The political balagāns (carnival) continues with a wee-hours-of-the night coup by the Zatlers Reform Party (ZRP) to bring Harmony Center (Saskaņas Centrs/SC) into government and offer the post of prime minister to Valdis Dombrovskis of Unity (Vienotība/V). Somehow I don't think this was coordinated between ZRP and V, in accordance with an agreement between both parties forming the “core” of any next coalition that exactly this kind of thing would be done by mutual agreement. For a number of reasons, the ZRP simply decided to screw its potential coalition partner, set off a bombshell in the middle of the night and get the whole country (or that part of it writing comments on internet portals) up in arms.
One reason former president Valdis Zatlers himself mentioned (and this was hinted at when he was forming his barely three-months old party) was to bridge the ethnic gap in Latvia between Latvians and Russians. At least one political scientist, Iveta Kažoka, called this “historic” and a good thing, sorta... In purely logical terms, it makes considerable sense. Latvians and Russians face the same economic challenges – despite some GDP growth, the country is still way below where it was in 2007 or 2008 and will not clamber back until the middle or latter part of the decade. Unemployment hits Latvians and Russians equally hard. Even emigration is an issue if we talk about ethnic Russian voters, which means they have citizenship, a passport and are free to go look for a better life in the rest of the European Union. Ethnic issues are largely historical and it is the future – will Latvia have one or not – that matters. Or so it would seem.
In reality, ethnicity overrides any and all common causes, except in fleeting, temporary situations, like hockey championships, where Russians and Latvians unite behind their (heavily Russian) national team. The issue of occupation and who or what was responsible for it (between 1940 and 1991, twenty years ago) is still emotionally pivotal and the main reason the National Alliance (All for Latvia/Fatherland&Freedom/Latvian National Independence Movement –NA) will see cows flying in formation before it joins any government with the SC in it.
It is not clear what would happen if the SC electorate were all to agree, not only that there was an occupation, but that they all, whether born here or not, are occupiers, including minor children, housepets and lawn statues of dwarfs. The NA, I am sure, would then urge them all to go back to Russia, acting out its deoccupation fantasies. That might have worked in 1991 -1992, but not anymore. Besides, Russia is an increasingly authoritarian bardak of corruption and cronyism that even puts Latvia to “shame”. However, a virtual deoccupation has already occurred in economic and demographic terms – at least 300 000 people, most of them economically active, have left the country, probably never to return (in any permanent sense). Trouble is, only some of them are Russian.
The other reason that Zatlers wants to have a three-party ZRP, SC and V coalition is that it would have more than a two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to change the constitution and allow popular elections for president, as well as granting the new, popularly elected presidency broader powers. Presently, the Latvian president is largely a figurehead. Cynics say the only reason Zatlers dismissed the parliament was in order to run for the new, more powerful office of president a few years down the road. This is probably not true, there was good reason to dismiss the Saeima with 94% of the electorate approving Zatlers' move in July.
As far as V and the coalition offer from the Zatlerites goes, it looks like the party will fulfill a cynical name I gave it back during the summer – izjuceklis or something that will tear itself apart. The former Citizens' Union (Pilsoniskā Savienība) has declared its opposition to forming a government with SC and there is talk of some V members of parliament quitting the party. This would leave ZRP with the other option of forming a bare-majority government with the SC, resting on 53 votes in the Saeima. It would also leave two inexperienced parties running the country, at least one of which has a dubious record on being law-abiding (voting against a search of the oligarch and Saeima deputy Ainars Slesers' residences) and of keeping promises to its own voters and internal partners (Nils Ušakovs has said he will boot the crackpot neo-Communist Latvian Socialist Party out of the SC if that is what it takes to get into the coalition).
So the balagāns is far from over and Latvia probably faces more years of acrimonious, bumbling government for the next few years, perhaps followed by a possible nationalist backlash in the regular Saeima elections in 2014.