Coalition building talks begin

  • 2011-09-21
  • From wire reports

RIGA - Though the election is over and the grueling work of cross-party discussions over who can put a working coalition together have begun, it is the Zatlers’ Reform Party that is already talking about who could be the next Saeima’s prime minister.

A nonpartisan prime minister would send a negative signal to society: it is a sign of parties not being able to agree, that they do not have a candidate, the leader of Zatlers’ Reform Party (ZRP), Valdis Zatlers, said during the morning edition of the Latvijas Neatkariga televizija news program ‘900 Seconds’ on Sept. 19, reports LETA.

Zatlers excluded the possibility of a nonpartisan PM because he believes that such a person could not be politically neutral for long. He illustrated this with the example of Andris Skele, who was elected as a nonpartisan PM, but later created a party.
Ex-President Zatlers said that until at least three parties have declared that they support a stable coalition, no coalition models can be made. He added that figures about the most mandates in the Saeima for a party might remain just plain figures: “we want a stable coalition,” said Zatlers. He also said that ZRP is through the first round of negotiations with the nationalist alliance All for Latvia!-For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (VL-TB/LNNK), as well as with third-place finisher Unity.
At present, ZRP’s and Unity’s views differ on political reforms needed in order to increase voter trust, for example, on open voting in Saeima and the disclosure of media owners.

“Currently Harmony Center is an absolutely dark horse to me,” said the leader of ZRP, adding that Harmony Center (SC) has made many unclear statements, populism and changes of position during the pre-election period. Zatlers also said that SC has not participated in “any serious negotiations” till now.

The coalition has to be created in one month’s time, but there are some issues that have to be reviewed as soon as possible. “In the ten days that the president has given, there, hopefully, will be a proposal from us,” said Zatlers.
On a positive note, ZRP’s leader said that during current negotiations with other parties, the issue about PM candidates has not been discussed, but there is agreement about economic programs and fields, for which every party could be responsible for.
In evaluating the election results in terms of the main reason why it was held in the first place - that of removing Latvia’s oligarchs from political control over the government - it would be too optimistic to say that the rule of oligarchs is over, because one of the greatest oligarch supporters and helpers - Harmony Center - has won the election with a very large part of the vote, politician Janis Lagzdins said in an interview with Rietumu Radio.

“If Valdis Zatlers says now that the rule of oligarchs is over - and accepts Harmony Center into the government - he will accept in the government a political force that has been supporting oligarchs all these years, and voted him down as the president,” says Lagzdins. He emphasizes that for many years, Janis Urbanovics-led Harmony Center has been helping Aivars Lembergs, Andris Skele, Ainars Slesers and their respective parties to implement many of the oligarchs’ plans and schemes in all kinds of ways.

“I, as the head of a parliamentary group, was there and I know how things were happening at that time. If someone needed votes to amend laws on the gambling business, security institutions, if Prosecutor General Janis Maizitis had to be ousted, they went to talk with Urbanovics. He did not have all the votes of Harmony Center’s Saeima group, but part of the MPs he did trust and could tell them, you will vote differently from what we have decided in our group, and differently from what we have told reporters. That is how Maizitis was ousted, how the Corruption Prevention Bureau was hunted and how Zatlers was voted down,” said Lagzdins.

Lagzdins believes that Harmony Center’s cooperation with oligarchs, which has continued for many years, cannot just come to a halt like that. “Of course, Skele, Slesers and Lembergs will have fewer opportunities to influence political processes via Harmony Center, but they are not the only oligarchs to pursue their goals through this party.” If Harmony Center becomes a government party, some of the projects, bills or votes by Harmony Center will be in the interest of the former and possibly the future oligarchs.

The politician emphasized, though, that Harmony Center’s platform is completely different from those of the three center-right-wing parties that are likely to form a new government. He also believes that the fact that some of the leaders of SC have recognized the fact of the occupation of Latvia by the Soviet Union in 1940 does not mean that SC has become “more loyal” to the state of Latvia.

This should not be the sole criterion, believes Lagzdins.
Unity and SC on Sept. 19 agreed, in discussions, on a common approach to a number of questions regarding economic matters and the rule of law, but this does not mean yet that Unity will drop talks on formation of a new coalition with VL-TB/LNNK, said Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis.

He said that Unity and SC had “no disagreement” on such matters as continuation of the economic stabilization program, completion of the international loan program for Latvia, and that the budget deficit must be reduced to at least 2.5-3 percent of gross domestic product, and that Latvia must continue the move toward adopting the euro in 2014.
The two parties also agreed in principle on a number of legal issues, including criteria for the selection of the Corruption Prevention Bureau chief, immunity of Saeima members and open ballots.

Harmony Center leader Nils Usakovs said that several economic and social policy matters were solved at the meeting, yet the two parties could not reach agreement on indexation of pensions - SC wants pensions to be indexed already in 2012, whereas Unity insists that pensions may be indexed only as of 2013.
Dombrovskis said that the basics of the history of Latvia were also touched upon at the meeting, and SC had “practically the same opinion” as Unity.

Usakovs stressed that the new Saeima must do everything in its power to create a stable and efficient coalition, and such a coalition will only be possible if Harmony Center is part of it. Asked about the recognition of the fact of occupation, Usakovs hesitated, saying that neither SC nor he personally could recognize, or not recognize, the events of 1940.
Harmony Center has “no allergy against any such terms as annexation, incorporation or occupation - what is important is that the use of these words does not affect the current situation,” said Usakovs. It would be welcome if stated in the new government’s declaration that there are no “occupiers” in Latvia, and that the legal status of a large segment living in Latvia will not be scrutinized, he added.

Dombrovskis said that, even though Unity was in agreement with SC on a number of matters, this did not mean that the talks with VL-TB/LNNK would not continue because Unity and VL-TB/LNNK also had similar views. “No party has been excluded from the talks yet, and they will continue,” said Dombrovskis.

Commenting on Harmony Center’s opinion that Latvia should hold a referendum on introduction of the euro, Dombrovskis explained that the nation had already made its choice in the 2003 referendum on accession to the European Union. Joining the euro area was one of the basic conditions of the accession agreement.
In an attempt to ‘change the rules midway through the game,’ Usakovs said that lawyers would have to “look into this legal problem.”

The Central Election Commission announced last Sunday that Harmony Center won 31 mandates in the 11th Saeima elections, followed by ZRP with 22 seats, and Unity with 20 seats. VL-TB/LNNK will have 14 seats in parliament, and the Union of Greens and Farmers - 13.