Monday, March 9, 2009

Latvian "vertical of power"

Yesterday evening the Latvian LNT TV station had an unexpected talk show with all but one former primer ministers present, and Andris Bērziņš busy preparing for elections. My colleague Iveta Kažoka in her blog spared my time to immediately write my contemplations about the program in Latvian. The central question of the show was - what Latvia should do? - as if Latvia would be some kind of abstract entity, and it would not have basic mechanisms of state governance. The most active speakers were former prime ministers from the People's Party (PP). Other ministers chirped out some ideas as well, but somewhat miraculously central theme of the whole emission became - whether the future Latvian government should exercise emergency powers and resort to the vertical of power!

The odious Art. 81 allowed the Cabinet to exercise legislative powers while parliament was in recess. This article was rid from the Latvian Constitution after Aigars Kalvītis government tried to perform shadow coup d'etat at the end of 2006 with the secretive changes in the law of security organizations. Yesterday, it was the incumbent Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis who assumed that without resorting to the Art. 81, and endowing Latvian executive with legislative powers, there is no chance for the Valdis Dombrovskis future cabinet to solve the challenges Latvia is facing right now. There were only two ministers - Guntars Krasts & Einārs Repše - who objected to return of the Art. 81.

The anchor of the program could not really moderate the discussion thus former prime ministers' diatribes were unbearable for most of the time. Former PM Valdis Birkavs had an idee fixe that 80% of the Latvian civil servants should be given unpaid leave until the mess with the bloated Latvian government is solved. Also representing his own construction lobby, he believed that the only right solution for Latvia getting out of the present dire straits is propping up the construction business. Moderator paid undue "attention" to the proposed Minister of Finance in the future government, Mr Einārs Repše. He asked him and other PM's whether Latvian monetary authorities should not unilaterally decide about the Latvian currency switched over to euro? All former PM's agreed that stability of the Latvian currency is the prerequisite for leading Latvia out of the present economic swamp. Around the middle of the show the moderator asked the key question - what the former eight prime ministers considered their faults for having Latvia now on the verge of bankruptcy?

Einārs Repše tried to argue that probably he was too offensive with his onslaught on the Latvian corrupt networks and probably overestimated his personal powers, thus had to give in to the government of Indulis Emsis. Aigars Kalvītis and Andris Šķēle were drumming the same tambourine, and believed that they had been too mild in giving in to the requests of the trade unions. Other than that, those gentlemen did not find a single fault (!) in their performance. Such issues as the rule of law and personal responsibility simply did not appear in that discussion. The personal willpower and extreme form of technocratic approach to problems was omnipresent, thus "Latvian self proclaimed political elite members" came to conclusion that if there would not been the coalition "cow trading" their work would have been a lot more easier whilst having possibility to resort to emergency powers. Thus much about the traditional cognisance of democracy among six (!) former prime ministers in Латвия... .

I never had any hopes about any of the Latvian AAA team ministers. At least there is a flicker of hope about the future cabinet being able to lead the country in one piece until the early elections. The trust in democratic regime among Latvian populace was lost very much due to the same authoritarian prime ministers exercising their power unaccounted. The results are not far to look after, because latest polls show that about a quarter of the Latvian population would better prefer authoritarian dictator than party democracy in Latvia... . The quarter of population is probably the same that does not want to take part in elections, that monthly sociological pollsters regularly show us.

The new government should be voted in the parliament the coming Thursday. The new government still does not have the candidate for the minister of culture. At least the opposition New Era (NE) party seems like playing the chicken game, because they announced about reevaluation of the formerly signed agreements about super-expensive construction of the National Library. PP has not openly opposed this announcement, but the former ministers of health and education have voiced their doubts about taking their posts in the future government, because according to them additional 20% budget cuts (in addition to the -15% initiated already in January 2009) are too drastic. However, the IMF and EU conditionality is a good mechanism, because monies are not disbursed until requested agreements are reached. Previously mentioned ministers and PP party should understand, that if they would undermine the Valdis Dombrovskis formed cabinet they would pull also themselves into the dustbin of history. Thus, I consider the PP leadership frantic holding to the demand for control over the EU structural fund cash flows as sign of extreme weakness of that party (apparently they do not have neither human resources nor funds, if they plan to propose Ms Anta Rugāte for the Culture Minister post). The Valdis Dombrovskis formed government would have several priorities to perform in order to reignite the frozen Latvian economy. But before that, lets wait for the Thursday vote in the parliament. And while waiting for the vote, you may perceive the prevailing mood among the Latvian public about the bacchanalia's of the former government through another poignant cartoon of Gatis Šļūka.

Text in Latvian: [Men in Red hat]: Where is the booze? It was a hard and unpopular decision.


Anonymous said...

You know, it's damn sad that there is this political discussion going on. And actually I can feel in the air that eventually PP's plan would fulfil.

Firstly, they managed to initiate fall of Godmanis government as it was predicted.
And secondly, now media are gradually filling with opinions that Mr Dombrovskis with his "let's mechanically cut spending everywhere" is going to fail. At least I don't think that his plan of reducing budget of IZM by twenty something million (which would mean about 10% wage reduction additionally to 25-30% cut in at the beginning of 2009) would not become popular. Same might be said about other reductions.

And eventually evil PP's plan (as Mr Zanders sees it) to cause *hit, let some one else fail as he tries to improve situation and than come back- will succeed.

Off topic:
I guess it would be a great food for research- to determine what previous governmental members and policies failed and what would be the right decisions at that time. Perhaps just economic dimension and economic policies might be that very focus of the research. And than it might be extended to see simultaneously what happened in last 2-3 years in global economics and what happened in Latvia.

But on the other hand- I am not sure if Latvia deserves such a broad and time/money consuming research.

Baltic said...

To anonymopus:

I disagree with you and believe that People's Party is agonising - their way of doing business is unsustainable, thus PP is heading for doom!

You asked: to determine what previous governmental members and policies failed and what would be the right decisions at that time?

My answer - IGNORANCE/STUPIDITY and tradititionally Soviet understanding about the role of the government in the country. Russians would have said PEREBORSHKILI, but to make it more clear the former dairyman together with plumber SIMPLY used the state as a milking cow for their own enrichment and in the free time also "governed"

Anonymous said...

Well, I must say that on Your second point- I disagree with You.

I don't think that argument- stupidity of government is to be blamed for cluster failure in political and as well economical arena- does not hold water.

During last two weeks I happened to read a few materials- some news paper articles (particular, Finnish journalist offending Estonian nation for their stupidity) , some theories of W and E Europe, theories of state vs people.. Well, many say that there's problems of evolving democracies, many come together with developing market economies (you know, privatisation, concentration of wealth in small layer of population) etc.

But last but not least point talks about weak democratic traditions, weak civic activities- nations of young European democratic don't know how to or are not used to practising democracy.

And top-down feeding democracy is not the path to take- most sustainable traditions always are those that nation initiate itself.

So to conclude- of course recent governments of Latvia are no etalon, but I must stress that Latvian lack of civic activity also played significant role into evolution of cluster *uck that they face today.

Baltic said...

To anonymous:

YPOU said: ``And top-down feeding democracy is not the path to take- most sustainable traditions always are those that nation initiate itself.``

YES, and Inglehard&Putnam research on Italy proves your point quite correctly. Later on Linz&Stepan in their research also convincingly prove that the most successfull democracies are the ones that experiences the bottom - up approach to civic society building. Together with Axel retz we speke about it in our own research in

``So to conclude- of course recent governments of Latvia are no etalon, but I must stress that Latvian lack of civic activity also played significant role into evolution of cluster *uck that they face today.``

Yes, but with all the civic society activity the existing legislature still disqualifies the same activity of the civil society (3 referendum campaigns) and there was the very effective safety valve - Emnerald and Misty islands...