Thursday, February 26, 2009

Good luck Valdis Dombrovskis!

In a quarter an hour the President of Latvia should speak at the press conference. After former Prime Minister Godmanis handed in his letter of resignation Latvia needed a new PM quickly. Urgency of decision making is needed due to the structural problems of the Latvian economy [rather ominously Latvian president would hold talks with the prominent group of economic experts after the press conference today] as well as due to the ongoing negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. As if to prove the speed of decision making in Latvia also the Latvian Parliament started their session early today [listening to the live session of the Saeima on LR], and already with 85 YEA voices passed the constitutional amendments in first reading, while agreeing that those same amendments would be voted in second reading on March 10, 2009. Those are the same constitutional amendments that brought about 650 000 Latvian citizens to the election booths last summer. It seems as if the parliament is in a hurry now to pass all the presidential requirements prior the deadline of March 31 expires, because the parliament plans also to pass the amendments in election law in the third and final reading.

The president already announced that he would decide between the two candidates - Valdis Dombrovskis and Edgars Zalāns. From the experience, skills, merits... and finally from the common sense point of view [you do not trust the party representative who created all this mess!] the president should give Valdis Dombrovskis a chance to form a large coalition government.

The president just came [9:40CET] out with his announcement and common sense still prevails in Republic of Latvia - Valdis Dombrovskis is a new PM nominee!

At the end there was only one...

Photo: Lita Krone (LETA/Diena)

Valdis Dombrovskis nominated other two opposition Civic Union and Society for Another Politics parties as the immediate partners in the upcoming coalition building process. People's Party (PP), Union of Greens and Farmers as well as Fatherland and Freedom Party would be asked to participate in coalition building process, that should together give them 64 vote majority in the hundred member Saeima. According to Dombrovskis he expects the new government to be formed within two weeks. The president announced that he has listened to solid promises from the expected coalition parties to take part in the newly formed government, and if some of the parties would fail to support the future government then it would be the responsibility of those parties themselves, thus basically allowing the president still to stick to the ominous March 31 deadline. The PP behavior was suspicious during last days, and it felt as if they neither want to have the PM post nor want to support the opposition candidate for the PM office. The issue of early elections is still looming above the parliamentarians, and it clashes with the personal interests of certain members of care taking government now. The upcoming two weeks would be hot, and I would not exclude the scenario of the majority of MP's not being able to agree on the Valdis Dombrovskis future cabinet.

Finnish author and cartoonist Jukka Rislaki presented a rather colourful vision of the present Latvian environment. The parliament is discussing amendments in election law right at this moment and while listening to the speeches I am sadly realizing how backward Latvian MP's are. Those issues they discuss now, should have been discussed fifteen years ago. At economically turbulent times, when different fiscal and economic policies should be discussed Latvian MP's are still busy with polity matters, huh, uhhh. Anyway, lai sokas Valdi Dombrovski!

Text in Latvian: [Phoenix] New Government, Phoenix wants to rise from ashes again

Cartoon: Juka Rislaki

P.S. For those of you reading Estonian here is my Delfi piece today.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rõõmsat Eesti Vabariigi Aastapäeva! *

* Merry Anniversary of the Republic of Estonia!

It is the ninety first anniversary of the Northernmost of the Baltic States, and there is a military parade in Narva today. The tradition to have military parades in different Estonian cities makes different parts of Estonia to feel being part of res publica. Corrupt and selfish politicians particularly during the years of economic boom, that coincided with the time when Estonia joined the European Union, tarnished the ideals of republic. Nevertheless, I honestly believe that there are enough patriotic and honest enough politicians in Estonia to form a critical mass for leading Estonia through today's economically turbulent times. Trust of the population in Eesti Vabariik and their representatives is stable, although the support for political parties declined across all the political spectrum due to curbing of public expenses lately. There are certain opposition parties in Estonia who care more about the well being of single politician and his lobbies, but its not the domestic politics I am here to write today.

Major reason for typing onto my keyboard today is the fact that I am celebrating the birthday of the Republic of Estonia. I am writing while simultaneously listening to the Estonian Broadcasting Corporation emission from the Skiing World Championships, where couple of days ago Andrus Veerpalu became the World Champion in the 15 km classical race! Estonia is my spiritual home not just because my mother is Estonian or because I studied at the University of Tartu, but foremost due to the vital Estonian people giving me enormous positive energy! Thus, to all my Estonian friends wherever you are now - SUURIMAD ŌNNESOOVID!!

During my last visit to Estonia I purchased a movie "Singing Revolution", that I suggest all the folks who are "hooked on Baltics" must see. Ominous songs of Tõnis Mägi inspired me already in the late 1980', when I had an opportunity to listen to him for the first time during the Independence Rock Concert ("Roks par Neatkarību") in the Riga old Sports Palace. I tend to hum his visionary song [The Dawn] whenever I am in contemplative mood. Whenever I visit Estonia the feeling never leaves me that the message from this powerful song reached the hearts and souls of Estonian people. Thus, to finish here I only hope that the similarly ominous lyrics of Auseklis and Jāzeps Vītols "Gaismas Pils" would reach the hearts and souls of Latvian folks one day! If Latvians and other folks wonder what kind of gospel visionary Tõnis Mägi delivered twenty years ago, then I have added lyrics of this song below.

"KOIT" - The Dawn (1988)

Again it’s time to stand up straight and cast off our shackles
That everything once created could together be born again
It’s dawn, a majestic blaze, Victory of the light awakes the land
Free is the horizon, and the first ray will soon touch the land
A call to break down it all, that we could freely breathe again
See, the ice has broken, let’s join our hands and forces
With wisdom, collective wisdom, with collective might, we can do it all
Ahead is the only road, the road to freedom, there can be no other
The might, the power of light, the people of freedom, let’s go together
With a joyful cry on our lips, see, the giant has freed himself
Faith leads us onward, and a heavenly beam accompanies us
So there’s only one step to victory, a short, short step
It’s the land, our sacred fatherland, that now will be free
The song, our song of victory, will continue, and soon you’ll see Estonia free!

Music and lyrics by Tõnis Mägi

On jälle aeg selg sirgu lüüaja heita endalt orjarüü,
et loomishoos kõik loodukoos võiks sündida uuesti.
On koit, kuninglik loit,valguse võit äratab maa.
Prii on taevapiir, esimene kiirlangemas on maale.
Hõik - murrame kõik,et vabana saaks hingata taas.
Näe - on murdunud jääulatagem käed, ühendagem väed.
Nõul, ühisel nõul,ühisel jõul, me suudame kõik.
Ees on ainus tee, vabaduse teeteist ei olla saagi.
Võim, valguse võimpriiuse hõim, läheme kooshuulil rõõmuhüüd
Näe, on kaljust käe kätte saanud hiid.
Usk edasi viib, taevane kiirsaatmas on meid
Nii - on võiduni jäänud veel üks sammlühike samm, samm
Maa, isademaa, on püha see maa, mis vabaks nüüd saab
Laul, me võidulaul, kõlama see jääb, peagi vaba Eestit näed!

Monday, February 23, 2009

More candidates for the Latvian PM post proposed (updated)

On weekend rumours whirled about the party faction head Mrs Solvita Āboltiņa being the candidate for the opposition New Era party (NE). This morning the three parliamentary opposition parties - New Era, Civic Union (CU) and Society for Other Politics (SCP) - came out with an announcement that they would come out with a common candidate. Today the NE party proposed Mr Valdis Dombrovskis (MEP) as their candidate for the PM nomination, very good, the best candidate possible during these dire times indeed!

Last week the three opposition parties announced that they would coordinate their acts and would also demand early elections. This morning the NE party cancelled the three opposition parties' meeting because of the meeting with the Union of Greens and Farmers (UGF) at the same time. According to SCP and CU all opposition parties would agree on common nomination for the PM post. Confirmations from CU and SCP agreeing on Valdis Dombrovskis candidacy have not come in yet however.

Also the largest russophone opposition Harmony Centre (HC) party announced their candidate for the PM office Mr Jānis Urbanovičs. He is a long standing opposition member and sits in the parliament since 1993. In addition to the announcement about the HC nominee the HC party faction head in the parliament Mr Nils Ušakovs announced that "there is total confusion in the parliament, and thus he would not exclude the possibility about calling for vote of no confidence against the president Zatlers."

In the meantime UGF, PP and Latvia's First/Latvian Way party union announced that they are ready to work under the NE leadership. Strong leadership skills would be required from the new PM, because the previous governing coalition left a huge mess behind them. I do not believe in chances of the PP nominee Mr Edgars Zalāns, and most probably he would be badly battered by Mr Valdis Dombrovskis on tonight's Latvian Public TV 100.pants discussion show.

Not only structural reforms, but also negotiations with the IMF would have to be continued, because the IMF has left the town since the government of Ivars Godmanis resigned. Valdis Dombrovskis being a former Minister of Finance could combine his educational background and skills with his networks in the European Parliament, and regain the credibility for the government talking in one voice with the foreign donors. Dark clouds are above the Latvian financial system and faster the new government would act the better!

Text in Latvian: The currency basket-Latvian lat; [The Dog] It is only a matter of time

Cartoon: Gatis Šļūka


There are bombastic news circling in Russia and in the Baltic States now about the billionaire businessman Pjotr Aven offering his services to become the next Latvian Prime Minister. Pjotr Aven is a president of the Alfa Bank, he already owns the Latvia's biggest alcohol producer "Latvijas Balzāms". While Aven without Latvian citizenship but with his ancestry steeped into Latvian red riflemen has not spoken himself, and only his aid has said "billionaire Pyotr Aven is "very interested" in becoming Latvia's next prime minister after the Baltic state's government collapsed last week", negotiations about the future composition of the cabinet are ongoing.

This morning the Civic Union (CU) announced that they support Valdis Dombrovskis candidacy now for leading the Latvian government until early elections, and The Society for Other Politics has not come out with their announcement yet. Meanwhile the New Era (NE) has included the another opposition Harmony Centre party (HC) in the consultation process, thus taking the initiative away from the People's Party (PP). The biggest bone of contention from inclusion HC into negotiations is the fact that the HC is a party union where the most odious member is the unreformed Latvian Socialists led by Alfrēds Rubiks . An agreement is reached so far that Latvian Socialists could not expect anything tangible from being partners in the government, while in elections the HC would still represent them.

To be honest, I somehow suspect that the biggest and ideologically homogeneous parties with such tactics want to brake the ideologically heterogeneous party unions prior elections. Already prior the resignation of Ivars Godmanis government the Green party announced that they could leave the Union of Greens and Farmers (UGF), if the Ministry of Environment would be merged wit the proposed "Super ministry of Economics, environment and regional affairs". Now, with the HC being a vital stabilizing force during the negotiation process in forming the new government I do not suspect that Latvian Socialists could come out with similar announcement, due to the simple reason - Alfrēds Rubiks should run for the European Parliament from the HC list this summer. But in the medium term inclusion of the HC in the government could turn away the core supporters of socialism from the party.

If it would be 2006 now then I would suspect disagreements also in the Latvia's Way and Latvian First Party Union. Now, with the party merged there is not reason to suspect it splitting. However, after the new government in place and most probably early elections coming we should expect consolidation of Latvian political parties, and especially in the right wing. It wont happen within a year now, but the endogenous events [economic and financial crisis] and the structural requirements to overhaul the whole Latvian economic system and administrative apparatus would force consolidation of Latvian conservative, centrist and liberal forces. In the meantime Latvian folks have to carry on with their daily lives, and "Diena" cartoonist has a rather peculiar view on today's situation...

Text in Latvian: [TV anchorwoman] Political parties still have not reached an agreement who would take a place on the PM seat... [unpaid bills on the floor]

Cartoon: Zemgus

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Latvian new government coalition negotiations

Most of the international media channels already announced that the tenure of Ivars Godmanis is over. While Wall Street Journal, IHT or Bloomberg emphasize the importance of endogenous effects [economic crisis] on the fall of Latvian government, I still believe that primary reason for the government to fall were domestic policy calculations prior upcoming election marathon. I received several calls asking my opinion about the PM resigning and my straight answer was - this decision was long overdue! (remember that this cabinet survived the vote of no-confidence vis-a-vis two of its ministers already last Summer). Ivars Godmanis was a personal poodle of his party boss Ainārs Šlesers, and whilst being the governing coalition minority partner he never had a room for maneuver. His cabinet consisted from the same ministers as the government of A. Kalvītis, and it must be underlined again, that the two governing coalition partied got elected illegally. During the October 2006 parliamentary elections People's Party (PP) and Prime Minister's Latvia's Way/Latvian First Party Union (LPP) breached the election law, and after a long legal process both parties should pay around LVL 1,5 million into the Latvian State Treasury.

The government is dead and long live new government one must exclaim now! Good colleague Kārlis Streips in his blog already calculated that after the current resignation Latvia has had one government every fourteen months on the average (15 governments during the last 17,5 years). It is a far cry from Italy or Turkey, but it is far too much for a typical Northern European country. And what an irony, in his2007/08 TV New Year speech to the nation Ivars Godmanis expressed a wish to follow the Nordic path... .

The governor of the Bank of Latvia Mr Ilmārs Rimšēvics already announced that in these economically precarious times the new government should be formed within a week. Majority People's Party (PP) has already announced their candidate. The problem with the PP proposal is that their ratings have collapsed. According to latest "Latvijas Fakti" pollster provided for us in the TV3 website one may read that PP support has declined to meagre 1,6% (from the 2,5% last month). Anyway, to have an overview here is the February data where about 1050 respondents were answering the monthly question: "what party you would vote for, if elections would take place tomorrow?"

Harmony Center - 10,1% (January – 9,0%)
Union of Greens and Farmers – 6,3% (January -4,0%)
New Era – 6,3% (January -5,1%)
Society for Other Politics 4,8% (January -4,6%)
Civic Union 3,8% (January - 2,6%)
For Human Rights in United Latvia – 3,3% (January -4,7%)
Fatherland Party – 3,1% (January - 2,5%)
Latvian First and Latvian Way party union– 2,3% (January -3,3%)
People's Party – 1,6% (January -2,5%)
"All to Latvia" – 1,5% (January - 1,2%).
"I do not know" or undecided voters - 35% (January - 36,4%)
"I would not take part in elections" or alienated voters - 17,1% (January - 17,8%)

The rest of the ratings are not surprising and if we would look into the September 2006 data (that I do not have with me now:), then the number of undecided or swing voters would be pretty much the same, and there would have been less alienated voters. Now with all the corruption scandals, economy stalled and outright stupid political games the number of alienated voters has increased. And here I absolutely blame the present governing gang for that!

But how would the country develop and who would be possible PM candidates? As I just earlier mentioned then PP has announced the Kuldīga Harry Potter look-alike Mr Zalāns as their prime candidate for the PM post. The decision to nominate Edgars Zalāns makes me reckon that PP tactics is to sit as a prime mover & shaker from the back seat. According to such plan PP would allow New Era (NE) party to propose their PM candidate, and he could be even nominated by the president. I am just afraid that ten silver shekels would have to be paid for the New Era calling off their previous demand for early elections in order to get the PM post. Valdis Dombrovskis (MEP) was NE candidat for the PM post already in December 2007, when president Zatlers nominated Ivars Godmanis as a PM. These days the news circle about the NE Party faction leader Mrs Solvita Āboltiņa as the new candidate from the NE however.

In any case the major bone of contention in this government formation process would be agreement on early elections! It was the president Zatlers who announced on January 14 that he would initiate early elections if government and the parliament "would not find new members into cabinet", would not find a new head of the Corruption Prevention Bureau (KNAB), and would not pass required constitutional amendments. Now the government "should have new members", Mr Vilnītis is proposed as the new head of KNAB, and constitutional amendments are mulled through the parliament. Basically it means that there is no need for the president to initiate the procedure of early elections, and that procedure is endowed to him in the Art. 48 of Satversme.

With Ivars Godmanis government stepping down the new cabinet should be formed in the previous size. It means that the only way to achieve the slimmed down size is, if the parliament would pass amendments into the law of the cabinet of ministers. If not, the same bloated 18 member cabinet would be formed, and who would form the governing coalition?

The president wants to have the national unity government, but as a doctor he should understand that reconciliation between rapist and rape victim is possible only when the latter suffers the Stockholm syndrome. Anyway, among two parties who demanded resignation of Ivars Godmanis PP are at the helm of consultations now. Union of Greens and Farmers (UGF) announced in earnest that their major candidate for the PM post is ... incumbent Maire of Ventspils! The UGF faction leader in the parliament Mr Brigmanis shyly announced that he understands, that it is not good to propose such a candidate who is under criminal investigation for misuse of power and having accusations about corruption charges, but he still believes that A. Lembergs is their best PM candidate... .

The TV3 "Nekā Personīga" website revealed another interesting "Latvijas Fakti" poll. Respondents were asked their preferential candidate for the PM office, and the Maire of Ventspils came strongly second after Ms Ingūna Sudraba the present Head of the State Audit Office and in front of the former president Vaira Vīķe Freiberga. Quite interestingly those respondents who nominated Ingūna Sudraba as their first candidate wanted to see Vaira Vīķe Freiberga as their second best candidate , however those who nominated Ivars Godmanis as their first candidate wanted to the see Maire of Ventspils as their second best choice...collective Stockholm syndrome reflected in real life situation?

The coalition negotiations will be ongoing next week. If during the party negotiations the early elections would be called off then most probably the New Era Mrs Āboltiņa would be nominated to form the new cabinet. In case the strategists of opposition parties would look further into future then they would not back off from the call for early elections, and most probably Edgars Zalāns would turn out to be the new PM then. There is still a legitimate question, what was the reason for PP and UGF to withdraw a support from the Godmanis government after they just supported it on February 4? An answer is simple, Latvian political system enables those parties to perform better in elections (on June 6 there are European Parliament and municipal elections forthcoming) who are at the helm and can use "administrative resources". Next week will be interesting and the negotiations would start with all the party representatives invited to the Riga Castle already on Monday.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Latvian political theatre continues: Episode Two

It is Friday morning and there are still no substantial changes in the way Latvia is governed. While the PM tours neighbouring Belarus, the president participated in the morning TV news and announced, "that Latvian political parties keep their own interests above the interests of the Republic of Latvia." It is hard to tell whether the president really comprehends what he is saying, or it is another speech in a row of inconsequential announcements. The fact is that the People' s Party (PP) is meeting the president today, and the PP would be given a chance to underline the strengths of their master plan for increasing efficiency of the Latvian civil service. The very plan PP sticks to was already severely criticized by the Head of the State Audit office Ms Ingūna Sudraba, Iveta Kažoka from "Providus", and also the PM's party wanted to have clear answer to ten questions concerning the proposed reform of the state administrative apparatus.
In the meantime the head of the Union of Greens and Farmers (UGF) faction in the parliament Mr Brigmanis announced that all coalition parties should announce today that they are giving up support for the PM government if the PM cannot do it himself. Such announcement after the same UDF did not support the Cabinet's vote of no confidence two weeks ago sounds simply crazy, but lately the sudden change of mind has become a real trademark of Latvian politicians, unfortunately.

The president is allowing the free fall of Latvian government until the March 31 with his ominous announcement after the return from Strasbourg in early January. I am afraid that he does not understand the magnitude of problems in Latvia, and the sooner he would make up his mind about calling for early elections the better. Latvian political parties have already started election campaigning and on this front nothing has changed. Certain governing coalition parties smugly believe that majority of Latvian society is inadequately educated and it is possible to buy them with shallow propaganda again.
With the free fall of the government also the Latvian economy continues its downward spiralling. Except the coming spring weather there is nothing to cheer about. Somehow the feeling never leaves me, while talking on the streets or following political talk shows and radio interviews, that nobody is really in charge in this country now, brrrr

Text in Latvian: I somehow wonder, why do I have a feeling that I am pouring this money into some kind of hole...

Cartoon: Gatis Šļūka

Monday, February 16, 2009

Latvian political theatre continues: Episode One

Latvian political developments are not even comic anymore. The Latvian president announced last Friday night, that he lost his trust in the Latvian Prime Minister Godmanis. Rather many pundits encouraged the president to demand the resignation of PM, but they probably forgot about the Latvian Constitution, that entitles only the parliament to demand the resignation of the Cabinet. Nevertheless, after that ominous announcement the president summoned the PM to the Riga Castle this afternoon. After four hours of discussions between the two politicians the president announced that he convinced the PM to reconsider his initial plan to postpone the refurbishing of the existing government. After that the Prime Minister recognized that his plan was too harsh after all, therefore he agreed that the plan of his rival People's Party (PP) is more down to the earth, and he would probably ignite another plan for "remodelling the Ms Latvia sails in the open seas of the global economic storm". Even the lacklustre president managed to get dry out of water according to "the Latvian standards", because he simply announced that he trusts the PM again (!), and he also sticks to his March 31, 2009 deadline (who can trust that there is any (?) deadline in this Latvian wonderland anymore).

No more comment tonight, and lets wait till the Episode II of this badly staged theatre.

Text in Latvian: But!! Yes! No! However...

Cartoon: Vladimirs

P.S. For those of you reading Latvian here is my Diena piece.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Latvian Cabinet agrees that it cannot agree on anything...(updated)

After all the hype about the reorganization of the bloated Latvian government, cutting wages, and slimming it down from eighteen to twelve ministries (and cutting the number of state agencies from about 200 to 85) the government of Ivars Godmanis returned to square one! According to BNS the governing coalition council agreed that they cannot agree on anything, and they would continue within the present government framework...thus continuing to enjoy their power bubble... .

According to the news the PM and the rest of the government have drawn a red line, and would "seriously work on alleviating the economic turbulence and revise the 2009 budget medium term expenditures now", until the municipal and European parliament elections on June 6, 2009! Seems that the power bubble is really tiny in Latvia! To use science fiction analogies I have a feeling now that the Latvian "governing nomenclature" has exited (or never entered:) the EU called solar system, and still complacently enjoys the orbit of the post-Soviet Andromeda... .
Text in Latvian - "You crossed the red line!"
Cartoon: Gatis Šļūka

Latvia is already a failed state where the PM economic advisor Mr Miglavs openly announced in today's interview in Diena, that, if the dairy industry will not find export markets, it would probably have to be shut down, and just after LVL 27mlj. were allocated to farmers after their protests last week. Inability to plan the restructuring of economic sectors is endemic. Ministries of agriculture and education were run by the Union of Greens and Farmers (UGF) ministers for the last six years, but the UGF policy in supporting all small holders without asking any education credentials has failed now. Policies were left stranded and not solved in complex manner. Therefore, for example, while in neighboring Estonia 5,7% of the economically active workforce in agricultural sector produces 2,9% of GDP, in Latvia for producing 3,3% of GDP requires 12,8% of economically active farmers... .

The workers is the smallest concern now, because government is busy with appointment of ministers after the ministers of agriculture and culture had to leave their respective posts. Changes in the Latvian cabinet require approval of the parliamentary majority, while changes in the same Estonian or German cabinet can be decided by the PM and approved by the president. With the antiquated form of the Latvian constitution, that stems from the controversial Weimar Grundgesetz, the Latvian PM would never be able to produce any results. It is because his primary concern would always remain provision of the governing coalition stability. Concerns about the latter is too much of a luxury in today's turbulent times, and the "Latvian governing nomenclature" unfortunately does not comprehend that... . After all the bickering and bad blood spilled I cannot understand how the government and governing coalition MP's can draw red lines and agree on anything?
The president Zatlers consulted with the EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs while in Strasbourg, and Mr Piebalgs did not exclude the possibility to take over the rudder of Ms Latvia if such proposal would be made to him. It makes me reckon that the governing coalition is irresponsibly imitating the work during economically dire times now, and trying to understand among themselves how the perks would be divided after the fall of the incumbent government. Political science is powerless here, and psychiatrist is needed to evaluate the state of mind of those "governing" Latvia today... .
At the end of the day the president Zatlers rather unexpectedly came up with an announcement, while commenting the decision of the government to abolish the plan to overhaul the government this morning. "Mr President has lost his trust in the prime minister Mr. Godmanis" [I.Godmaņa kungs ir zaudējis manu uzticību,» atzinis Valsts prezidents], and he summoning the PM to the Riga Castle next Monday. That's it, and another announcement in the badly staged theatre... .
I refuse to comment his announcement this time because the Latvian president is famous for changing his mind according to winds blowing.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Hallo - anyone still trusting the Latvian government!?

Returned back from Brussels yesterday and realized that nothing substantial has happened in Latvia during the week. Government spoekpersons continue to slowly deliver smug announcements about the refurbishing of the government facade. News just came in from the Statistics Bureau about the Latvian economy contracting -10,5% in the fourth quarter last year, and the unemployment reaching 8, 8% margin in January 2009. Instead of comparing this data with the one in Hungary, Slovakia or Netherlands the PM paints picture about the state of economy in truly apocalyptic colours in his official pronouncements. Last pearl from the head of the cabinet was his announcement during the Latvian TV evening news prior the vote of no confidence: ``that nobody will replace him at the rudder of Ms Latvia without elections, because he as a captain would rather go down with the ship...period! Lets see what kind of gems would follow an announcement about the latest macroeconomic data:)

People´s Party (PP) proposes their MP and a former musician Vents Armands Krauklis for the post of the Minister of Culture. It seems that the governing coalition parties are running not only short of time, but also of sensible candidates. Meanwhile Diena columnist, Ms Laila Pakalnina already openly speaks about the moral bankruptcy of the Latvia Ltd. political ``elite`` today... .

Text in Latvian:
(IMF sacks of money below)

Cartoon: Davis Nore

After surviving successful vote of no confidence the PM has become unapproachable. Ivars Godmanis announced that he is open for discussions about the expanded government. Consolidating opposition parties are shunning him and they consequently refuse to be added to already existing government as an addendum, and even the coalition parties are not content with the style of Godmanis government. In the NRA newsreel the head of the Union of Greens and Farmers (UGF) faction openly announces this morning that in the parliament there is already a feeling, that the end of the existing coalition government has arrived. Thus, Mr Brigmanis proposes a new and apolitical candidate for the new PM post, Mr Inesis Feiferis. Mr Brigmanis believes that Mr Feiferis would be the best candidate for the premiership during these dire straits. But I still cannot trust Mr Brigmanis, because just couple of month ago he was insisting that their PM candidate is the greatest ``benefactor`` of the UGF, Mr Lembergs. The sooner the president would make up his mind the better... .

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

No alternative from the opposition - the PM should survive the vote of no confidence (Updated)

Its 3pm (CET) and while working on a research paper I am listening to the live Saeima session. I did not expect anything but shallow populism from the official Latvian parliaments' court jesters, Messrs Tabūns & Dobelis (and they proved my predictions right again...). However, I expected something more tangible from the initiators of the vote of no confidence, the New Era party (NE). The speech of Solvita Āboltiņa (NE) was mere compilation of future aspirations, and mere generalizations however. Members of the opposition Civic Union (CU) Madams Kalniete and Čepāne were more specific and underlined major reasons for the Republic Latvia finding itself in the sorry state of political and economic collapse. The session of the parliament is ongoing, Ivars Godmanis has already accepted the Minister of Agriculture Mr Roze letter of resignation, and I suspect that the PM would survive the vote of no confidence.

Why? Because the opposition did not propose so far the alternative shadow cabinet, and because each of the opposition party is planning their own tactics prior the triple election saga. It means that opposition is still too fractional and consolidation still in the near future. While following the events in the parliament it seems that probably even the Peoples Party (PP) has agreed on the continued leadership of the incumbent PM.

It would mean that after slimming of the government also some of the opposition parties would be invited into the new and refurbished Latvian government. At least the Godfather of the present government uttered about it already before, that if possibility would arise then the new coalition partner would be the Harmony Centre party). It would consequently mean that the old/new Ivars Godmanis government would carry on until the snap elections in the foreseeable future.


Members of the opposition Einārs Repše (NE), Kārlis Šadurskis (CU) and Aigars Štokenbergs (SCP) appealed to the governing coalition MP's with well structured and concise presentations. However, I am afraid that the majority MP's are unable to understand the depth of the Latvian stagnation and unwilling to brake out of the power bubble. Thus, while it is already 17.00pm (CET) I am still sticking to the previous prediction that the PM would carry on at the helm of Ms Latvia, and would try to lead it out from the rough seas.

It is 18.00 (CET) and MP Dzintars Ābiķis (Peoples Party) announced that there have been negotiations among the governing coalition members about inviting opposition New Era (NE) and Harmony Center (HC) parties to form a new and enlarged coalition government.

Have to wait until the end of the emergency session of the parliament, and then the framework for the development during upcoming half a year would be known.

Its 18.16pm (CET) and with 40 AYE, 51NAY and 1 ABSTAINED votes the vote of non-confidence failed, and the incumbent PM would try to continue navigating Ms Latvia out of the rough seas. How and whether he would succeed slimming the present government would be the topic for next entries...

Finally, in Thursday's Diena there is a very revealing and poignant cartoon about the behaviour of the present governing coalition!
Member of the People's Party (TP) - We need to keep this government! And his reflection - We need new government!

Cartoon: Ernests

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Farmers protesting in Riga while transport supremo playing Godfather...(updated)

A week ago farmers promised to arrive to Riga unless their demands would be met. Their demands were not met and they are in Riga today. This time I am following the events from Brussels where I am due to the research project, however you may follow a good photo coverage on farmers camping in Riga downtown here.

Apparently government has met farmers demands about the issue of export subsidies in sum of LVL27mlj. Farmers announced earlier that they would not leave the town until all (!) their demands are met, and the minister of agriculture resigns. The minister of agriculture is not up to his tasks and his performance just makes the prime minister to save his "face" with his palm again...(remember the press conference with the odious minister of finance:)

Prime minister Godmanis and Minister of Agriculture Roze at the press conference about the state of agriculture in Latvia, February 2009

Photo: Delfi

Prime minister saving his "face" wont help this time, because the vote of no confidence expects him tomorrow at the house of parliament . His workaholic habits and inability to delegate responsibilities to the rest of the cabinet are all too well known for years now.
Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis back in 1993
Photo: Apollo
Ivars Godmanis is kept as a poodle in short leash by his alter ego, the minister of transport (note the difference in his education credentials in English and Latvian:), who lives in his own world of nouveau riche glamour and as a true Christian he truly believes in conspiracies. As if farmers protests would not be serious enough, there is a bill prepared in the cabinet that would flush LVL25mlj. into the sphere of religious tourism reports the opposition MP Sandra Kalniete (Civic Union) in her blog today.
Disagreements in the governing coalition are deep, but I would not bet all hundred percent on the fact that the government would receive the vote of no confidence tomorrow. While the Peoples Party (PP) Parteigenosse announced that PP considers the present governing coalition incapacitated five days ago, then yesterday we received Parteigenosse announcement saying that the PP would not vote AYE during the vote of no confidence on the Ivars Godmanis government. Here you have the prime evidence about the present governing coalition key figures' inability to form a single coherent policy within a single week! Why do people wonder about the inefficient communications of the government with the public or about the failed Republic of Latvia for the last couple of years now?
Lets wait for the vote of no confidence tomorrow:)
Diena just announced that the Minister of Agriculture, Mārtiņš Roze promised to resign to unspecified participants of the farmers protests actions. The government spokesmen Mr Vaikulis asked farmers to leave the town, but nobody knows when exactly the minister of agriculture would resign. The Latvian TV first channel announced that the guest of the the evening 100 pants programme would be Mr Roze, and one could predict his resignation prior this programme or fait accompli announcement during the programme.
The Latvian TV 100 pants emission is over now (its 21.00CET), and Mr Mārtiņš Roze announced that he is resigning from the Minister of Agriculture office, and that he would hand over the letter of resignation to the PM on Wednesday. Rather undiplomatically, while Diena journalists asked about prime ministers future reaction and whether there are any more replacements forthcoming, the PM responded: "as you might have already noticed our ranks are decreasing, we are shot one by one", but all in all, the future situation depends on the vote of no confidence in Saeima on Wednesday. (“kā redzat, mēs paliekam mazāk, mūs pa vienam atšauj”, bet kopumā uzsvēra, ka viss atkarīgs no trešdienas Saeimas balsojuma par neuzticību valdībai.)
P.S. Here is the discussion we had with colleagues on the image EU has among Latvian public today, and how eager the people of Latvia are to take part in democratic governance.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Latvia - its radio silence!

It is Monday moring now. For quite a long time there were heated discussions about the causes of the circa LVL1mlj debt in the Latvian Public Radio (LR). The strangest part of the whole issue is the fact that the National Radio and Television Council (NRTP) is the organization that oversees the work of LR, but they did not notice financial irregularities until the very late (December 2008).

After the investigation being carried out the former director of the LR Mr Semevics resigned. Soon after it was Latvian Transport Supremo, who suggested that the LR could be saved with monies earned from the LVRTC Plc. dividends. Then shady developments started to evolve. First, it was announced that LR needs a new director for solving the critical financial situation. Second, rumours spread that LR and Latvian Public Television (LTV) are not managed properly, that they should be merged, and there are businessman who are interested in buying the LR building in the very heart of Riga - Doma laukums 8. And finally, unexpected candidate was proposed for the post of the LR new general director.

After the election process NRTP rather unexpectedly to the actual head of the council (Abrams Kleckins - Harmony Centre Party) failed to elect the ``unexpected candidate`` and the former LR journalist Dzintris Kolats was elected the new general director of the LR. But the ``unexpected candidate`` was the party mate of the prime minister and transport supremo. Because, what a coincidence (!), the Ministry of Transport and Communication oversees the work of the LVRTC suddenly made the transport supremo to change his mind, and A. Slesers announced that it would be too inefficient to channel about LVL1 mlj. earned from the LVRTC dividends into the LR coffers.

It all lead to the public activism in the center of Riga, and opening of an account where Latvian public could pay their donations in order to support the work of independent and public LR. The staff of the radio is still investigating where did the LVL1 mlj disappear, but most of them also understand that the human resources are used not particularly effectively. Problems of human resources and public finances in the LR would be solved one day. Actually the LR and LTV would have to follow the example of Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) in order to cut the expenses of administration. Simply the Latvian MP´s have been too complacent, and the new public broadcasting act has not reached the stage of first reading in the parliament yet. Instead of lawmaking Latvian MP´s play political games, thus private interests of some greedy ministers and political party financiers are paramount to public interests now.

Thus, this morning the LR started with the period of stillness. After national anthem played at 6am, the radio presenter announced ``at the present moment due to the lack of financial resources the LR does not air its 1,2,3,4 programmes, as well as Radio Naba. We apologize our listeners for any inconveniences incurred.``("Šobrīd finansējuma trūkuma dēļ neraida Latvijas radio 1.,2.,3.,4. programma, kā arī Radio Naba. Atvainojamies radio klausītājiem par sagātātajām neērtībām."). For an hour there was stillness in all Latvian radio programmes. According to unspecified sources I heard that the new radio general director hopes on positive outcome from the negotiations with the PM early this week. If the new general director would not be able to reach a deal with the present government, and the government chair is shaking prior the Latvian farmers announced ``manure party`` and governing coalition members at loggerheads, then such periods of stillness on Latvian public airwaves would become customary...