Next Saturday October 4 Latvia will held elections for 12th Saeima the – Latvian parliament. Last elections took place 3 years ago on September 17 2011. They were emergency elections since former president of Latvia Valdis Zatlers dismissed the parliament and it was approved by the voters in the poll. In Latvia to dismiss the parliament a referendum is needed to approve the president decision. So the 11th Saeima was result of the Presidential Decree Nr.2. The results of this decree was varying. The pro-Kremlin party Harmony Center gained 31 vote majority. Valdis Zatlers with his Reform party came in second with 26 seats, leaving past leaders Unity (Vienotība) with 20 seats. The National Alliance and Green Farmers Union also made it. However, Harmony Center could not run the government and was left. in opposition. The Unity PM candidate Valdis Dombrovskis resumed his office and held the coalition together with Zatlers Reform Party and National Union. Green Farmers accused of being led by oligarch major of Ventspils Aivars Lembergs was thrown in to opposition. As it was one of the main election slogans to get rid of the oligarch parties. On November 27 after Maxima supermarket disaster Valdis Dombrovskis resigned and government was formed by Laimdota Straujuma from Unity. This time the Green Farmers came back in coalition, as the Reform Party was in path to disintegration. Indeed Zatler’s vision on his Decree Nr.2 had failed. At the first day after forming government his six elected members left the party. Zatlers was not elected as Chairman of Saeima and was assigned to lead the National Security Commission. His two most ambitious reformers Roberts Ķīlis Minister of Education and Edmunds Sprūdžs the Minister of Environmental Protection and Regional Development failed to achieve his goals and resigned. As Zatlers became sick with cancer he lost the direction of his party and in result the party was disbanded. His most successful members joined either Unity or National Alliance. So in these elections one of the leaders of the 2011 elections will not stand. But 13 parties will stand in 2014 elections so this article will describe who are the main contestants, what they offer and what they have done.
Unity for last 5 years have been known as the leading party in the Latvian politics. From 2009 to 2014 Valdis Dombrovskis lead the country as the Prime Minister. His consequent approach on getting country out of the economic crisis was not without difficulties and protests, but in the end he came in history as the one man who brought Latvia to Eurozone on 2014. He survived the Saeima dismissals and coalition rumbles, but the Maxima Supermarket disaster on November 21 2013 made him resign to take the political responsibility. He was replaced by Laimdota Straujuma a Minister of Agriculture a rather silent personality to Latvian public and media. At first it seemed that Artis Pabriks from Unity a popular Minister of Defense would take the PM office. As the Russian aggression in Ukraine was looming he seemed obvious choice. However, President of Latvia Andris Bērziņš turned him down and instead named Laimdota Straujuma as the Prime Minister. She was chosen as compromise person that would lead the country until next elections. Now she is the candidate for PM from Unity again, but she does not exclude the possibility to give PM seat to another Unity member such as Andris Piebalgs European Commissioner for Development at the European Commission. Straujuma is pragmatic and careful person, however sometimes she shows timidly and lack of concrete stance when regarding the security and international affairs. As Pabriks and Dombrovskis is now in EU Parliament the two past leaders are not on the election list.
The Unity election list leaders are Straujuma, Solvita Āboltiņa chairman of the Saeima, Edgars Rinkēvičs the Foreign Affairs Minister, Anrijs Matīss and Jānis Reirs in four election districts. Solvita Āboltiņa has been the chairman since 2010. She has been described as the Red Cardinal of the Latvian politics not just because of her red hair. A master of the salon politics she has great influence on coalition work and assigning important offices. A question yet remains if her backdrop politics serves good for her party and our country.
Unity has accumulated many former Reform Party front-runners. Edgars Rinkēvičs a professional and responsible Minister of Foreign Affairs has shown strong supportive stance towards Ukraine and has reacted venerable national stance towards aggressive Russian policy against Latvia. Rihards Kozlovskis a Minister of Interior Affairs another ex reformist despite many issues has lead the Interior security carefully. His main issues are constant underfunding of the police force, slow investigation of the Maxima disaster and problems with Latvian Secret Services who are accused over lack of actions regarding the countries security. Vjačeslavs Dombrovskis an ex reformist took the office of education and now serves as Minister of Economy is a professional politician. His weak side is rather questionable relations with her adviser Anna Kononova an ex press secretary of the Riga Town Council. Not only the fact that she worked with pro-Kremlin Major Nils Ušakovs for many years, but also because of rumors about “too close” relations between her and Dombrovskis. Indeed this was not the only case in past 3 years when ministers and their advisers became too close and state issues may have been decided in bed.
Apart from that the Unity has many pros and cons to be voted to rule for next five years. Being ruling party for five years has made a bit like its past rival Peoples Party, a desire to control every aspect of the state affairs, arrogance and intrigue – all that naturally comes when opposition party becomes the ruling party. Also the sacrifice of two most strongest leaders – Artis Pabriks and Valdis Dombrovskis is a great cost. Artis Pabriks showed greet effort towards national security in his long-term as the Minister of Defense. In the time of international crisis around, Latvia lacks strong leaders. The President Andris Bērziņš and Laimdota Straujuma lacks significantly towards the leaders of Estonia and Lithuania. So if Unity really wants to rule the country during these rough times, it should set intrigues and ambitions aside especially within the inside the party.
That same can be said about the National Alliance. Formed from two national conservative forces – For Fatherland and Freedom and All for Latvia the party has grown more powerful in last two elections. But, the party has been plagued by the scandals and controversy. Its have been the champion of the minister resignations and unfilled threats to bring down the government if their demands are not met. The Minister of Culture posh businessman Žaneta Jaunzeme-Grende who viewed this sector rather from financial side then cultural, got in endless conflicts with various players of the sector. The most hardest player was the Latvian National Opera. Despite having worldwide reputations, best opera singers on the world stage, the opera experienced financial issues. Grende’s attempts to address the issue ended with bitter conflict with the opera director Andrejs Žagars. In the both Žagars and Grende was fired from their office. She was replaced by long time ministry employee and professional Dace Melbārde who now runs from NA as the front-runner.
Because of the Reform’s Parties demise the Ministry of Regions and Environment was handed over to NA. Einārs Cilinskis a veteran in nationalist politics took over the office and was quickly dismissed because he disobeyed the PM. On March 16 the annual remembrance of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion took place. Because the “referendum” in Crimea took place on the same time, there was fear from Russian provocations. Straujuma warned no state official to take part in the commemorative march in the city center. Cilinskis who always participated in the event came anyway and was fired. He was replaced by Romāns Naudiņš a businessman who failed to gain allowance for the state secrets.
More gloom was the NA leadership over the Justice. Gaidis Bērziņš with experience in this field resigned after he refused to discuss the Jewish property restitution. Was this just a cover up reason to hide his corrupt dealings with Ventspils reminds a speculation. He was replaced by Jānis Bordāns. Bordāns did not re activate the Jewish property problem, instead he even attended some of the Jewish events such as concerts or Holocaust events. But, his main issue was the insolvency reform. It started to became clear that insolvency sector had great influence on NA. Many of the insolvency lawyers were the members of the party. As insolvency sector sometimes proved to be corrupt and unlawful, Bordāns tried to reform by introducing changes in the law. He was then excluded from his own party and asked to resign. The official reason was his close ties with Democratic Patriots society that wanted to became a party. He was accused of insubordination. The real reason as said by many was because he stepped on the parties interests. As the insolvency business has a shallowly grip on the party. However, as only the PM can ask minister to resign, Bordāns stayed in the office until Dombrovskis government resigned. Left without party and ministry Bordāns raced to create his own New Conservative Party. That however seems to be an ill fated choice as his new political force has less chance to reach above 5% barrier.
The new Straujuma government assigned NA leader of the Riga Town Council opposition Baiba Broka. She quickly dismissed all the proposed changes in insolvency – no wonder as her professional past was associated with it. But, then a grave problem came- she did not received permit to access the state secret from Constitutional Defense Bureau (SAB). SAB a top counter intelligence agency refused to explain why, so Broka resigned. A path reached the start again as Gaidis Bērziņš took the office again. If NA wants to lead the Justice sector further it must explain the voters the controversy over its problems with insolvency sector.
Another thing to explain for NA is why its front leaders Raivis Dzinars and Imants Parādnieks from All for Latvia has refused and continue to refuse to take important offices. Instead the minister seats are allocated to For Fatherland and Freedom old timers and people from outside like Žanete Jaunzeme-Grende. Their PM candidate is EU parliament deputy Roberts Zīle another old-timer, who will rather stay at Brussels than really take over the country. As Baiba Broka who seemed a good candidate for PM has demised from the scene the question of leadership from NA is important. Another question- if one of the All for Latvia ideologues Jānis Iealnieks, who is known for his dubious remarks about Norway massacre on 2011, and love for Christmas ginger bread swastikas will not cause embarrassment on the international scene.
Green Farmers Union was on high heels on 2010 when it formed a powerful two-party coalition with Unity. A year later Valdis Zatlers declared a crusade against oligarchy. His hit list was Ainārs Šlesers, Andris Šķēļe and Aivars Lembergs. Lembergs a oil business tycoon, a major of port city Ventspils for 20 years is also on trial for state-wide fraud. His Venstpils Party is also part of the Green Farmer Alliance. After 2011 election the party lost its power and came only with 13 seats and was dropped into opposition. Lembergs who was stripped from his administrative powers continued to lead the Venstpils city and was victorious in the 2013 municipal elections. Reformist Edmunds Spūdžs tried to legally oust him from the office, but failed.
After Dombrovskis resign, Green Farmers came back to coalition and took over the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Welfare. A rather exotic choice was to assign a Green Party leader Raimonds Vējonis as the Minister of Defense. The ex minister of Environment affected by the Ukrainian crisis begun to make calls for boosting the military budget, buy a new equipment and prepare for war. Meanwhile Lembergs openly criticized the NATO, wrote open letter to NATO leadership about the bad behavior of the NATO sailors in Ventspils. He was then condemned by Vējonis. But, in the end Lembergs was again put forward as PM candidate. With promise to end constant “obeying” to EU and NATO.
Harmony Center (“Saskaņas Centrs”), the main force of the Russian speaking community and leftist forces now enters as the Socialdemocrat Party “Harmony”. For years its main line that they are social democrats, that stood not just for Russians, but for all people in Latvia. Meanwhile the PM candidate Nils Ušakovs enjoys a posh lifestyle, spends the administrative resources for his political rallies and has led the state capital with deficit for many years. Ušakovs played significant role on 2012 two state language referendum of which he endorsed. His endorsement for referendum organized by Russian national radicals boosted massive support for the two state language movement. The referendum failed as 80% voted no, but Ušakovs achieved disharmony rather than harmony. When Latvia joined EU sanctions against Russia, and Russia in return banned the import of EU products, Ušakovs agonized over the closure of the Riga food store in Moscow. He blamed the Latvian government and went to Moscow to “beg” not to close the Rizhkij Dvorik completely. In process he met the Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kiril II. Also in the interview with the liberal Russian TV Dozhd he said that Vladimir Putin is the best one for Latvia, as if he would be replaced by Alexei Navalny who would be danger to the neighboring countries. Since Putin’s invasion in Ukraine, such talk seems ridiculous. Some 2 years ago placing Vladmir Zhirinovsky or the Russian ultra nationalists as scare crow not to replace Putin seemed to work. Now it does not work anymore. Harmony Center has failed to state what is happening in Ukraine and why they have association agreement with Putin’s United Russia party. So they cannot no longer hide that they are pro-Kremlin party.
There is another pro Kremlin party that does not even hide it. Latvia Russian Union the ex Party for Equal Human Rights in Latvia, has taken the ultra nationalist spirit currently in Russia. Their leader Tatjana Ždanoka a EU parliamentary deputy went to Crimea as “independent observer” for the Crimean referendum. A supporter of the Eastern Ukrainian “separatists”, she even went to Scotland to compare their legal referendum to Crimea one. The candidates of this party constantly warns the voters of impeding Crimea in Latvia, if they would not be elected. Latvian Russian speakers are no strangers to Russian nationalist propaganda. There are many people here that would greet the Russian tanks in the same way some people greeted tanks in Crimea.
Ingūna’s Sudraba’s party is the biggest question and intrigue of this election. An ex State Controller, outspoken critic of the state funding and state policy after leaving the office her political future was in question. She was named as a potential PM candidate from the Harmony Center. Her connections with the Russian Secret Service was in question for many years. Then on same day when Dombrovskis resigned she came out with announcement to enter politics and form her own party. When she learned the news that Dombrovskis has resigned she fainted. That was just the beginning of her political crash course. Her new party is called To Latvia with Heart “No Sirds Latvijai”. Party issues rather leftist messianic ideology to free Latvia from poverty and injustice. Her party gained large funding from unclear sources. Many of her party front-runners left the party because of the secrecy of the funding sources. If that was not enough Sudraba’s connections with Russian radicals and Russian agents popped up on the news one by another. Sudraba denied every each accusation as black PR. Even a video where she goes to private plane that belongs to Russian FSB agent, she denied that she is in that video. And then even more bizarre discovery was unrelieved yesterday. She has connections with a spiritual center “DVS Urantija” that preaches that Putin is a “child of the light” who fights against reptilians and grays. A kind a popular conspiracy theory in Russia, that describes that USA and EU is lead by aliens, and Russia is the only remaining spiritual country that fights of this invasion. That could explain rather messianic feel of Sudraba election campaign. As Bible has warned of the danger of a False Prophet, the Orthodox baptized Sudraba should bear the warning.
There are other more smaller political parties, that could reach the 5% barrier. The ex Unity politician Einārs Repše has made political pro business movement (For the Development of Latvia) Latvijas Attīstībai. His second comeback seems rather doubtful as people had enough his time in politics and his liberal pro business utopia does not fit today reality. Regional Alliance (Reģionu Apvienība) is formed from politicians within Latvian towns and municipalities. While their main place of advance is the Municipal elections they hope to gain seats in the Parliament to affect local politics. That remains in the hands of the voters. Meanwhile Ainārs Šlesers a political veteran has never missed a chance to take place in elections. His last two elections was a failure, but it seems that a man has constant election frenzy. This time he comes with party United for Latvia (Vienoti Latvijai). And he comes together with old timers PM Ivars Godmanis, Aigars Kalvītis, Jānis Jurkāns and others. Will people vote for the symbols of the old pre-crisis times, a times of spending corruption- Šlesers might also guess the answer – no. But, what is elections without Šlesers and friends?
Without mentioning the small fringe party lists, this concludes the story of the election contestants. This might be the most important elections in our history for decades. Will the right-wing Latvian parties keep the power and unite against the common enemy in Russia? Or the pro-Kremlin parties under “spiritually guided” Inguna Sudraba will take over? So all Latvian readers are urged to vote and make their votes responsible. The following weeks will be crucial for our country. Another west and east choice will take place. As Latvia is on the frontline of the New Cold War, the Latvia must choose between our independence and security or a Latvian Maidan.