Rude Awakening Comes Too Late

  • 2007-10-24

cartoon by Jevgenijs Cheksters

Two placards seen at the recent anti-government street protests in Riga, when put side by side, told the story best: one was a printout of the infamous photo, snapped by a journalist this June, of People's Party MP Janis Lagzdins making an obscene hand gesture 's the double-barrel salute 's from his office window. The other was a sign that simply read "What goes around comes around."

Even though Lagzdins later insisted the gesture was only a joke meant for an old friend, the symbolism was powerful, particularly considering it was made by a member of the ruling coalition's biggest party. Judging by the reaction at the time, the Latvian electorate must have felt, at least in part, that the gesture might just as well have been directed at them.

Now, barely four months later, that same electorate is getting its own back. Over 5,000 people, including many well-known politicians and academics, took to the streets calling for the prime minister's resignation in what has been one of the biggest demonstrations post-independence Latvia has ever seen. And even though Prime Minister Kalvitis' government survived an Oct. 23 no-confidence vote opposition parties were able to push through, the administration is now taking fire from all directions. It is leaking ministers and, many believe, its days are numbered.

A public opinion poll carried out by the Latvijas Fakti pollster in early October found that, if a referendum were held immediately, 57 percent would support dissolution of the parliament. Just as telling, the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia has announced it will start collecting signatures to put through a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to initiate just such a dissolution.
The cry of "Throw the bums out!" has never been louder.

While Kalvitis' suspension of anti-corruption chief Aleksejs Loskutovs was certainly the event that sparked this powerful wave of public anger, it was only the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Repeated corruption scandals, slow action on tackling the country's dangerously high inflation levels, and the sneaky way amendments to security laws were passed through Parliament earlier this year 's an act that prompted then-president Vike-Freiberga to call a referendum to reverse the decision 's had already eroded the public's confidence in the current leadership. The corruption issue especially frustrated voters, so it's no surprise that Kalvitis' decision to suspend KNAB head Loskutovs, on the thinnest of pretexts and just as he was starting to investigate the financing of Kalvitis' own party, was more than people could take.

Over the past few months the government slept through the calls of citizens to mend its ways and act responsibly. Now, it's too late.  Any chance the ruling coalition had to regain the public's trust has vanished like Indulis Emsis' cash-filled briefcase. This time though, there's no hope it'll be recovered.

If indeed the government falls, good riddance we say. Kalvitis and his cronies will only be getting what they deserve. From the beginning they've been deaf to the needs of the Latvian people and have frankly been an embarrassment to the country.

Sadly, no realistic replacement is waiting in the wings. A coalition by opposition parties New Era and Harmony Center isn't one that's likely to be effective, given how far apart they sit on the political spectrum. Without a common enemy, they're likely to lose their cohesion.

If there has ever been a time for a group of honest, capable politicos to make their entry onto the scene, make a clean sweep of the entrenched, festering Parliament and put some respectability back into Latvian politics, this is it. Where are you? The country is waiting.