Government dodges no-confidence bullet

  • 2007-10-24
  • By Talis Saule Archdeacon

TURMOIL: Kalvitis and his ruling coalition survived an Oct. 23 no-confidence vote, but the nation's political crisis, which has been characterized by a groundswell of anti-government sentiment and protest, continues.

RIGA - Latvia's government survived a vote of no-confidence on Oct. 23 after a week marked by upheaval at the highest levels of leadership and mass street protests calling for the prime minister's resignation.
Riding a tide of ill-will toward the administration, opposition parties collected enough parliamentarians' signatures to force an emergency session to force a vote of no-confidence. The motion failed with 56 lawmakers voting against and 38 voting in favor. There was one abstention and five absent from the contentious vote, which would have required a simple majority of those present to pass.

Calls for the measure were sparked by the escalating crisis the government faces over Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis' decision to suspend Aleksejs Loskutovs, the country's leading anti-corruption official, as well as the Cabinet of Ministers' Oct. 16 vote in support of sacking him outright.
Kalvitis defended the move to suspend Loskutovs in a speech delivered to Parliament in the run up to the no-confidence vote, arguing that while the move may have hurt his personal career, it was in the best interests of the nation.
"Did I act correctly from the point of view of political convenience? Possibly not," he said.  "Still, I consider this to be the most honest action in the long term," Kalvitis said.

Kalvitis has asked Parliament to fire Loskutovs over the results of an audit that revealed improprieties in the anti-corruption bureau's accounting. Prominent NGOs dealing with political transparency in Latvia criticized the move as having been politically motivated 's Loskutovs had been investigating alleged irregularities involving donations to Kalvitis' People's Party.
A number of influential figures have also spoken out against the prime minister's handling of the anti-corruption chief, including President Valdis Zatlers, Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks, Prosecutor General Janis Maizitis and former President Guntis Ulmanis.
Political activity surrounding the suspension intensified with mass protests on Oct. 18 calling for the government to step down.

Following the protest, Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks denounced the government's handling of the Loskutovs affair 's after adamantly defending it on the popular evening debate show "Kas Notiek Latvija?" (What's happening in Latvia?) the previous day.
On Oct. 19, Pabriks submitted his resignation to the prime minister, saying that he had reached his "personal limit" with the government's antics. Kalvitis initially refused to accept the resignation 's arguing that there is still work to be done before the minister could leave 's but ultimately accepted it after an Oct. 22 meeting with Pabriks.
Meanwhile, the prime minister sacked former Regional and Municipal Affairs Minister Aigars Stokenbergs on Oct. 19, forcing him to leave both the ruling People's Party and his ministerial position, on the grounds that he was sowing dissent within the party.

Stokenbergs later expressed his intention to take advantage of the sacking by founding a new political party.
The two ministerial losses, along with Economy Minister nominee Einars Cilinskis' Oct. 17 rejection of the post, leave the government short by three ministers. The duties of the economy, foreign and regional affairs ministries will now fall to Kalvitis, Culture Minister Helena Demakova and Finance Minister Oskars Spurdzins respectively.
The no-confidence vote was the first in a series of trials facing the embattled government. It faces the first reading of the budget in Parliament on Oct. 24, followed by the second and third readings scheduled for November 6 and 8.
Even more crucial will be the parliamentary vote on the sacking of Loskutovs, which is still in committee hearings and has not yet been scheduled. Should any of those upcoming votes go against the government, it would almost certainly be forced to step down.

Moreover, despite recent, relatively successful negotiations with the government over the wage increases envisaged in the new budget, another massive protest will take place on Oct. 24. Union leaders have announced the intention to initiate a signature gathering campaign at a rally calling for constitutional reform that would allow the people to dissolve Parliament directly.
Despite the numerous difficulties facing the ruling coalition, government officials remain hopeful about their ability to survive the crisis. "It would seem right now that we have reached a consensus with [the teachers' union] and police [union], and we are continuing negotiations with the medics' [union]. If that will succeed, then we don't see very much risk for a negative decision in the parliament," Maris Riekstins, the prime minister's chief of staff, said.

Opposition leaders, however, see the recent flurry of activity as a sign of the government's impeding fall.
"It is very difficult to imagine that this government will work the full term… It is impossible to believe that the elected MPs don't care [about public opinion], and it will take more than what happened today to get the MPs to wake up," New Era co-chairman Krisjanis Karins said.
"What we have now is a system in which the elected officials feel gratitude to the party that nominated them, rather than to one specific region and the people [of that region]," he said.