Zatlers issues ultimatum to government

  • 2009-01-21
  • By Kate McIntosh

BACKBONE: The president was praised by NGOs and former heads of state for taking a stand and demanding that the government shape up.

RIGA - President Valdis Zatlers has told The Baltic Times through a spokeswoman that he will hold true to his threats to call a referendum and would not bend to government pressure to submit to immediate dissolution of the parliament ahead of the March 31 deadline.
That comes despite comments made by Transport Minister and Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way Co-Chairman Ainars Slesers, one of the most high-profile members of the Cabinet, that parliament should be dissolved at once.

Latvian Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis also told the Baltic News Service that the government could not work within the dictates of the president's demands.
The president delivered an ultimatum to the government following the Jan. 13 violent outpouring in Riga.
Among the key demands made by the president were amendments to the current law on elections, the implementation of direct policy to support the country's future economic development and the reorganization of the cabinet and ministry infrastructure.

Zatlers also called for the immediate appointment of a director for the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB), which has been without a leader for about six months (see story Page 3).

Should the demands not be met by the March 31 deadline, the president said he will immediately dismiss parliament.
"This process has taken far too long, and there is absolutely no excuse for the failure of the government to complete it," said Zatlers in a public address.
Zatlers has said the implementation of political and institutional reforms were instrumental to restoring public faith in political processes.

Speaking about the timing of his announcement, the president said he had previously urged the Cabinet of Ministers to work on these matters long before January 13.
Zatlers said the decision to take direct action came after witnessing the rapid decline in the public's confidence in the government.

"We cannot go in further confrontation, but certain actions that have a public demand need to be taken 's the Constitutional changes and amendments to the election law, the foundation of the supervisory council under the auspices of the parliament, the adoption of economic stimulation plan, reforms of state administration as well as the appointment of the Head of Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau," he said.
At closed meetings this week, Zatlers said there had been agreement reached that the tasks set out were both realistic and vital to ensuring the country's future economic development.

"It is very important to finish all those tasks that should facilitate trust in the parliament and government within society as well as to work out a specific economic stimulation plan," said Zatlers.
Zatlers' spokeswoman told TBT that it was important for the parliament and the government to work together on the reforms and changes to help stimulate economic growth in Latvia and end ongoing political uncertainty.
"First of all, the Cabinet of Ministers has to work out economic stimulation plan that provides clear vision on how to go about economic development," he said.

"Finally, it goes without saying that part of economic recovery is also the reform of state administration that the government has to carry out," he said.
Zatlers said he had held discussions with the Strategic Analysis Commission (SAC), comprising of experts in the economic and finance fields, and asked them to work out their vision of economic recovery.
 Zatlers said he remained committed to fighting institutional corruption and warned failure by the government to implement the demands in their entirety would result in its immediate dissolution.
"All of the tasks that I put forward on Jan.14 need to be viewed together and considered as a package. The Saeima and the Cabinet of Ministers should see them as equally important. Therefore if any of the tasks is not carried out I will initiate the referendum about the dissolution of the Saeima," the president said.

In an ultimatum to the government issued on Jan. 14, a day after riots shook Riga, the president outlined three basic tasks that the government must complete. He vowed to dissolve parliament if the government did not follow through with his demands.
"The Saeima [Latvian parliament] must amend the Constitution to allow the people of Latvia to decide on proposing the dissolution of Parliament. Work on this issue has been unacceptable, and MPs have rejected the idea. I promise that in a week's time, I shall submit draft legislation to amend the Constitution which will be perfectly clear. The decision will then be up to the Saeima."

"A similarly urgent job is to amend the law on elections. I can explain this easily. There are two enormous problems here. First of all, there is the problem of 'locomotives' 's a few people who pull citizens who are completely unknown to the public into the Saeima on their coattails. Secondly, 10 percent of the politicians in the Saeima were not elected on the basis of the parties which ran for office in the Saeima election. 10 percent is a lot. There are political parties in the Saeima which were not elected. This is an anachronism which must be reversed."

"The third job is very specific, and it is based on the Advent Agreement. As soon as possible, the Saeima must establish a supervisory council to oversee the country's economic development plan and the way in which the state uses money which has been lent to it. That is an institution which will certainly enhance trust, it will be an instrument which will analyze the situation, correlate proposals, and submit summaries to the Saeima and the Cabinet of Ministers. Of particular importance is the involvement in this institution of experts from the world of finance and economics 's people who can clearly state their view and who are trusted by the public," the president told journalists.

He went on to urge the government to complete three more outstanding tasks in order to start to win back the public's trust.
The first was that the government follow through with a re-organization plan and "come up with a clear plan on reorganizing the system of national governance -- not just an option, but a clear model for action." He said the government would have to explain its cost cutting decisions to the people.

The second was that the government must reorganize the cabinet to include ""new faces." "[The Prime Minister] must let us know which institutions will be reformed and how, so that this information is clear not only to bureaucrats, but also to the public at large," the president said.
Third was that the government appoint a new head for the country's anti-corruption bureau, which has been without leadership for about six months, as soon as possible.

The demands prompted a flurry of political activity, with ruling coalition and opposition parties holding numerous meetings with the president to devise a way to pull through the country's growing political crisis.