Voters elect to ‘stay the course’

  • 2010-10-06
  • Staff and wire reports

Calls of congratulations poured in from around Europe as Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis (in the center) and his Unity alliance won the parliamentary elections on Saturday.

RIGA - The political alliance Unity emerged from what appeared to be a close two-horse race heading into voting day with a solid and commanding victory at the polls on Saturday. With 62.6 percent of the electorate heading to the polls, Unity came out on top with 31 percent of the popular vote – giving them 33 seats in the Saeima; second place with 26 percent of the vote went to Harmony Center – 29 seats; with Union of Greens and Farmers third with 19.6 percent of the tally and 22 seats. For a Good Latvia and All for Latvia!-For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (VL-TB/LNNK) each collected 7.6 percent of the vote and will each take 8 seats, reports news agency LETA.

None of the other parties cleared the five percent threshold necessary for inclusion in the parliament.
This puts Unity in the driver’s seat in forming the next government. The Unity bloc of Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and the Union of Greens and Farmers form the current minority coalition, together with the nationalist bloc VL-TB/LNNK, reports Reuters. The election results show the current coalition now has a majority in the 100-seat house.
“We discussed the possibilities for further cooperation [with our coalition partners] and we are ready to continue work,” Dombrovskis said after meeting the Union of Greens and Farmers. He said the aim should be to hold a parliament vote on the new government approval on Nov. 2.

With Harmony Center’s strong showing, talk is revolving about how to offer them a seat at the table. Representatives of Unity and Harmony Center met on Oct. 4, with the consultations aimed at defining common grounds for future cooperation. Unity also offered a cooperation agreement to Harmony Center and requested a decision on what form would be acceptable to both sides. Unity’s offer included the possibility that Harmony could receive a Cabinet seat.
Dombrovskis acknowledged though that certain coalition partners had made it clear that they do not want to be in the same coalition as Harmony Center, therefore other forms of cooperation are being sought.

Harmony Center Chairman and current Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs said that his party is in a “waiting position,” and that it respects Unity’s actions and plans as the winner. He said that Harmony Center must first discuss the possible cooperation with Unity with its partners.

Usakovs added that his party is open for talks with “a positive attitude.”
Unity co-Chairwoman Solvita Aboltina is currently giving non-committal statements, not only over possible cooperation with Harmony Center, but also over continuing cooperation with VL-TB/LNNK. In an interview with Latvian State Radio on Oct. 5, the politician stressed that talks over forming a coalition are ongoing, and there is still one month to go before the confirmation of the new government.

Commenting on possible cooperation with Harmony Center, Aboltina explained that she did not wish to see a divided parliament, and such a monolithic opposition party as Harmony should be offered the opportunity to take on responsibility for complicated and important decisions regarding the economy.

“We cannot ignore Harmony Center and leave it outside. We must think of ways to democratize parliament and involve the opposition,” said Aboltina, pointing out that the new government will have to make tough decisions, and a popular party like Harmony Center cannot be ignored. Aboltina mentioned a negative example from the previous Saeima elections, when the winning People’s Party completely ignored New Era.
However, Unity will never give up its principles regarding language, citizenship and the country’s Western inclination, she stressed.

Aboltina was also evasive in her statements concerning VL-TB/LNNK. Although she made it clear that Unity’s priority cooperation partners are the members of the current coalition, with whom difficult decisions had already been taken, Aboltina described the deputies elected from VL-TB/LNNK to the parliament as “young, active guys, who based their campaign on a battle with the old politicians.”

Maintaining the coalition, though, will take some effort. The All for Latvia! (VL) party says that to work with Harmony Center means that Harmony first has to fulfill three demands, these being an acknowledgement of Latvia’s occupation by the Soviet Union, a rejection of the demands that Russian be an official second language, and that they terminate their cooperation agreement with the Russian government, reports Party leader Raivis Dzintars says that he doesn’t see the possibility to work together with Harmony Center in a ruling coalition.

Unity co-Chairman Girts Valdis Kristovskis said last week that Harmony Center is a “very unpredictable political force, and is ideologically very different, that is why Unity would like to continue its already-tested partnership.”
President Valdis Zatlers plans to begin consultations with political parties on Oct. 15, according to the president’s entry on the social networking site Twitter. “In my schedule, I have marked October 15 as the day for beginning consultations with political party leaders about the best candidate for prime minister,” twittered Zatlers. Edgars Rinkevics, head of the Chancery of the President, also twitted that “the consultations with the president would focus on implementation of the economic recovery program, foreign policy and the development of a national energy policy.”

After the polls closed, Dombrovskis said that “nothing has ended, and there is still much to do,” and that Latvia has taken the right road, but “there is still a long way to go on this road for Latvia to achieve its goals.”
Asked whether the strong support Unity received in the elections will lead to arrogance similar to the Aigars Kalvitis (People’s Party) government, Dombrovskis promised that there is no basis for euphoria, and that there is much work to be done in regard to next year’s budget.

Saturday’s vote keeps Latvia on the current path of the IMF and EU-led austerity plan with eventual eurozone entry and it keeps its pro-Western orientation. “Voters have quite clearly voted for stability,” said Dombrovskis.