Krisjanis Karins governments: competitors to friends or friends to enemies?

  • 2023-07-26

As the outcome of the two last elections of the Latvian Saeima, the same person came to the helm of the government of Latvia – the representative of  New Unity ( JV), former Minister of Economy and MEP Krisjanis Karins, although the contexts of his coming to power in each of these cases were rather different. In 2018, the inviolable "red lines" drawn in the preelection campaign, did not leave any room for political maneuvers and the coalition was formed from five political forces that represented very different views –  from social-oriented pro-European liberalism to open populism and emphasis on traditional values. As a result, the formation of the government took a record long time for Latvia –  more than three months, and K. Karins became the prime minister after two unsuccessful attempts by the leaders of other lists to form a ruling coalition. 

The government had to deal with two major crises – the COVID-19 pandemic and the energy crisis. It has managed to initiate some important reforms, however, disagreements in the coalition and lack of proper leadership were obvious, decisions were often not understandable to the public and their adoption usually took a long time, but the main problem was that Latvia fell even further behind its Baltic neighbors in terms of socio-economic development. Therefore, the government's ability to serve the full term of office of the 13th Saeima proves not its effectiveness, but the lack of another alternative.

The situation changed significantly as a result of the 2022 Saeima elections. JV increased its representation in the Saeima more than threefold – from eight to twenty-six mandates. It should be noted here that the success was not based on achievements in the socio-economic field, the main role was played by the public's reaction to Russia's aggression against Ukraine and the government's active actions in this regard. As a result of the elections, two out of five members of the former ruling coalition did not enter the new parliamentary term. Another former ally – the populist party began to gradually disintegrate immediately after the 2018 parliamentary elections and was pushed out of the ruling coalition already in 2021. It became clear that new allies must be sought. That became the United List (AS), a party association formed shortly before the elections, in which several previously known political organizations united under the leadership of Uldis Pilens – a successful businessman, a former member of the board of the People's Party – one of the big players of Latvian politics at the turn of the century. At first, it seemed that the ideological orientation of the coalition partners was relatively similar and that forming a government would not require much effort. However, the task turned out to be more difficult than initially expected. In the course of forming the government, significant differences in ideas about the government's work priorities, the principles of its work organization, and, finally, deep personal disagreements between K. Karins and U. Pilens were revealed. However, after two and a half months of negotiations, the government received the support of the Saeima and the preparation of the 2023 state budget became its first serious work. The result disappointed a large part of the public and the coalition partners from AS could not feel satisfied because, contrary to pre-election promises, the health protection (which fell under the responsibility of AS) and education systems did not receive sufficient funding, and funding for a promised economic breakthrough was also missing.

However, the biggest test for the stability of the current government coalition will be the presidential elections scheduled for the very end of May. According to the constitution, at least 51 votes of members of the Saeima are required. Contrary to the prime minister’s hope to achieve the nomination of a unified candidate for the ruling coalition, AS announced its readiness to nominate U. Pilens as a candidate for the position of president. Currently, it is difficult to predict what the outcome of the presidential elections will be, whether U. Pilens will get the required number of supporters, and whether any new candidacies will appear. However, it can be fairly safely predicted that the peaceful coexistence of the prime minister with the current president E.Levits, who is rather passive in domestic politics, will no longer be able to continue. There is no doubt that in connection with the presidential elections, behind-the-scenes negotiations are already taking place, where the opposition parties will demand their trial, which could also mean entering the government. And this is where the main and most striking difference appears between the first and second governments of K. Karins – there are also other coalition options in the current Saeima. 


Dr.Phil.  Juris Rozenvalds

Leading researcher,

Advanced Social and Political Research Institute,

Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Latvia