I voted for Zatlers' Reform Party (ZRP) in the September 17 out of a sense of duty to vote for an “electable” political party, also to express my dissatisfaction with Unity (Vienotība/V) for letting their coalition partner, the Green and Farmers' Union (Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība/ZZS) walk all over them. I decided that voting for the party I most sympathized with, the semi-anarchist Last Party (Pēdējā partija) would be a waste of my vote.
It now turns out that voting for the ZRP, even though they came in “second” with 22 seats in the Saeima, was also a waste of my vote. Others may be happy with their choice, I am not. It not seems that the only goal of the ZRP is to bring the Harmony Center (Saskaņas centrs/SC) into government, no matter what other disruptive effects this may have. These may include tearing apart the other parties it is trying to bring into the coalition, including itself.
The idea of making the SC one of the building blocks of a future government with its 31 Saeima seats has freaked out Latvian society in many ways at at many levels. It has also been reflected in the foreign media in distorted and nonsensical ways. For instance, saying that the SC gaining two Saeima seats for itself is a “social-democratic” victory is simply wrong. The SC is not a classic social democratic party, its populism sounds social democratic at first glance. It has voted with the oligarchs, it did not act to let anti-corruption police search the homes of Saeima deputy Ainārs Šleser, suspected of corruption. One of SC's candidates for prime minister, Riga mayor Nils Ušakovs, partnered with Šlesers in running the city until the politician was elected to the Saeima in 2010.
For me, these are reasons enough to be skeptical of bringing the SC into government. I would also be worried about the somewhat chameleonic nature of the SC. Within days of the election, they were ready to abandon their pre-election promises concerning the indexing (raising of pensions)and to soften their skeptical stand on joining the euro (considering what is happening with the European sovereign debt crisis, there was some merit to this view) as well as on attempting to re-negotiate and extend Latvia's arrangements with the IMF and other international lenders (a crackpot idea, IMHO).
Also, the SC is actually an alliance of two parties – the SC and the Socialist Party, which is an unreformed, hard-line Communist organization that justifies the deportations of Latvian citizens under Soviet occupation in 1941 and 1949, and calls the 1991 restoration of Latvian independence as a “ reactionary coup”. In a sudden move after the election and as coalition talks started, the SC said it would disassociate from the Socialists. What were they thinking earlier?
Meanwhile, the other parties in the talks were also showing rifts. Valdis Liepins, a Canadian-Latvian who “defected” from V to enthusiastically join the ZRP has been circulating e-mails expressing his opposition to any deal with the SC. He is a potential defector from his new party, which could bring the SC/ZRP majority to 52 (should both parties try to go it together).
V, meanwhile, has been deciding on-again-off-again that it won't/might go into coalition with the SC or maybe with everyone (except the ZZS, a party consigned to a kind of political leper colony). Except that “everyone” doesn't get along with “everyone” else, and the country is not at war or in any other extreme situation requiring a government of national unity. The National Alliance (NA) has declared it will never join a coalition with SC in it, nor is the SC ready to sit in the same government with the nationalists. V is also showing little unity in that some of its components (the former Citizens' Union) are also threatening to split off if there is a coalition with the SC.
Which means there are really “one and a half” possible combinations – the ZRP, V and the NA in a center-right coalition with programmatic similarities and a ZRP/SC coalition of two inexperienced and programmatically mismatched parties that would satisfy former president Valdis Zatlers' ambition to finally bring some ethnic Russians into government (at all costs, if need be).
As for the “Russian” issue, that has been raised yet again in all of its paranoid glory, with at least some parts of society sincerely believing that the SC will move rapidly toward moving Latvia into Russia's sphere of influence and making Russian an official language. Dampening these views has not been helped by Janis Urbanovics, a ethnic Latvian SC leader and its second candidate for prime minister, hinting that Russians would use “extra-parliamentary” means of protest if the SC was kept out of government.
In short, with President Andris Bērziņš setting a deadline for some kind of resolution of matters this Monday (October 10), there is some pressure for the parties to get their act together. But since this is Latvia, that may not happen. The continued bickering, bumbling, “betrayal” and shape-shifting will only confirm the totally cynical attitude the vast majority of the population has toward politics and politicians in general. While Urbanovics may not succeed in getting people into the streets, the continued failure of Latvian politics will lead to more external and “internal emigration”, in the form of passive resistance to taxes and any dealings with a system of governance much of the population sees as corrupt, incompetent and hostile to their interests.