From Eurasia Daily Monitor
December 1, 2004
By Vladimir Socor
On December 1, Latvian political parties ended a two-month deadlock by concluding a broad-based coalition agreement and programmatic declaration for the new government. The outgoing government, which had resigned in October and stayed on as caretaker, was a minority government of heterogeneous composition. It depended on the support of a Russian leftist party, which ultimately proved insufficient for that government’s survival.
The new governing coalition is unprecedented in post-1991 Latvia in two ways. First, it commands an overwhelming parliamentary majority; and, secondly, it has the support of all Latvian parliamentary parties, thereby isolating the Russian left-wing parties.
The coalition includes: the right-wing, free-market New Era party led by former Central Bank president, ex-prime minister Einars Repse; the conservative, pro-business People’s Party of former prime minister Andris Skele and prime minister-designate Aigars Kalvitis; the would-be Christian-Democrat-type Latvia’s First Party led by business tycoon Ainars Slesers; and the Greens and Farmers Union led by the outgoing Prime Minister Indulis Emsis. These parties hold 24, 20, 14, and 12 parliamentary seats, respectively, for a cumulative 70 seats. In addition, the right-conservative Fatherland and Freedom with seven seats, as well as up to three independent deputies, have announced their support for the new coalition government, raising its parliamentary majority to nearly 80 seats in the 101-seat parliament.
Such a broad basis reflects Latvian political forces’ shared goal that the new government continue in office until the 2006 parliamentary elections. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga is being especially eloquent in urging continuity. It cannot be taken for granted, considering the traditional partisan and personal rivalry between New Era and the People’s Party and their respective leaders.
The programmatic declaration lists the government’s priorities as overhauling the crisis-plagued health care system (an issue that tops public concerns), curbing inflation, completing privatization of state property within one year, and ensuring swift ratification of the European Union’s Constitutional Treaty (Latvia joined the EU officially in May of this year).
In anticipation of rising budget revenues from consistently high-rate GDP growth, the new government intends to increase health-care funding by at least 10% per year in the 2005 and 2006 state budgets. After completing the privatization of state property for vouchers and other non-cash instruments in 2005, the new government intends to proceed with divestment and sale for cash of remaining state assets, albeit exempting strategic parts of the country’s infrastructure.
This agenda suggests that Latvia is well on its way toward the condition desired by all three Baltic states: “turning into boring Nordic/EU countries.” On Latvia’s (as well as Estonia’s) road to that destination, a major stumbling block is Russian-instigated manipulation of the issues of language and citizenship.
As part of those tactics, Russia is now enlisting OSCE help to pressure Latvia and Estonia into ratifying the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Far from all of the EU, CoE, or OSCE member countries have signed or ratified that document; and many signatory countries introduced reservations and exemptions at their sovereign will. Only Latvia and Estonia are now coming under pressure to ratify. In Latvia’s specific conditions, with a Soviet-bequeathed Russian/”Russian-speaking” population amounting to more than one-third of Latvia’s total population, and forming outright majorities in Riga and the other cities, implementation of the terms of that Convention could achieve Russia’s policy goal of turning Latvia into a bi-national country.
The controversy over that Convention is turning into a major internal and external policy issue for Latvia. The coalition’s programmatic declaration does not mention that issue. The directly relevant ministries, those for Social Integration and for Education, will be headed by ministers from New Era in the new government.
Kalvitis, an agricultural economist, served as agriculture minister and as economics minister in previous cabinets. Latvia’s international partners will find Artis Pabriks of the People’s Party continuing as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Slesers as Transport Minister, and Repse as the new Defense Minister in the coalition government.
(BNS, Latvian Radio Riga, November 29-December 1; see EDM, May 24, June 16, August 5).