Next Saturday at 2. October parliamentary elections will be held in Latvia. Parliament in Latvia is called Saeima. This word comes from ancient Latvian gatherings were local nobles held state meetings. In 1922. first Saeima elections were held. Since then nine Saeima’s have worked in Latvia in both periods of independence. First four Latvian parliaments worked from 1922. to 1934. when Karlis Ulmanis took power by coop and dissolved the parliament. This elections will have historic effect on future of Latvia. This article will show the main contestants in election their promises and real face.
In modern times Parliament is working since 1992. Many common difficulties have been shared since first 20 decades of independence. Parliaments have been fragmented by many parties that makes short-lived governments. Instability because of party rivalry slows things for Latvia especially in times of financial crisis. Last parliament could fulfill dream of any Anarchist because the its have lost any creditability in the eyes of Latvian nation. Only 10% of Latvian people trust the parliament.
The winners of last election were Peoples Party (Tautas Partija TP) and Latvian First Party/Latvian Way. (LPP/LC) Both parties won election because of massive and fraudulent election campaign. Peoples Party leader Aigars Kalvitis promised seven fat years for Latvia if nothing stupid would not be done. But that is what exactly his party was doing. Both parties used relative economic growth to heath up the economy to the maximum. Banks had free hand to flood the country with loans. Latvian nation was living on credits hoping that economy is strong enough to repay them. Leader of LPP/LC Ainars Slesers declared that gas pedal needs to pushed at full strength. Both parties planted the seeds for the financial crisis. The ignored the warnings of economic heath up and credit and real estate bubble. Now when this have happened both parties suffer from high unpopularity and mistrust. So to avoid defeat they joined themselves and formed new alliance called For Good Latvia (PLL). Party criticizes the present government lead by Valdis Dombrovskis from Unity of close corporation with International Monetary Fund. However it was LPP PM Ivars Godmanis and TP finance minister Atis Slakteris who first signed deal with IMF. They also blame Dombrovskis for lying to nation that pensions will not be cut. Instead after municipal elections last year pensions were cut leaving resentment in Latvian public. But in that time TP was part of the government. In fact TP left government when they realized that more unpopular decisions will endanger their chances of getting seats in next parliament. The leader of PLL Ainars Slesers have pushed ambitious policy for years. He always wanted Prime Minister seat but always stayed second. Last year he run for Major office of Riga but became Vice-Major. Now he is having heavy task of getting both scapegoat parties of task of getting at least 10 seats in parliament. If both parties wouldn’t joined together they almost surely would not pass 5% barrier. PLL is giving all forces to win election, they have taken control over Latvian Independent Television (LNT) that shows positive information about them. Its responsibility of Latvian voters if they want to see the builders of crisis four more years in parliament.
Their main rival is Unity (Vienotība). The union is based on three parties. New Era (Jaunais Laiks JL) party is main core. JL came to politics when Einars Repse the president of Latvian State Bank decided to come to politics. They won elections in 2002. but because of inability to reach consensus with other parties they lost power and lost many seats in 2006. When TP and LPP/LC failed Valdis Dombrovskis took power in most deepest point of crisis. He was forced to make drastic decisions but his actions stabilized the economy. Two other parties are formed from separatists from JL, TP and TB/LNNK. Civic Union (Pilsoniskā Savienība) is result of split from JL and nationalist party TB/LNNK. Party joined JL formed coalition. When election year came closer they realized that they need to re-unite with JL to get better results. Third party Society for Different Policy (Sabiedrība citai Politikai) evolved when two TP old-time members Artis Pabriks and Aigars Stokenbergs were kicked out for disloyalty. So they formed new party on leftist basis. Despite this they joined Unity which is right-wing party. The main reason why these three parties united is possibility that pro-Russian party Harmony Center will win the election. So to get more seats for Latvian parties they united together.
However there were two parties who wanted to join Unity but were left behind. These were two nationalist parties For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) and All for Latvia! (VL!) TB/LNNK are veterans of Latvians politics from very beginning in early nighties. They have taken part in nearly all Latvian governments. They ideology is based on nationalism and Latvian superiority. The address the problems of dangers for Latvian language and openly speak against Russian population and interests of Russia. Their weakest point is that they have been on top side for too long and have taken part in unpopular decisions. Their leader is EU Parliament deputy Roberts Zile. Zile is experienced economist a splendid polemic who always have the right answers. Zile is second best choice for PM office however is not sure whether he prefers work in Brussels more than House of Ministers. All for Latvia is formed of young generation nationalists. Their average age is 20 to 35. Their leader is Raivis Dzintars an inspiring young leader full of idealism and wisdom. VL! is more nationalist than their senior partners but are not necessary radical. They are known for openly supporting veterans of Latvian Waffen SS Legion. They are visible in national celebrations when they make marches with Latvian flags torches. So far they had little luck in elections so they joined forces with TB/LNNK. VL! needs recognition in middle and older generation voters to gain better results.
Latvian Greens and Farmers Union (Latvijas Zaļo un Zemnieku Savienība) or simply green farmers did not have any desire to join forces with Unity. Their rating has remained surprisingly stable despite the difficulties. Their leader is odious Major of Venstpils Aivars Lembergs. Lembergs is rich oil and shipping tycoon. He is named as most influential oligarch in Latvian politics. He is accused of widespread corruption, massive bribing of state politicians but despite that he is Major of Ventspils and most popular PM candidate. He has fanatic supporters in all Latvia. It would be interesting to see how he could manage work as PM and took part in corruption trial at single time. The party itself remains popular in rural areas. Party have taken responsibility for agriculture last twenty years. During this time they have made mistakes especially in coordination with EU agricultural policy. Agricultural minister Martins Roze destroyed sugar-beet industry with a free hand and put milk industry at risk. He only resigned when farmers in large masses blocked Riga with tractors and combines.
But the main contestant for victory is Harmony Center (Saskaņas Centrs SC). The left-wing party is based on various Russian parties lead by Janis Urbanovits. So far Russian parties never got chance to enter coalition. But the growing size of Russian voters and declining popularity of right-wing Latvian parties have put them on the top of ratings. Party is openly Pro-Moscow, they have official ties with Vladimir Putin party United Russia and China Communist Party. They promise stronger ties with Russia and wants to revise the talks with IMF. They want Russian language as second official language in Latvia. Party is supported by national oriented Latvian Russians and Latvians who have nostalgia for times of Soviet occupation. Many promises of this party are biased like help from Russian economy that is weaker and unstable than its described. They promise not to make any more budget cuts despite the obvious reality that government needs to save 500 million lats for next year. If they form the government they will be forced to make unpopular decisions. So far they were comfortable in opposition criticizing the coalition acting like the saints. If they make in coalition and win the PM seat their real face will be shown. It’s the question if they are ready for this or they rather spend time in opposition once again. In time of 1920.-1934. Latvian Social democratic party won every election but was unable to form coalition because they were afraid of disgracing themselves by working together with right-wing parties.
Another Russian party is For Human Rights in United Latvia (PCTVL). They are openly Russian nationalist and have little chance to attract Latvian voters. For many years they were the main Russian political force in Latvia until Harmony Center took the upper hand. It seems they also have lost the favor of Kremlin. The election is dead and life question for them if they fail to pass 5% barrier they are likely to split and vanish from political stage.
These are potential parties that probably pass the 5% barrier and win seats in next parliament. This could be first time in Latvian history when left-wing Russian party may took power in their own hands. Or in other case if Latvian parties get more seats the things will go on usual. The biggest danger for Latvia is the rise of populist parties that will make country more unstable. Harmony Center are likely to form coalition with PLL that will mean the union of leftists and oligarchs. If Unity wins the upper hand and forms coalition with Green Farmers and Nationalists then Latvia may not have to go though any traumatic changes. The result will be known on 3. October. Latvians have 5 days to decide their country’s future.