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.


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