'Short-term' coalition hopes for long-term stability

  • 2004-03-18
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - Indulis Emsis' recently formed minority government may be less stable than its predecessor due to its reliance on left-wing parties and conflicting ideologies, but its minority status may not be a cause of instability, analysts said this week.

The the coalition is made up of Prime Minister Emsis' Greens and Farmers Union (with 12 seats in Parliament), Latvia's First Party (14 seats) and the People's Party (20). It was recently bolstered by the defection of Andrejs Radzevics, who abandoned the New Era party to work as minister for regional development and local governments.
But even with Radzevics, the coalition's sixth defector, Emsis only has 47 votes in Parliament, four short of a majority.
"I am quite sure that this is a coalition for short term gains," Valts Kalnins, a political scientist, said.
As Kalnins explained, the "coalition is made up of people whose primary interests are not the long-term survival of their parties but their own personal and political interests."
Because the coalition came to power with the help of the center-left, many have predicted political fallout in the next parliamentary elections in 2006. The People's Party would be particularly vulnerable in this scenario, considering in the past it thrived on the nationalist component of its program.
Indeed, leftist forces in Latvia have been given a new lease on their political life.
The government was confirmed on March 9 with the help of Janis Jurkans's National Harmony Party, which lent nine votes in support of Emsis. Jurkans, left out of political power since his stint as foreign minister in the early 1990s, has been trying to regain credibility ever since he was considered tainted by many ethnic Latvians for working with left wing parties with a strong Russian component.
"[Jurkans] is gradually being legitimated by this. This is the first time a government has so openly been supported by the left-wing," Pauls Raudseps, editorial page editor for daily Diena, said.
Expectedly, the mixed bag of right and left forces has many predicting that the coalition won't last until the end of the year. Yet on the other hand, some analysts are refusing to write off Emsis' minority government.
According to a recent paper by political scientist Daunis Auers - "Can a minority government provide stable government" - minority governments can be just as stable as majority ones.
Auers points out that Emsis may be able to lead a stable coalition by using a "jumping majority" - i.e., passing legislation with the help of either left- or right-wing parliamentarians, depending on the issue.
Still, while there are broad agreements in terms of economic and foreign policy, there are a handful of issues that could prove to be particularly problematic.
The best example is educational reform, which has crystallized Latvian society in recent months.
Latvia's First Party, which was recently buttressed by five left-wing defectors, is likely to have a different opinion than the more nationalist People's Party.
There are other potential sources of inner-coalition tension. As Auers writes: "Moreover, the different corporate interests that generously finance the coalition parties could have differing ideas on privatization and other more specific aspects of economic policy."
In this regard the decision to place Oskars Spurdzins, a relative unknown from the People's Party, in the Finance Ministry, could be interpreted as rather ominous.
One commentator who spoke on condition of anonymity saw the appointment as highly dubious, especially considering how important the position is in everyday state affairs and the upcoming introduction of EU structural funds.
Be that as it may, few analysts were willing to speculate on the demise of the new coalition.
"I don't think they will disappear after one month or so," Juris Rozenvals, a political science professor at the University of Latvia, said, adding that the minority government will now be forced to compromise.