Zatlers reneges on threat to dissolve parliament
- By Kate McIntosh
SECOND THOUGHTS: In his highly anticipated speech on the night of March 31, Latvian President Valdis Zatlers said he would not dissolve Parliament as previously promised, claiming that the new government was more popular than the last and should be given more time to work.
RIGA - Latvian President Valdis Zatlers will not follow through with threats to dissolve Parliament despite a series of strict demands remaining unfulfilled by the new government.
In a Jan. 14 ultimatum to the previous government, issued one day after Riga was rocked by riots, the President vowed to initiate the dissolution of Parliament should demands not be met by the March 31 deadline.
Zatlers, who did not stipulate a new deadline, expressed confidence that pending amendments to the Constitution that would empower voters to call snap elections via a referendum would be approved by the new government by April 8.
In a patriotic address to the nation on March 31 Zatlers said the political situation had now changed and that dissolving parliament would only create further economic and political uncertainty in the recession hit Baltic State.
He also acknowledged that progress had been made on most of his demands mentioned in the ultimatum, including the formation of a new government, amendments to parliament election law and the appointment of a new director to the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB), which had been without a head for more than six months.
An economic stimulus plan and reforms to the system of national governance are also underway.
"I know very clearly that we cannot allow the political crisis to escalate to its final level. I expect the government and Parliament now to propose the route which Latvia must take, and I expect them to do so in the very near term," he said.
"Today, when so many countries are finding themselves in difficulty, it is of key importance for us to be able to invest our energy and our wisdom in resolving economic problems. We must not create new problems," he added.
The move is an apparent about face by Zatlers, who had previously stood by his intentions to dissolve Parliament.
"If I were asked what happens if these tasks are not completed by March 31, my answer would be categorical 's I will initiate a popular vote on the dissolution of parliament," he said in an earlier statement.
Constitutional amendments have yet to be passed by the new government headed by Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, who was appointed prime minister following the collapse of the previous government on Feb. 20.
In his ultimatum Zatlers had demanded Parliament pass amendments to the Constitution that would empower voters to dissolve the legislature, draw up amendments to the election law and set up a taskforce to supervise the economic stimulus plan and the use of the international loan.
The president also tasked the then government, headed by Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis, with developing a clear plan for the restructuring of the public administration.
Zatlers said at the time the demands came in response to the rapid decline in the public's confidence in the country's government.
Last year the government was forced to seek a 7.5 billion euro rescue package from the International Monetary Fund and other international lenders in the wake of the country's deteriorating economic situation.
Frustration at the former government's handling of the economic crisis erupted in mass riots in Riga on Jan. 13, when anti-government protesters attempted to storm Parliament and destroyed city property, including several police vehicles.
In a Feb. 22 statement to The Baltic Times Zatlers said implementation of political and institutional reforms was necessary to restore public faith in the country's political processes.
"All of the tasks I have put forward on Jan. 14 need to be viewed together and considered as a package. The Saeima [Latvian parliament] and the Cabinet of Ministers should see them as equally important. Therefore if any of the tasks are not carried out I will initiate the referendum about the dissolution of the Saeima," the president said.
The previous government failed to agree on a government restructuring model and later collapsed following the resignation of Godmanis. The new Cabinet led by Dombrovskis of the center-right party New Era, was approved by Parliament on March 12.
In his speech, aired on national television and radio, the president acknowledged that public opinion in state authorities remained catastrophically low, adding that trust could only be restored by decisive action from government.
"We are in a situation when people just don't know what is going to happen in the near future, but it is important for the public to know what the government will do in the next three or four months. People must know the government's intentions; it must know why we are asked to tighten our belts. And yet that is not enough," he said.
Zatlers called on the new government to approve amendments to this year's budget in line with the demands of the IMF, provide assistance to struggling Latvian companies, approve an encompassing program of social protections and implement change in Latvia's political environment and system of elections.
Recent opinions polls, undertaken ahead of Zatlers' March 31 address, revealed 16 percent of Latvians do not trust politicians and 65 percent support the dissolution of Parliament.
Latvia is among the hardest hit countries by the worldwide economic meltdown and is currently facing bankruptcy fears and spiraling unemployment rates.