Time for constitutional change

  • 2004-02-12
The Cabinet resignation in Latvia is a scene all too familiar. The public, in fact, seems inured to political upheaval. Little wonder then that, after resigning, Prime Minister Einars Repse made some candid observations that give cause for concern.

"Latvia has been plagued by unstable governments throughout its years of independence. Laws lack provisions stabilizing the government's work," opined the outgoing Prime Minister. "Our election law, the law on the Cabinet of Ministers and the public administration provisions under the Constitution obviously do not help in keeping a long-standing, stable government... It is nearly impossible to avoid the election of numerous small parties to Parliament, where multilateral coalitions usually create weak governments lacking decision-taking capacity."
It's difficult to disagree with Mr. Repse. His Cabinet, which was established in November 2002, managed to survive only 15 months, which made it the fourth longest Cabinet since Latvia gained independence.
Latvia is, to be sure, the Baltic leader in changing governments. Since independence, it has had 10 different cabinets. Estonia has had seven, including the current one, and Lithuania nine (including Prime Minister Vagnorius' infamous one-month "leave of absence" in February 1998). But Lithuania seems to have outgrown its phase of protean politics: the current prime minister has been in place since July 2001, and the government has managed to function without a coalition (and on the basis of "common action"). The result: Lithuania now has the fastest growing economy in all Europe.
Granted, Latvia's political "instability" hasn't prevented it from scoring economic successes - the economy, after all, is expanding over 7 percent per year. But one can't help but wonder what the country might be capable of it didn't have to endure political rigmarole on average of once a year. Serious problems must be addressed if Latvia - on the bottom of the EU ladder in terms of GDP per capita - is to catch up to the West, and this requires first and foremost stable governance.
The solution? Change the constitution, of course. Using her leadership skills and gift of persuasion, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga should round up the bickering party leaders and, together with leading political scientists, devise a new electoral system. The goal should be to instill more stability in a fragile system so that the country can go about its primary function of improving the lives of its populace. It is a noble goal, and one that taxpayers fed up with paying for political infighting are sure to back.