Friday, January 30, 2009

The end of Ivars Godmanis government

While the incumbent PM was touring Far East other governing coalition members were making plans for a life after Ivars Godmanis premiership. In the Latvian Embassy in Tokyo the PM could experience fruits of the economic collapse of the republic of Latvia. It is not cheap to live in Tokyo and when one cuts expenses without thinking what spheres it comprises, then one may find oneself in the situation the PM found himself.
Upon return back to the shores of the Baltic Sea he could witness that the present governing coalition is simply unmanageable. Usually prime minister is needed for coordinating the work of the cabinet, but Ivars Godmanis failed to do that. Nobody doubts patriotism of the still incumbent PM, but at the same time everyone in the government house knows his endemic inability to delegate powers. Unfortunately the PM is a loner and workaholic, but that does not help him now, when tasks for overhauling the Latvian economic and political system are simply titanic. Also the 21 st century challenges of the EU country are quite different from the challenges of the former Soviet republic in the late 1980´s. Prime Minister probably thought that he could do more good while keeping his alter ego at short leash, but apparently transport supremo started turning Ivars Godmanis on short leash. To put it bluntly - it is the end for the generation of the Third Awakening political idealism! The change of political generations is inevitable and after the end of the triple elections process we should see fresh breeze in the stagnates political atmosphere in Latvia.
Yesterday the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) faction head in the parliament Mr Brigmanis announced that if the demands of farmers would not be met then they would leave the governing coalition. After Mr Brigmanis announcement the head of the People´s Party (PP) faction Mr Kucinskis simply concluded that ``partners do not behave like this during hard times.`` Today the PM announced the final version of the slimming of the government. According to this plan the number of Latvian ministries should decrease from eighteen to ten. The central government would retain ministries of Foreign Affairs; Interior; Justice; Education, Science and Culture; Welfare, Health and Children's affairs; Transport and Communications; Agriculture; Economics, regional affairs and environment; Defense; and Finance. In addition the number of about 200 state agencies would be slimmed down to 85.
Slimming down of the government and an announcement of the ZZS served as a pretext for announcement of the PP parteigenosse Mareks Seglins. Home Secretary Seglins dryly announced that after demarche of ZZS it does not make any sense to be in the same coalition with the ZZS. Press secretary of the PM Egdars Vaikulis on the Latvian TV evening news informed the public, that Ivars Godmanis has learned about the PP demarche from the mass media, and promised to contact Parteigenosse Seglins (PP) to hold consultations with other members of the governing coalition during the weekend.
Yes, that's it and now there is a question when exactly early elections would be held? Today the speaker of the parliament in the absence of the president signed the new party financing law, thus financially well off parties would still play inordinate influence in upcoming elections (remember, Latvian parties are not financed from the state budget).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Latvian farmers protesting, and political brinkmanship continuing...

The triple crisis is getting deeper in Latvia and the inability of the the present political class to manage the state affairs becomes visible by hours already. Promises to the political cronies during the era of high economic growth have transformed into the inaccessibility of the ministers and outright smug attitude of the Latvian government.

Just finished watching the Latvian TV 100.pants live interview with two gentlemen representing food processing industry and dairy producer´s association. Both Messrs concluded rather poignantly, that `while the PM understands their problems it is the rest of the cabinet and the civil service that is simply unable to deliver (nespej aiznest vazi no kabineta A uz kabinetu B)`. Both representatives pleaded other social groups not to give in to rumours that are being spread about the `´ungrateful farmers``who´s situation as if should be solved by taking away financial means from pensioners, policemen, teachers, and doctors. Such rumours signify how desperate the present governing coalition is, and also a prime example of the present government living in a power bubble.

Whoever you speak today in this Baltic country recognizes that discontent about the present political class is simply unbearable. Association Sustento, that represents people with physical and mental disabilities, was protesting in front of the government today about the unexpected rise in price of medicines. The teachers trade union threatens the government with strikes, and farmers are becoming really restless. The Farmers Federation and Farmers Parliament(Zemnieku Saeima), two organizations representing farmers in Latvia demanded resignation of the Minister of Agriculture Martins Roze (Union of Greens and Farmers) already half a year ago, but the minister probably forgot to notice it because he was too busy with his other hobbies, and which are long known for the local public in this country. In reality the minister who´s tenure already lasts for six years in a row (since November 2002) failed to defend Latvian farmers in the acquis communautaire negotiations, thus the latter receive the smallest CAP payments in comparison with the other Baltic neighbors.

Thus, farmers are becoming really desperate and it is calculated that unless government does something immediately (help them negotiate bank holidays for a year, establish export credit system, pay the local subsidies within two weeks after signing a contract, provide the EU direct payments until March 31, and providing 2,5% of annual budget payments for agricultural subsidies) about 1500-2000 dairy farms will bankrupt within weeks. In addition to dairy farmers also farmers specializing in wheat and cattle growing are expecting desperate situation within couple of months, thus the demand for the EU direct payments to be paid by the March 31 deadline, because otherwise most of them will fail to sow grain for the next harvest.

You may see the video about farmers activities here, and the following couple of photos from Diena show that farmers are determined to reach their goals. Farmers are relatively free in the winter season, thus they are sticking to their plan to see the government meeting their demands within seven days from today. If government would not meet their demands farmers would start blocking major highways and bring manure to the houses of the parliament and the cabinet.

Prime Minister Godmanis! Do not kill penguins, because who is going to lay golden eggs for you?

I am FOR the Agriculture!

Photos: Uldis Briedis

President Zatlers already gave one deadline for the government and the parliament until March 31, 2009. While government chose two candidacies for the next round to pick the new head of the corruption prevention bureau (KNAB), the parliament has not even started to discuss the amendments in the election law. While the PM first promised to weight the biggest opposition party (New Era-JL) proposal about the apolitical prime minister, then today Mr Goodman changed his mind and announced that JL should forget about taking part in the remodelled government. Party political games continue in the government and many members of the parliament keep representing no one.

While the State Audit Office accused the Latvian Transport Ministry in failing to provide transparent bookkeeping at the RIX airport Mr Slesers in his usual manner asked to glorify his accomplishments in providing cheap flights for the Latvian consumers. While asked about direct accusations about mismanagement at the airport he traditionally counterattacked the journalist and asked to scrutinize behavior of Lithuanian and Estonian airport authorities. Colleague Iveta Kazoka in her blog (in Latvian) described several ways of peaceful disobedience, and also suggested that Latvia could easily live with seventy MP´s instead of one hundred!? The reason is very simple, since November 2006 one third (!) of the Latvian parliament members participated in parliamentary debates less than five times (six of them have not taken a word even once...)...very sad indeed...

Monday, January 26, 2009

What do pollsters say after January 13, 2009?

It is pretty busy time right at this moment, because promises have to be kept and articles to be finished. In the meantime the world economy witnesses recession and the Latvian political landscape is becoming tumultuous with all groups of society protesting and farmers being the most vocal these days.

The world economy lives through its first and severest crisis in the early 21st century. Those countries that had sensible governments and knew how to prepare for dire times are relatively well prepared. Geographic differences and historic legacy certainly had a role to play here, but those factors are not paramount in today's global world. While there are plenty of good examples of governance to emulate, very often domestic political dynamics and constellations of interest groups determine governments wish to adapt, free ride or resist the global transformation processes.

In Latvia one could witness gradual turning away from the adaptation to the double processes of europeanization and economic globalization after 2004. The Emsis government first and Kalvītis government after, started simply irresponsible free riding. With free riding I describe the irresponsible role of governments using financial resources in support for questionable economic activities or outright nepotism without any proper regulation. Financial resources were abundant all the way up to 2007, due to deregulated global financial markets. Due to the uniqueness of its political system in its negative sense the weakest among the Baltic States witnesses now triple - political, economic, legitimacy- crisis in Latvia.

The latest pollster was taken just after the ominous demonstration on January 13, 2009 in the Riga Dome Square, and published in Diena and TV3. Political party ratings and particularly those of the governing coalition show irreversible slump. The number of persons who would agree on sacking the present parliament tomorrow is 64,3%. The amount of alienated voters has somehow decreased, and it seems that the economic crisis is teaching some of the alienated ones the lesson that in democracy there is no one else to trust but yourself... . President held consultations with all the political parties today and concluded that the Ivars Godmanis government must continue to lead the Latvia out of the economic malaise. In the meantime the call for national unity government materialized in the PM calling the largest opposition New Era (JL) party into the government, but JL announced that they would agree on such a proposal only, if there would be a new and non-political prime minister leading the new government. PM Godmanis announced in the Latvian TV 100. pants program that he could agree on such a proposal, but he also wants to see who that person would be and Mr Godmanis still believes in slimming the government from eighteen to eleven ministries.

PM hopes to cope with the ordeal, and he also believes that the latest trip to Korea and Japan (he returned from the trip to the Far East on weekend) has taught him the lesson, how to get out of the present dire straits, because according to Ivars Godmanis "both Korea and Japan were in exactly the same situation in the early 1990's as Latvia is now". I could partially agree on his statement, because in macro-economic and structural terms similarities are there indeed, but the size of population matters as well, or perhaps I am a pessimist in this regard... .

Anyway, party political games will be ongoing, and president will try to play the stabilizing role. His position is not solid, because the People's Party iron guard G. Bērziņš already announced that the president can count on presidential elections following the snap election in early June. Apparently the governing coalition members want to teach a lesson to the "stubborn president". The De Facto TV program of the Latvian TV first channel announced that apparently there is a plan to strip the president of all his privileges after the abrupt end of his tenure. What else one may utter here, a true coup de grace proposed - if you want to survive in bear's lair then you must get used to the rules in there... .

Monday, January 19, 2009

In rounds and round we go...

Just yesterday night Latvia´s acting PM Slesers similarly to his buddies in the governing coalition announced in the LNT TV program ``vox populi`` that he wishes to see the snap elections to take place immediately. After meeting the president today the same acting PM announced that immediate snap elections are not on agenda yet... He contradicts thus not only himself, but also the leader of People´s Party (TP) and the present Home Secretary Mr Seglinsh, who sticks to the idea that the Saeima should be sacked as soon as possible. Former PM Andris Berzins (LPP/LC) and the present head of the Saeima foreign affairs committee was against the sacking of the parliament yesterday, this afternoon he announced that his party is ready for immediate sacking of the parliament, and after his party Godfather Slesers and acting PM met the president the former PM Berzins has not changed his discourse yet...thus whom should one trust in this country, when such contradictory statements are flying???

19.01.2009 - Mr President! We (Ministers & MP´s of the governing coalition plus the speaker of the parliament) consider that Saeima has lost its legitimacy, we want to sack ourselves....because we do not want to play anymore!

19.01.2009 - Yes Mr President! After meeting you we realized that we still want to play...

Photo: Aivars Liepins

It is the fact already that governing coalition members are in absolute disarray, and I wonder whether the PM Godmanis would agree to continue in his post after return from Korea. In the meantime president Valdis Zatlers sticks firmly to his initial plan, and I am happy to see the miraculous transformation of his chancellery after arrival of Mr Rinkevics. Mr Zatlers held consultations with all the political representatives today, and opposition parties announced in one voice that they would be ready to work in the national unity government with apolitical PM at the helm (probably the present Head of the Latvian Audit Office Mrs Inguna Sudraba). According to the presidential plan, if his proposals would be initiated then constitutional referendum about sacking of the present parliament could take place on June 6, 2009, or the same day when municipal and European Parliament elections are planned to take the place. Good example of strategic planning from the Pils laukums indeed!

The TP ideologues have realized, however, that their chances are doomed, thus they behave thus boldly that the head of the Saeima Judicial Committee Mrs Muizniece (TP) sent a bill to the parliament proposing to amend the constitution (Art. 10), and that would allow the present parliament to dissolve itself. The president announced today, that he does not support the idea of the TP, and reiterated that he does not back off from the plan to see the ``home work`` done prior the March 31, 2009 deadline, particularly the changes in elections law and creation of the national unity government.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

There will be snap elections in Latvia!

Since January 13, 2009 political events in Latvia are developing very quickly indeed. Riots followed peaceful political demonstration in the Riga Dome square. I was in the middle of the crowd and reported about the events to the Estonian Broadcasting Corporation. Since those ominous events there are plenty of discussions in the Latvian mas media about the causes that took gangs of rioters to the streets. It seems that that governing coalition party members and particularly the speaker of the Saeima do not really understand what is happening outside their power bubble. Messrs. Daudze and Segliņš simply blamed opposition parties for daring to organize demonstration that was attended by some 10-20 thousand peaceful demonstrators. Instead of critically analysing causes for demonstration and riots that followed government members continued to spread their smug announcements until 12:30CET on January 14, 2009.

On this day the Latvian president had a press conference. Upon his return from Strasbourg the previous day the president announced the number of tasks the parliament has failed to deliver, and set the March 31, 2009 deadline for parliament and the government to comply. Rather unexpectedly the president concluded that if the parliament and the government would not be able to deliver this time, then he would use the powers entitled upon him in the Latvian constitutional Art. 48.

The announcement was thus unexpected that the incumbent Minister of Interior announced that president has delivered an ultimatum, and the speaker of the Saeima interpreted the announcement, "that the president is entitled to ask the parliament instead of demanding from it", reminding the public about the omnipotence of the Saeima in the parliamentary republic.

Nevertheless, the events have developed very quickly and since January 17, 2009 the People's Party (TP) announced that they consider president's resolution as too inconsistent, thus demanding the snap elections immediately. Just finished watching the LNT TV program "vox populi" and there also Latvian Transport Supremo announced that he agrees with Mr Segliņš. Furthermore all party representatives that participated in the TV program basically agreed that snap elections in Latvia is the fact now! The only question now is about timing, because the president has announced the March 31 deadline, but at least two coalition members want snap elections right away.

Reasons for TP and LPP/LC parties to have snap elections immediately are rather trivial. In case snap elections would take place immediately, it would mean that they would take place without amendments in election law, that the president has demanded in his January 14, 2009 announcement. Also both parties breached the law in the October 2006 elections, and because of their failure to comply with the election campaign limits both parties owe the state treasury around 2 mlj. EUR.

Tomorrow political parties will hold consultations with the president. Upcoming snap elections is the fact now and the question is whether new parliamentary elections would take place in June 6, 2009 together with the municipal and European Parliament elections or after the summer in early September? Slimming of the government is being discussed and the PM left for Korea leaving the Transport Minister Šlesers as the acting PM. The situation is changing constantly and both coalition and opposition members are testing their tactics prior the triple elections. Elections tactics, retirement of the post soviet political elite and new persons coming into the stagnated political realm in Latvia will be the next topic to discuss about.

P.S. For those of you reading Estonian here is my Postimees article from January 15

P.S. Here in the Estonian Broadcasting Corporation program ``Vabariigi Kodanikud`` I participated on January 16., 2009.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reconstruction of the government facade

The PM has published the plan to slim down the cabinet, and Ivars Godmanis party (LPP/LC) has agreed on retaining only two - PM and the Minister of Transportation posts. In the meantime the Minister of Culture resigned and the PM accepted her resignation. Probably PM accepted the resignation thus swiftly due to the fact that prime minister´s plan is to merge ministries of culture and education. Unofficial reason for Ms Demakova (TP) resignation is her signing of the Ls 6 mlj. contract for building the New Riga Concert Hall, and that agreement was signed on December 30, 2008. PM was not informed about this contract and because all the civil service has to `` be on diet`` it created the media uproar and the PM demanded clarifications. In the same manner PM´s alter ego or the Transport Minister followed the best traditions of nepotism. Mr Slesers agreed on having the son of his driver as the member in the Latvian Passenger railway PlC board of directors, while the same driver had to leave the post of minister´s advisor last year due to the media pressure.

The plan to slim down the government is rather technocratic and proposes to merge ministries of justice and interior affairs, to merge ministries of welfare, health and children's´ affairs, ministry of economics and regional affairs ministry, as well as to unite ministries of agriculture and environmental Affairs. Prime Minister wants now answers from all stakeholders by January 25, 2009 and we shall see how smoothly the reconstruction of the government will proceed. Because in the meantime the opposition is trying to consolidate and together with multitude of interest groups they should demand the president of the republic to dissolve the parliament today at 17.30 hours.

P.S. those of you reading Estonian may read my Delfi piece here.
P.P.S. and here is the Helsingin Sanomat report of the events in Riga tonight

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New year with new pollsters

Happy New Year to All! The end of the year was busy and relaxing at the same time. Spent a quality time together with my family and I am grateful to all the relatives and friends we were able to share the Holiday Season together with! First, I was contemplating to write a customary end of the year piece but later reconsidered my plans. Most of the busiest tasks are finished, and new year starts with new challenges.

Latvian political environment is slowly being heated up, and I will have lengthy analysis about the 2009 scenarios in Latvian politics during upcoming weeks. The politics is worth to be analyzed because the government finally published the document today, which explains under what condition the government would borrow monies from the international financial institutions. In the meantime the December "Latvijas Fakti" pollster was published in Diena today. There are neither news, nor surprises in the pollster. The full table reveals that the number of undecided voters (33,2%) witnessed a one percent decrease due to the increased number of alienated voters, and the latter percentage has reached the level of 21,9 %(+6,7 increase from a month earlier).

What party you would vote for, if elections to Saeima would take place tomorrow?

Only the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) would squeeze into the parliament from the present governing governing coalition according to the pollster. The PM efforts to contain economic rot are left in open air, and his party is simply nowhere near to be even represented.

God's eternal mills grind perpetually and the time for present governing coalition cum immediate post - Soviet political generation is slowly ticking away... .