Well, here we are. The parliamentary election is upon us. Apart from the fact that you’ve got politicians’ mugs gazing at you from just about every lamppost in the land, have you even noticed that there’s going to be an election this Saturday? Sure, politicians are gabbing their usual platitudes on television. But where’s been the proper debate? Where’s been the proper discussion about the issues that are going to be facing whoever the 100 folks who end up getting elected this weekend will have to face?
It’s been a remarkably trivial and smarmy campaign, hasn’t it been? Passing out balloons to children. Presenting bugaboos to frighten voters – this party’s going to sell Latvia to the Russians. This party’s going to attract all of the votes of gays, lesbians and other implied perverts, and so isn’t that just an awful and terrible party? That party’s got the wrong person nominated for prime minister, and so has that one and that one and that one. Here, kid, have a balloon. Have another. That’s the extent of our campaigning for you.
Perhaps at the top of the heap in trivializing the election campaign is the unholy alliance that are Latvia’s greens and Latvia’s farmers (only in this benighted banana republic can greens and pesticide-using farmers find common ground so that they can jointly suck at the teat of the government and its finances). They, you see, have told us that they have a campaign manifesto, but they’re not going to show it to anybody. Why? Because lots of different working groups came up with different chapters, don’t you know, and so the lot of it isn’t polished well enough in literary terms. Or perhaps because the party knows that people are going to criticize it whether it releases its manifesto or doesn’t do. But the bottom line is that the people of Latvia have been told that they don’t have a right to know what a party that is certainly going to be elected this week is going to do once it gets there.
There are two reasons for this, one understandable, one not. The understandable reason is that politicians really don’t want to talk about the process that will start exactly one minute after the polls close on Saturday evening – the need to deal with next year’s national budget. It’s going to be a painful process, it’s almost certainly going to involve raising taxes once again, and it would be a foolish politician indeed who looked the electorate in the eye and said “Just as soon as we’re done here, I’m going to go and screw you good, you dumb cluck.”
The other reason is that many of Latvia’s politicians know perfectly well that they don’t really need to say much at all, they’re going to get elected anyway, because the electorate in Latvia is just that apathetic and occasionally just that dumb. They learned this four years ago when the People’s Party and the First Party of Latvia egregiously cheated on campaign financing rules and got elected anyway. That taught them an important lesson: Hey! We can do absolutely anything that we want, and if we get caught, we probably won’t get punished. Could it be anywhere other than in this banana republic that the first (I repeat – the FIRST) court hearing on the FPL’s cheating in the 2006 parliamentary election will be after the 2010 parliamentary election? Is that not too ludicrous for words? Sure it is.
As are some of the goofs who are running for office. The People’s Party and the First Party of Latvia didn’t just cheat with their finances, they also rammed the country’s economy straight into the toilet with their belief that Latvia is somehow special and economic rules don’t apply to it. Why would anyone vote for them again? The “green farmers” are still banging on about how the absurdly compromised mayor of the small town out on the west coast that is Ventspils should be prime minister. Sure – a prime minister who has to spend every morning in court on criminal charges. That would be just peachy.
87 of our current MPs are standing for office again. One who isn’t is the former utterly hapless finance minister, Atis Slakteris, who became internationally infamous for his “nothing special” interview on Bloomberg. He’s said that he’d be ready to stand again, but his party doesn’t want him anymore. Oh, poor baby! Another is the famed composer Raimonds Pauls, who has said that he’s tired of being told that he did bad things in Parliament when he didn’t. Oh, what self-delusion.
But what about those 87? Do they feel proud of what the Saeima has achieved over the past four years? Do they think that their performance would earn them a promotion if they were not a parliament, but a business enterprise?
You know what? I can understand the many people who have been telling me that they’re just going to lift their middle finger toward the whole process and boycott the vote. They shouldn’t. The lower the percentage of voters, the easier it is for parties and alliances to get the votes needed to beat the 5 percent vote barrier, all the more so given that many tens of thousands of Latvian citizens are living abroad, and their turnout has always been quite negligible.
I will vote. But I’m pretty sure that I’m going to cross out the name of every single person on the list of the party which I pick who has been in Parliament for the last four years. There’s a reason why public opinion surveys show that only 7 percent of the country’s residents trust the Saeima. Apparently only those who are there still don’t realize why.
Karlis Streips is an American-Latvian journalist who has done extensive radio, television and print work.
He has lived in Latvia since 1989.