendum on August 2. For me personally it is the question about strengthening of Latvian democracy after all!

P.S. For those of you reading in Estonian there is a piece in Postimees today.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Go and vote AYE on August 2, 2008!

Campaign goes on in earnest, and there are several political parties and interest groups (SCP, JL+PS+VL+Mozaīka+ Tautvaldība, SC) that actively agitate voters to not just participate, but to vote AYE in the forthcoming referendum. The latter is about the Saeima bill No. 695, that the parliament's Legal Affairs Committee rejected on May 28, and that also majority MP's refused to pass on June 5. Today the major conservative People's Party (TP) is the first political party, that cowardly asks its voters not to take part in the referendum about constitutional amendments. Such TP behaviour shows how shallow is their comprehension about democratic governance. Instead of asking their supporters to participate in democratic plebiscite and vote against the motion: "TP cannot call its voters to take part in the referendum, because the amendments lack substance and create substantial risks to constitutional stability." ("nevar aicināt savus vēlētājus uz dalību referendumā, jo iesniegtie grozījumi ir nepārdomāti un rada būtiskus konstitucionālus riskus.")

Amendments to Articles 78 and 79 of the constitution would allow not just the president, but also 1/10 of eligible voters to submit a draft resolution calling for procedure that would initiate the dismissal of parliament. Under the current language of the constitution (Art. 48), only the president is entitled to initiate dissolution of the Saeima.

First, in case between 500 000-700 000 Latvian voters would say AYE in the forthcoming referendum, it would most probably force the president to consider whether he should yield to the popular pressure and use his constitutional rights as outlined in the Article 48 of the constitution. And second, if 756 000 voters would say AYE the parliament would have to yield to the will of the people and constitutional amendments become valid. After the amendments would be passed the new procedure (to already established one in Art. 48-50) for possible dissolution of the parliament would read as follows:

- public motion starts with collection of 10 000 notary approved citizen's signatures and submitting them to the Central Election Bureau;
- then signature campaign would follow where at least 1/10 of the Latvian voters (circa 149 thousand) , signatures must be collected and the result submitted to the parliament;
- then parliament would be voting;
- if parliament rejects public motion then plebiscite is announced where half of the electors who participated in last elections must participate for considering the referendum valid;

- if majority (50+1) of those who participated would vote AYE only then parliament is considered dissolved, and the further procedure would follow as outlined in Art. 48-50 of the Satversme.

In case any of aforementioned two scenarios would be achieved the president would have to call for a new referendum, and ask whether Latvian voters want to sack the existing parliament.

P.S. Just to remind those who forgot already. The existing parliament was illegally elected in October 2006 after governing People's and Latvian Way/Latvian First parties breached the Law on funding of political organizations.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Upgraded August 2 referendum scenarios (updated)

After "Latvijas Fakti" polling data was published last Saturday I went through the figures, and here is the table and upgraded "three scenarios".
Due to the fact that the referendum takes place in the middle of summer it is hard to predict that the very high participation rate (over 70%) during constitutional referendums would be emulated. The Eurobarometer and other polls show dissatisfaction among broad swathes of society, however Latvians are still rather optimistic about their long term future. It is almost impossible to guess, whether the optimism about the long term future is based on ignorance, or assumptions that after "possibly successful referendum" business in Latvia will start going uphill? My realist scenario is based in weighing participation rates during parliamentary elections and last referendum in July 2007. Therefore, the voters turnout would be very much determined by the successful AYE campaign, and thus the final number of AYE voters might shoot either over the 713 300 mark, or stop just below the 700 000 mark.

Photo: Delfi

It is Monday evening and another Latvian politician said something that makes me shout out loud again - douze points! In his interview the Speaker of the Parliament and member of Aivars Lembergs pocket party "Latvijai & Ventspilij" (L&V) reiterated, that although electors should have the right to participate in the referendum, the ominous amendments 78 and 79. of the constitution lack substance, because they give an unqualified number of people rights to dissolve the parliament. Mr Gundars Daudze underlined: "that if parliament can be dissolved by 1/4 of electorate while ignoring the 3/4 majority, then it is very undemocratic, because the majority must concede to minority, thus those amendments are not good for the interests of the Latvian state".
First, it seems that the speaker of the parliament has not really read those amendments. Second, the speaker has no clue what constitutes relations between parliamentary majority and minority. Thirdly, Mr Daudze seems to forget that he got into the parliament only with meagre 1102 personal votes (2284 (+) -1182 (-)), and if not the L&V electoral union with Greens and Farmers, former anesthesiologist would not even be close to represent anyone. And finally, I hope, that Mr Daudze does not really think like someone who said "l'etat c'est moi".

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The first poll about voters intentions prior the August 2, 2008 referendum in Latvia

LETA just published "Latvijas Fakti" data after the first polling of people's intentions prior the constitutional referendum on August 2, 2008. If more than 751 200 Latvian electors would say AYE in this plebiscite, it would approve amendments in articles 78. and 79. of the Latvian Constitution. Those amendments would enable not just the president (Art. 48), but uniquely also the 1/10 of electors to initiate the procedure of dissolving the parliament.

LETA did not reveal the sample of poll used, nevertheless the basic data is:

38, 3% have said that they will definitely go to voting station, 33% said that they probably would go to referendum, 9, 2% would definitely not go, 16% said that they would rather not go, and only 3,4% of respondents did not know the answer. The picture looks rather good, and my earlier assumptions about the expectedly high number (67-71%) of participation in constitutional referendums seems to be correct after all.

While asked about their voting intentions then 85,4% of all respondeds would vote AYE, 7,3% would vote NAY, and 7,3% had no idea.
There were only slight (0,5% margin) differences in their voting intentions when asked male, female, Latvian language and Russian language respondents, and the only noticable differece was women's intention to go to referendum was 4% smaller than male 71% one.

When different education level was taken as the basis then responses started to differ. 43,5 % of respondents with basic and secondary education said they would go to referendum., 13% said that they would rather go, 17,4% said that they would rather not go, and 21,7% said that they would definitely not go, and finally 4,3 % did not know the answer. Out of respondents with basic and secondary education 91,3% would vote AYE, 4,3% would vote NAY, and 4,3% did not know the answer.

42,7% of respondents with higher education answered that they would definitely go, 36% said that they would rather go, 13,3% would rather not go, 5,3% would not go, and 2,7% did not know the answer. Out of respondents with higher education 84% would vote AYE, 8% would vote NAY and 8% did not know the answer.

42,9% of Riga citizens answered that they would take part, 28,6% aid that they would rather take part, 17,5% said that they would rather not take the part, 6,3% would not take part, and 4,8% did not know the answer. 84,1% of respondents would vote AYE, 6,3% would vote NAY, and 9,5% did not know the answer.

In Livonia (Vidzeme) 36,2% answered that would go to referendum, 38,3% would rather go, 6,4% would rather not go, 17% would not go, and 2,1% did not know the answer. 85,1% of Vidzeme folks would vote AYE, 12,8% would vote NAY, and 2,1% did not know the answer.

In Courland (Kurzeme) 53,6% answered that would go to referendum, 17,9 % would rather go, 21,4 % would rather not go, 3,6% would not go, and 3,6% did not know the answer. 78,6% of Courlanders would vote AYE, 3,6 % would vote NAY, and 17,9 % did not know the answer.

In Semigallen(Zemgale) 37,9% answered that would go to referendum, 24,1% would rather go, 24,1% would rather not go, 13,8% would not go. 82,8% of Semigallians folks would vote AYE, 10,3% would vote NAY, and 6,9% did not know the answer.

In Latgale 23,1% answered that would go to referendum, 51,3% would rather go, 15,4% would rather not go, 5,1% would not go, and 5,1% did not know the answer. 94,9% of Latgalians would vote AYE, 2,6% would vote NAY, and 2,6% did not know the answer.

In the age group between 18-24 year olds 27,6% answered that would go to referendum, 34,6% would rather go, 27,6% would rather not go, 10,3% would not go. 86,2% of "youngsters" would vote AYE, 10,3% would vote NAY, and 3,4% did not know the answer.

In the age group between 25-39 year olds 27,3% answered that would go to referendum, 45,5% would rather go, 18,2% would rather not go, 5,5% would not go, and 3,6 % did not know the answer. 81,8% of prime age representatives would vote AYE, 9,1% would vote NAY, and 9,1% did not know the answer.

In the age group between 40-54 year olds 34% answered that would go to referendum, 41,5% would rather go, 11,3% would rather not go, 7,5% would not go, and 5,7% did not know the answer. 90.9% of folks in their median age would vote AYE, 3,8% would vote NAY, and 5,7 % did not know the answer.

In the age group between 55- 64 year olds 57,1% answered that would go to referendum, 25% would rather go, 10,7% would rather not go, 7,1% would not go, and 2,1% did not know the answer. 82,1% of pre-pension folks would vote AYE, 7,1% would vote NAY, and 10,7 % did not know the answer.

In the age group of 65 and older folks 53,7 % answered that would go to referendum, 9,8% would rather go, 14,6% would rather not go, 17,1% would not go, and 4,9% did not know the answer. 85,4% of pensioners would vote AYE, 7,3% would vote NAY, and 7,3% did not know the answer.

That's it, and my analysis will be forthcoming next week. Enjoy the weekend!!

P.S. For those Latvians who are interested to tak part in referendum you may find information while clicking on the picture below:

Friday, July 18, 2008

News from Bulgaria - EU finally flexes its muscles domestically?

The EU has flexed its muscles in domestic affairs after a long time again. The EU Commission is withdrawing rights for two Bulgarian agencies to manage an amount of EUR500 mlj. EU funds. It means that Bulgaria will be punished for its endemic corruption and thriving environment of organized crime next week, writes EUobserver. If this punishment schema will work out it will create a precedent that should sound as a warning sound for corrupt officials in other EU countries.

Is it good news, one may ask? Yes! Siphoning EU funds for private and in most cases criminal needs is nothing particularly new. It was after Greece became the member 1982, that the ECC officials realized mismanagement of EU funds on grand scale. Greek precedent actually fostered the EU to create such filters as acquis communautaire and "white paper", that aspirant countries had to sign upon prior being accepted as members of the club.

Should follow the news now, look back into the Greek precedent back in the early 1980's and probably some new ideas come out of all this. In the meantime Latvian opposition may perhaps capitalize on the Bulgarian precedent in forthcoming weeks, to prevent the ongoing "capture of the state" by some minigarchic families in Latvia.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Last session of the parliament

The spring 2008 last session of the parliament is ongoing. As it was predicted before the day for the Lettish talking shop is laborious. President's chancellery had a speech prepared. President reached out to MP's again, asking them to reassess the importance of the anti money laundering and terrorism financing bill. Already prior the bill was discussed in the parliament (on July 16, 2008) the author of ill famous amendments Vilnis - Edvīns Bresis recalled them without any (!) tangible explanation. Also the opposition Reconciliation Centre (SC) did not explain why did their vote AYE on June 11? Just IMAGINE, that with Bresis ill famous amendments he tarnished the reputation of the parliament, prolonged the work of the parliament for additional 1,5 months, and NO explanation came from him at all, what an amateurism!!!. Anyway, the results of the ongoing parliamentary session so far are:

1. Anti money laundering and terrorism bill (acceptable to our European allies) passed with 90 AYE votes.
2. Amendments in the 2008 budget in its final reading passed with 51AYE and 42 NAY votes.
3. KNAB procedure changed after all, thus candidate for the post of Anti Corruption Agency will not be chosen in transparent competition.
4. Half amended election financing law passed (just increasing the legally allowed amount to be spent per voter during elections from 0,20Ls to 0,33Ls). Opposition amendments about third party financing and possible party financing from the state budget should be continued in the autumn 2008 session of the parliament.

That's it and preparation for the August 2 can continue in full swing now!

P.S. You can find all the information about the forthcoming referendum in Latvian here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Prior the August 2 referendum

It is the last 2008 spring plenary session of the Saeima tomorrow, where 2008 budget amendments in the final reading will be most probably passed. Also, and most importantly, members of parliament will discuss the already ill famous bill on prevention on money laundering and anti terrorism financing.

In the meantime another idea gave me Beat Müller who has created an excellent website about direct democracy (in German).

There were five referendums since Latvia regained independence in 1991. The mean participation rate of Latvian electors in those five referendums is 37,99%. The latter number appears rather low, but the reason is that both consultative and constitutional referendum participation rates were taken together in order to get the average rate of participation in referendums since 1991.

However, if we take constitutional referendums about independence in 1991 (87,56%), the ominous amendments in citizenship law in 1998 (69,16%), and finally the plebiscite question about Latvia joining the EU in 2003 (73, 12%) then the mean participation rate of Latvian electors in constitutional referendums since 1991 is 76,61%.

The August 2 referendum is constitutional one. Shall see whether the globalization challenges and inability of Latvian present political elite to manage economic distress have alienated electors even further, or made them wake up from the "A. Kalvītis promised dreamworld of seven fat years"? The Cappuchino revolution made a wake up call, and the society is slowly waking up, however I am afraid that the speed of waking up is too slow to reach the mean number of Latvian electors participating in constitutional referendums since 1991 = circa 1 164 240 (out of 1 512 000).

P.S. Two days ago I wrote a blog entry for Diena for those of you reading in Latvian, and those of you reading in Estonian here is my article in today's Postimees.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Possible referendum scenarios for August 2, 2008 (updated with charts)

There is nothing substantially new to add about the forthcoming referendum, because positions of civil society and government are clear I thought prior starting to write this piece. The Latvian parliamentary majority clique first has to show who they really are during the July 17 plenary session. The referendum campaign should be going on full swing by then. Thus, is it already possible to project the approximate participation rate, and how many of the voters would vote AYE in forthcoming referendums? Yes, and I am quite sure that the number of 330 000 citizens coming to voting stations would be surpassed this August, and mostly due to economic factors (high inflation, closing factories, hence increasing feeling of insecurity).

But while talking about the sheer participation numbers Vladimir Chepurov had an emotional blog entry in today's Diena (in Russian). Leaving aside his ideas about the importance of the 25% of ethnically Russian electorate, he gave me a hunch to contemplate about. Namely the mean participation rate during four parliamentary elections (1995, 1998, 2002, 2006) in Latvia is 69,95%, and it has declined below the 70% mark due to the very low participation rate during the 2006 elections (62,23%). Due to negative demographic situation and emigration to the Emerald Island and Misty Albion the number of active voters has decreased. Nevertheless, the fact is that there are 1512755 electors, and 35824 of them officially reside outside Latvia with double citizenship. In addition to that about 27 500 Latvian citizens officially reside in Ireland.

It makes it so that for a positive outcome in both referendums (August 2 & 23) one needs a half of total number of electors, and that means that there is a need after 756 377 AYE votes. If one divides the number of electors with the mean participation percentage (69,95%), then it would make 1 058 928 electors appearing in voting stations on August 2. If the participation rate would be as low as during the 2006 parliamentary elections (62,23%), when for example the Irish Latvian contingent showed very little attention, then only 937 908 electors would appear.

Alright, now lets see and compare the votes given to the majority clique and how much opposition got in 2006 elections. The majority (TP, ZZS, LC/LPP, TB/LNNK) got 469924 or 51,79% of total votes. The two biggest opposition parties (JL & SC) got roughly 270 000 or 30,8% of the total vote. Since Spring 2008 the TB/LNKK has split, and fraction of its supporters has joined ranks of opposition Civic Union party.

There were 330 000 AYE votes during last summer referendum about changes in security laws with no real campaign and without any support from the president/s, thus we may hypothetically assume that (330000-270000) about 60 000 voters who were initially tricked by governing majority voted in that referendum for opposition cause. Therefore, to conclude we could envisage two rough scenarios here.

Scenario I (positive): In case the inflation, official support from former and incumbent presidents, rising unemployment, negative impact from events starting from virtual coup d'etat in December 31,2006 until sacking of A. Loskutovs as the head of KNAB in June 29, 2008, and finally a chance for citizens to meet&discuss during the XXIV Song Fest will have an effect, then roughly subtracting 469924 from 1058928 and adding 60 000= 649 004+ voters would vote AYE.

Scenario II (negative): In case the governing clique really has a clout over "their voters" (if voters are afraid to loose even the meagre welfare they have acquired during the "seven fat years of Mr Kalvītis") then roughly subtracting 469924 from 937908 = 467 984 voters would vote AYE only.

Eurobarometer and other polls show ever declining support for almost all institutions of the representative democracy, and about 22% of the voters would definitely not show up in voting stations. Thus, the number of 649 004 AYE votes is VERY optimistic, and for civil society to succeed campaign organizers MUST think how to get those 22% of alienated voters in and outside Latvia to the election booths. Thus, for the campaign to succeed there is a need to appeal to additional 108 000 low income and disillusioned voters. It is possible to make it happen, and the positive result now purely depends on a simple, smart and appealing campaign ORGANIZATION!

P.S. For those of you reading in Latvian I wrote a piece for Diena today.
P.P.S. And this is what Postimees writes about Latvia for those of you reading in Estonian.


Its Saturday morning and Apollo has published a second set of the DnB bank commissioned charts about
people's satisfaction and future expectations about the state of economy in Latvia.

Q: How would you evaluate the present state of economy in Latvia? (from left to right - very good, rather good, satisfactory, rather bad, very bad, hard to tell)
Q: Do you think that economic situation at the present moment gets better, does not change or gets worse? (from left to right - gets better, does not change, gets worse, hard to tell)

Q: While thinking about the state of Latvian economy after 12 months or comparing it with the present situation you rather think that... (from left to right - it will significantly improve, will improve slightly, no change, will rather deteriorate, it will significantly deteriorate, hard to tell)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Latvian majority MP's love money laundering (updated)

Yesterday Latvian president's harsh evaluation of the Latvian parliament job performance was somewhat surprising. I do not think that incumbent president's words were major factor behind the decision of the Saeima defense, internal affairs and corruption prevention commission to vote down ill famous amendmends of Vilnis - Edvīns Bresis (ZZS) in the Law preventing money laundering and terrorism financing in Latvia. After all the same Saeima commission (J. Dalbiņš, J. Dobelis, A. Latvkovskis, V. Lācis, I. Klementjevs, A. Mirskis, L. Mūrniece, D. Staķe, D. Turlais) already voted down exactly the same amendments prior the previos voting on June 11. Funny enough, regardless of negative voting of the Seaima commission, changes of Mr Bresis stipulated that legalisation of illegal means were suitable to his Godfather in the town of Ventspils, and parliamentary majority gang still voted AYE! If the parliamentary majority gangsta members voted AYE once, I would not be surprised if they would vote AYE again on July 17. Lets wait and see:)


Latest Eurobarometer poll was just published. As if to prove why Latvian MP's love money laundering and Latvian public is sick and tired of their governing institutions the data is just there! Trust in Latvian Parliament has declined to 12% (-4) support and that puts it in same league with Bulgaria, Lithuania and Italy. Trust for the government has declined to 15%(-4) and that puts it in same league with Italy and Hungary. In comparison Estonian parliament support runs at 36% (-10) and the government at 56% (-6). How strange it is to realize that majority of Latvian citizens still trust institutions of the EU (46%= -4) more than their own institutions. But comparing with the similar results in Estonia (69%=+2) and Lithuania (62% = +3) one should worry about the growing scepticism of Latvian electorate, because it has becoe the most Euro sceptic in the EU today!

The illegally elected parliament in Latvia poisons institutions of the representative democracy in Latvia. Such poisonous acts disorient Latvian electorate and the faster voters will get rid of corrupt MP's the better.

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.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Incompetent legal amendmends during the XXIV Song & Dance festival

I was already writing on June 11 about the amendments in the Law on Prevention of Money Laundering and legalisation of illegal financial funds. According to the press announcements the new amendments had to be presented by July 7. Member of the opposition New Era (JL) party Ms Linda Mūrniece in her blog informs us today, that the most important parts of the law are still changed according to whims of the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) financier from the town of Ventspils, and thus, it still provides a safe heaven for criminals in Latvia.

The law had to be passed by December 12, 2007 because the EU governance requests that the EU directives are to be included into the national legislation within certain time frame but without EU institutions telling the means of achieving it. However, due to to the particular interest groups in the Latvian parliament implementing the demands of the directive into the Latvian legislation was delayed, and finally the ill famous amendments of Vilnis Edvīns Bresis (ZZS) screwed the bill that was discussed for three long years.

Now it is the time to pass the bill the way that it would be acceptable not only to the governing clique, but also to the Saeima opposition parties, the EU institutions, and the EU partner countries. After all the essence of the law is not just domestic political brinkmanship, but foremost preventing Latvia to continue its "fame" of becoming a "black hole" for gangsters, petit criminals and tax evaders. The voting of the Saeima about this ominous law is expected on July 17, 2008, and all this regardless of the festive atmosphere in the XXIV Song&Dance festival. I am just curious whether the incumbent president follows the procedure of passing this bill into law as attentively as he is watching the Song Festival participants?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Chances for successful referendum outcomes?

It sounds cynical, but deteriorating economic situation and stupid government announcements only accelerate options for positive outcome for both referendums. As if to emphasize my arguments also post-independence Latvia's first foreign minister Mr Jānis Jurkāns reiterates my arguments in today's article in Latvijas Avīze.

DnB bank commissioned a poll about the general perception of Latvian public about their well being, and it was published in Apollo today.

Q: Do you consider that overall situation develops in right direction in Latvia today? (Right, wrong, hard to tell.... from left to right)

Q: How would you evaluate the government performance? Ar you... (from let to right)

totally satisfied, rather satisfied, dissatisfied, totally dissatisfied, hard to tell?

Friday, July 4, 2008

August referendums and rumours

This morning the Central Election Bureau announced that the referendum about changes in pension laws will take place on August 23. As I already wrote yesterday in the Saeima there were 46 MP's without any opinion on their own, thus their abstained votes yesterday lead to another referendum in Latvia. Both authors of popular motions started their campaign almost in the same time to save the costs and to held both referendums at the same time. Latvian MP's are afraid to lose their benefits. Thus apprehending possibly positive outcome if referendum would take place on the same date, they decided to have the referendum about constitutional amendments on August 2 and changes in pension laws on August 23.

The fact that holding referendums separately would cost taxpayers additional 2,1 mlj. lats (3 mlj euros) does not deter MP' at all. Quite the contrary, the government PR specialists and conservative media outlets have managed to spread rumours that leaders of popular motions act irresponsibly, because it would have been more profitable to add up those two referendum total costs (6 mlj euros) to the meagre pensions. Just the PR specialists TOTALLY FORGET the fact that they preach contrary to their earlier announcements. What about government announcing that we live in times of contracting economy, that any unnecessary expenses (!!) should be avoided, 5% of existing civil servants must be sacked, and 5,9% of annual budget expenditures or 22mlj lats slashed? Believe it or not, but rather many underprivileged people believe in those rumours, because they are easier to comprehend...hmjaaa, and it is smth. the future referendum campaign organizers must really think about:)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The domino effect from the Riga City Council?

Yesterday's news about the end of the governing coalition in the Riga City council proved to be right. Grand scale of bluffing & bargaining takes place in all parties now. The initial plan to topple Jānis Birks from Maire's office backfired and Jānis Birks (TB/LNNK) counterattacked People's Party (TP), screwed Social Democrats (LSDSP) and proposed New Era (JL) to take place of TP.

This morning it was approved also by the leaders of TB/LNNK and JL Roberts Zīle and Solvita Āboltiņa respectively. According to latest news the nucleus of new coalition in Riga City Council would be formed by JL, TB/LNNK and LC/LPP parties. The leaders of three parties were sitting together until 3AM, and the agreement was signed by Roberts Zīle, Solvita Āboltiņa and Mr Zaržeckis (LC/LPP). These 3 parties have 23 votes out of 60 and it is a minority only. It means that it is impossible to have a new coalition in the Riga City Council without creating tremors in the national government, and it was also reminded by Aigars Kalvītis (TP), who said that in the party council meeting they still stick to the old Riga City Council coalition.

There are so many options now that I have neither time nor will to describe all possible scenarios. One issue is clear now, most of Latvian parties are rather agry about the mutating role of TP during past four years particularly. The fact that the new nucleus of the coalition in the Riga City Council is formed without TP only confirms the speculations whirling for quite some time about all parties irrespective of their ideological orientation uniting against the TP.

Establishment of a unified block against TP is somewhat premature however, because it is still possible to initiate the vote of no confidence against the PM and hence have the TP+ZZS+SC coalition with 59 votes in the Saeima. If such a scenario would be played out, still it would be the president who nominates the new prime minister, and I very much doubt that he would nominate anyone else except Mr Godmanis.

The situation is interesting and the next regular City Council meeting will take place on July 9. The initial petition about the vote of no confidence about the Maire of Riga makes the City Council to announce the emergency session within two weeks time. Political bargaining goes on in earnest and it will be interesting in what way the changes in Riga City Council will reverberate into possible changes in national government. In the meantime the parliament is busy with finding the best procedure for finding the new head of KNAB and referendums are coming.

The Saeima this morning with 44 AYS, 6 NAYS and 46 ABSTAINED votes did not approve amendments in pension laws. Amendments in pension laws were proposed by popular motion and the constitution stipulates that this motion goes to referendum now. The date for referendum is not finite yet, because members of the Central Election Bureau (CEB) must vote on it, and the incumbent head of the CEB Arnis Cimdars reckons that it could take place on August 23.

The waste of money by the irresponsible coalition clique continues, because the initiators of both popular motions wanted to have referendum on the same day in order to save costs. The members of governing clique delayed the decision about amendments in pension laws, and thus Latvian electors will participate in referendum twice this summer.

P.S. Those of you reading Estonian may find my thoughts also in today's Postimees.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

June polling data (updated - news from the Riga City Council)

Today's Diena published monthly pollster about the trust in political parties in Latvia. The ominous trend that started in March 2007 continues and the number of undecided and alienated voters stay worryingly high. The number of undecided voters (30,2%) has reached the level of February 2008, and the disorientation of voters and ongoing saga with the former head of the KNAB probably explains it. Only one party from the governing coalition, the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) would pass the 5% threshold, that is the requested percentage of total votes in order to get into parliament. The opposition Russophone Reconciliation Centre (SC) has lost bits of their appeal due to ambivalent behavior in supporting opposition causes, but sometimes voting together with the governing coalition. Nevertheless they are steady leaders (10,5%) in polls for the last 1,5 years and I would predict that they would stay so, because they have always been in opposition.

Also it must be noted that right at this moment Latvia has reached almost the median point (the middle of it will be reached exactly in October 2008) of the four year election cycle. It means that the interest of general public about party political positions is generally vague now.

Q: For which party you think you would vote for, if parliamentary elections would take place tomorrow?
Data from

The data shows another worrying trend. Namely the highest support among the governing coalition parties has the ZZS. It is the party without any noticeable policy proposals and weak politicians. The Minister of Agriculture Mārtiņš Roze (ZZS) just survived the vote of no confidence, although during his last six year tenure as the minister the sugar industry is being closed under his supervision and dairy industry is on the brink of collapse.

I personally supported the closure of sugar industry from the pure logic of international trade that says that if the world price for sugar is lower than Latvian produced that it is more reasonable to invest those monies in comparatively advantageous industry. Latvian consumers had to subsidize Latvian sugar producers, who due to their climate could not produce this sweet stuff as cheaply as in Australia, Brazil or Caribbean. Any economics textbook says that in order to transform the redundant industry the government must take care about the reeducation of the redundant workforce. In the meantime Mr Roze party colleague and Minister of Education Tatjana Koķe (ZZS) has done little to anything to reintegrate redundant workers from the closed sugar industry into the workforce. Vocation education in Latvia has collapsed over all, although she has been an integral part of the Latvian policy on education since 1999.

Also and more importantly, the nominal financier of the ZZS and still their PM candidate is the Maire of Ventspils, who was imprisoned in March 2007, but is being released on bail now. Among coalition party members there has not been any discussion about misdeeds of the Maire of Ventspils (they cant even sack him!!!), and if there is such a support for a party with such a equivocal background it makes me reckon that Latvian public is tired of democratic regime and better wishes to see authoritarian rule coming back. After the Loskutovs affair and the latest poll data I have followed the discussion forums in Diena, NRA and LA, and the outright disapproval about democracy and call for a strong hand is omnipresent in comments unfortunately... .


As to prove the raison d'etre of the alienated and undecided voters LETA just announced that the governing coalition of the Riga City Council could just have ceased to exist. The rainbow coalition consists of the People's Party (TP), First and Latvian Way party union (LC/LPP), Social Democrats (LSDSP) and Fatherland and Freedom (TB/LNNK) and Jānis Birks (TB/LNNK) is the Maire of Riga. The motion of no confidence was started by the opposition New Era (JL) party and its petition is being signed also by following persons from the Riga governing coalition - vice Maire Jānis Dinevičs (LSDSP), Edmunds Krastiņš (TP), Dainis Īvāns (LSDSP), Aris Lācis (TP), Baiba Rozentāle (TP), Andrejs Vilks (LSDSP), Jānis Karpovičs (LSDSP) and some members of "Dzimtene" fraction. The second vice maire Andris Ārgalis (TP) said that he would also sign the petition if there will be 30 signatures on it.

It is less than a year until the municipal elections in Latvia. Incumbent Maire of Riga is not really popular and corruption scandals have plagued the city particularly during the last 2 years. It is rumoured that if the coalition falls then JL would take the place of TB/LNNK. I guess that for JL such a move is suicidal, but to talk about the future coalition in the city of Riga we must wait till the news really prove the end of the existing coalition. It is particularly important now, because any changes in the Riga government in such a small country like Latvia inescapably would bring changes also in the national government.

The fall of the existing coalition is close, because Diena just announced (17.00CET) that the Maire Jānis Birks has offered New Era (JL) party to participate in the coalition. According to Birks the signatures of Social Democrats (LSDSP) on the petition only proves that LSDSP has exited from the governing coalition of the city of Riga, thus he offers the JL party to take Social Democrats place instead. If TP, LC/LPP would agree on such a move it would prove that Social Democrats were screwed, again. If JL would agree on entering the existing coalition, then I do not really see how determined they will be to lead the August 2 referendum campaign.

Anyway, there is a lot at stake now in the Riga City council, and it WILL affect also national political scene. The hot political summer has really started even disregarding the upcoming Song & Dance Festival, and lets wait till the news prove the new outcome from this political battle!