Saturday, August 7, 2010

Democratic systems and desire for a strong hand in Latvia

The UN membership is a sign abut a country taking the responsibility to follow basic principles of participation in global civil society, even though there is neither enforcement agency to impose such principles, uniform model of democracy, nor the system for punishing countries that are complacent or ignorant enough. The Council of Europe(CE) in Strasbourg serves the gatekeeper role to ensure that the prospective EU members abide by democratic norms in their legislatures, and also the EU itself offers OMC method and other tools for upgrading governance of the union. There are sceptics who say that the UNO or EC does not solve state’s constitutive problems stemming from neoliberal rule of markets, but they forget that the primary reason d’être of those organizations is to ensure peace and stability, and in democracies those are people who have to demand better governance through participation.

Particularly for young democracies it is essential to follow the best guidelines of democratic governance, because abiding to those rules improves governing capacity of young states and ensures their long term economic development. Empirical evidence in Europe since the First World War infallibly demonstrates that democracies rather than other forms of government are better at ensuring economic sustainability and balanced development of society.

Since late 1980’s three Baltic States (3B) have developed their own version of democratic governance. In many EU countries there is wrong perception about the existence of the European democratic model. In reality there are twenty seven of them and none of them is perfect, even though there are scholars and politicians who want to emphasize normative virtues of a specific kind because of particular interests. Most democracies follow the path dependency strategy and thus their chosen electoral systems stem from constellation of domestic political factions. Therefore normative importance of domestic models should not be overemphasized.
There always were and will be certain rancor about the work of government in any democracy, and there are numerous politicians who tend to keep accountable international organizations for their own misbehavior. Major reason why opinion polls traditionally show low support for incumbent politicians is the nature of government that has to make also painful decisions within certain time frame while keeping in mind inherently heterogeneous interests in society. Neither Latvian nor Lithuanian people feel that their personal welfare would suddenly improve according to last Eurobarometer bi - annual survey. Participation in elections is declining for the last twenty years and indicates that 3B citizens are disillusioned about politics. However, quantity of disillusioned and alienated voters in Latvia is dangerously high (50% of electorate on average from March 2007 onwards according to ‘’Latvijas Fakti’’), and according to ‘’Diena’’ survey last year 30% of those polled would have agreed with coup d’état in order to bring back order. Numerous Latvian politicians from Union of Greens of Farmers, People’s Party and Latvian First Party/Latvian Way are directly responsible for oligarchic groups continuing practice of state capture with impunity. Now they rashly proclaim that strong presidentialism is the only medicine for present evils. Before making their announcements they could at least consult scholars whom they have failed to listen for the last twenty years. Thus inadequately educated politicians could have learned that semi – presidential system in Lithuania was not panacea, because distrust in domestic representative institutions is almost identical in Latvia and Lithuania. Besides, Estonia’s democratic system is almost identical to Latvia but it does not deliver such appalling results as much the trust in representative democracy is concerned.

Since Lithuanian and Estonian constitutional caucus and free elections in 1992 Estonian political system is not as politically polarized as in Lithuania, and Lithuania is characterized so far by stable single party majority democracy. Political party membership is declining throughout the industrially developed world, but absolutely the lowest membership in the EU is in Latvia. In Lithuania between parliamentary sessions the public opinion traditionally swung between the right and left, and in Estonia the political pendulum has swung between liberal and conservative forces. Regardless of the turbulence caused by the successful impeachment procedure of the President Paksas in Lithuania, one may largely conclude that Lithuanian and Estonian democracies are consolidated to use the terminology of Robert Dahl, while Latvian demos still democratizes.

Among reasons for Lithuania and Estonia being consolidated democracies are constitutional caucuses that consequently made political forces to find consensus in new constitution in 1992, and establish rule of law early on. Latvia is the only CEE country where irreconcilable political groups rolled over the 1922 Consitution with some amendments after the 1993 elections. I have used the constitutional argument in couple of previous articles, but it should not be overestimated, because in Austria, for example, the provisional constitution of 1920 has been continuously amended without being approved in nationwide referendum by competing political forces and allowed Austrian democracy to flourish.

Real problems of governance rather reside in laws that Latvian lawmakers evaded – mandatory tax and property declaration system, party financing from state budget, and functional limits for election campaign financing - thus gradually corrupting the political culture. Aivars Lembergs, Andris Skele, and Ainars Slesers disdain for the rule of law is not a secret. These authoritarian and corrupt politicians and their dubiously educated retinue probably ascertained that disrespect to the rule of law led to impeachment of the Lithuanian president R. Paksas. That is the major reason why their pocket parties continue to recklessly call for strong hand, allowing legal nihilism to prevail and hindering birth of genuine rule of law in Latvia. To remove obstruction to thus fundamental legal documents the Prosecutor General Office in collaboration with KNAB should suspend operation of the Latvian People’s Party, Latvian Way & Latvian First Party and hence political union For Good Latvia until the disbursement of about EUR 2 mlj. into state treasury is settled. Not only the Latvian Supreme Court made a precedent with their November 3, 2006 decision stating that previously mentioned parties broke the law. Also the Council of Europe Venice Commission recommendations as well as the UN good governance principles recommend due process in present circumstances.

This article originally appeared in July 28, 2010 the Baltic Times