Sunday, October 23, 2011

Latvia: Cobbling together a "kludge" of a government

It looks like Latvia may have managed to cobble together a fragile coalition of Unity/Vienotība (V), the tatters of the Zatlers Reform Party (ZRP), six ZRP defectors and the National Alliance (NA). By now it should be obvious that the bright sun of change some Latvians have expected since the founding of New Era (Jaunais Laiks/JL) almost ten years ago, and that they expected, yet again, with the V alliance in 2010, and yet again with the dismissal of the Saeima and the new elections, has slipped back below the horizon. Another false dawn.
So what can we expect? Valdis Dombrovskis will continue at the helm of a listing ship with six loose cannons on deck (perhaps more, one can't say that the disintegration of the ZRP has ended with the mere loss of 27% of its parliamentary strength). There is already talk that oligarch influenced Green/Farmers Union (Zaļo Zemnieku Savienība/ ZZS, which neither particularly green nor agrarian) could be called out of its political leper colony to boost the coalition should all else fail.
That, of course, would be a symbolic death blow to the ZRP, which was built, overnight in political movement forming terms, on the idea of opposing the “oligarchs” and the practice of state capture. The six loose cannons have indicated this could be fine with them, providing that no direct representatives of Ventspils mayor Aivars Lembergs (from his Ventspils based “sub-party”) are involved. Dombrovskis, too smart not to be aware of the kind of crew he is sailing with, has also hinted that the ZZS might be let in the back door. After all, they are weaker than in the last Saeima, when they did everything to disrupt V's attempts to govern coherently. But then coherent governance has never been and is unlikely to be a Latvian priority in the foreseeable future.
The Harmony Center (Saskaņas Centrs/SC) has forecast – motivated by some bitterness – that the coalition will be lucky to last until next spring. They may be right. They have also indicated that as a harsh and firm opposition, the SC will continue to advocate social democratic policies. When it was offered a chance to govern together with the center-right, the SC quickly abandoned the social democratic populism that got it elected. More evidence that the SC are chameleons, never mind inexperienced (maybe a virtue where “experience” is being part of two decades of misrule) at national government.
After the “Sunday morning surprise” popped on everyone by the chief loose cannoneer Klāvs Olšteins (who burned through two political parties this year so far), it is safe to say that anything can still happen by the time the Saeima has to vote on the new government on October 25. But it seems likely that the present kludge (to use IT slang) of a government will get approved. Then the whole company of 100 merry pranksters will have to pass yet another austerity budget for 2012. How much more will have to be cut, and will the cuts keep up with the deterioration of the tax base due to emigration and the drift of the population into the gray economy is an issue that no one has talked about yet in and depth. Everyone has been watching the political circus or balagāns of the past five weeks. The real horror show may start with the budget. 

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