Back-room politics loses voter trust

  • 2011-05-25
  • From wire reports

RIGA - After a meeting of the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) board and its Saeima group members on May 23, several ZZS deputies decided to put forward ex-banker, MP Andris Berzins, to run for president, reports news agency LETA. Even though ZZS announced that it would not nominate its candidate for president, some of its deputies - Janis Vucans, Iveta Grigule, Aivars Dronka, Karlis Serzants and Stanislavs Skesters - decided to go ahead and nominate Berzins.
ZZS leader Augusts Brigmanis previously said that there was no consensus about President Valdis Zatlers’ candidacy among the ranks of ZZS deputies and, therefore, ZZS would have a free choice when voting. Brigmanis, however, promised that he will support Zatlers’ candidacy.

Saeima Deputy Andris Berzins, who was voted in from the Union of Greens and Farmers’ ticket during the 10th Saeima elections and is also the chairman of the Saeima’s Economy, Agriculture, Environment and Regional Policy Committee, would be a serious presidential candidate, Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs (For Latvia and Ventspils) said last week. For Latvia and Ventspils is a partner party of the Union of Greens and Farmers.

“As much as I know Berzins, he undoubtedly would be a serious candidate,” said Lembergs, who is currently on trial for serious fraud and corruption charges. Lembergs said that Berzins himself approached him and said that he could become a presidential candidate.

Politicians mentioned last week that behind the scenes, Berzins could receive support from Harmony Center and several For a Good Latvia deputies.
On May 20, Lembergs, this time talking out the other side of his mouth, said that current President Zatlers would make a very good candidate for the next president. “I have already previously expressed support for Valdis Zatlers’ candidacy, and I have not changed my opinion, but if Mr. Berzins decides to come forward, and someone nominates him, then, of course, I will also support the candidacy of Andris Berzins. Thank God, I do not have to vote,” said the seaside town mayor.

Lembergs believes that several rounds of presidential debates on television should be held to see which candidate is better.
On May 15, delegates to the 60th annual congress of the American Latvian Association (ALA) adopted a resolution in support of Zatlers’ re-election. ALA emphasizes that the association supports Zatlers’ candidacy because he will ensure Latvia’s stability and provide assistance to the Latvian government during the post-crisis period.
According to the resolution, the association supports Zatlers not only because he has become highly familiar with his job during the past four years and achieved much for the benefit of Latvia, but also because such values as law, morale and ethics are of great importance to him.

The economic situation in Latvia has gradually improved thanks to Zatlers and Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis’ efforts. However, in order to leave the economic crisis behind and return on the path of economic growth, support from Western countries will be required. Political stability is important for the U.S. businessmen and investors, and the president and a stable and capable government can ensure such stability, stresses the association.

Zatlers’ chances of being re-elected to a second-term in office are good, but are falling, according to projections by bookmakers. bookies believe Zatlers has a 65 percent chance of being re-elected, and a 35 percent chance of not being re-elected. “Up until now, the Unity political alliance and opposition For a Good Latvia have expressed support for Zatlers, with no other parties categorically against his reelection. At the same time, no other alternative candidate has been put forward by any other party. These facts make us look at Zatlers as the most likely candidate to be re-elected for another four-year term,” bookmaker Roberts Egle said.

However, bookmakers say there is also a good chance that he will not be re-elected, as the vote in Saeima will be closed. Egle notes that Saeima has a history of expressing support for a certain candidate, then voting against him in the closed vote, like, for example, when members publicly expressed support for Prosecutor General Janis Maizitis, then voted against him.
This uncertainty in the outcome reflects the situation in the country, where there is already little trust in the government. A majority, or 79 percent, of economically-active Latvian residents aged 18 to 55 believe that the selection of presidential candidates is not transparent nor understandable to the public, according to a study carried out by the market, social and media research company TNS Latvia and the LNT television channel.

Forty-seven percent of respondents disagreed with the statement that presidential candidates are chosen in a transparent and comprehensible way, while 32 percent completely opposed the process.
Presidential candidates had until 5 p.m. on May 24 to be nominated. Saeima Speaker Solvita Aboltina (Unity) has been mentioned as a possible candidate for president. However, 68 percent of Latvian residents would not support her candidacy.
Zatlers’ candidacy is supported by Unity (33 deputies), For a Good Latvia (eight deputies) and All for Latvia-For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (seven deputies).

In order to be elected, the presidential candidate must gather at least 51 votes in the parliament.
The first round of presidential elections will be held on June 2, when, in a secret ballot, MPs will vote for the candidates. If none of the presidential candidates gains at least 51 votes in the first round, additional rounds will be held, and a presidential candidate with the smallest number of votes will be excluded from the elections in each round.

New elections will be held if none of the candidates collects 51 votes in the end. Candidates for new elections will have to be nominated no later than five days from the previous election round.
Zatlers’ term of office will expire on July 7 this year.