Viewpoint: Getting to know Maris

Take note – story published 7 years ago

When a Latvian Prime Minister has been in office for 100 days, local media traditionally produces reports marking the occasion. There are two main reasons for this. The first is to get something on the record given the not-too-remote possibility that he or she will not last another 100 days. The second is that it is an extremely easy story to do because inevitably, not much will have happened in 100 days.

As far as the incumbent PM, Maris Kucinskis, is concerned, the second reason is more important than the first, mainly because he took office in early February so his 100 days are up just as the news cycle enters the quiet summer season. Besides, there is little immediate prospect of him losing his job given the fact that after previous PM Laimdota Straujuma quit on December 7 it took two months to winkle out anyone at all who was willing to take the job.

Apathy is this administration's greatest guarantee of stability and mighty inertia may well keep it in power until the next scheduled elections in 2018 unless some new party emerges headed by some sort of political freak who actually wants to be Prime Minister. Artuss Kaimins fits the bill to a certain extent, which should make everyone else wake up, but probably won't. 

Whatever judgment is made of Kucinskis' first 100 days should not be too harsh. He was at least willing (albeit with no obvious excitement) to assume the mantle of power when all other possible candidates were either thinking of their Brussels pension plans or exhibiting their lack of faith in their own parties by keeping their heads down and hoping no-one would notice them.

100 days of planning

So what has Kucinskis achieved in his first 100 days? Well, one definite result is the compilation of a very attractive graphic outlining what has been achieved in the first 100 days, which basically says that these 100 days have been used to plan the however many subsequent days of the administration. Not much has been done, but quite a lot has been planned to be done.

Accompanying the graphic, Kucinskis himself promised that his government would not be a government of ''empty promises''. Essentially what we can take from this is that after 100 days (the previous 100 do not count, during which the parties were planning what the government would plan once it had been formed to plan things) his government is ready to start doing things rather than thinking about doing things.

If all this sounds like sarcasm, it is not intended as such. In fact I have an admission to make that may possibly compromise my claims to political neutrality: so far, I quite like Maris Kucinskis.

I have seen him around in various guises for years. I can remember him as head of the People's Party parliamentary faction, telling Andris Skele and Aigars Kalvitis' MPs which way to vote in Saeima by pointing his thumb up or down. He seemed the closest thing the Saeima has to what is called a 'chief whip' in the British parliament, walking up and down the ranks of MPs, explaining things, patting them on the back, nudging them in line. He seemed quite good at it despite entirely lacking the edge of barely suppressed aggression chief whips have.

Then he was with the Latvian Large Cities' Assocation, a hyperbolically-named organization representing towns with more than one horse apiece. Again he showed he was quite good at chairing meetings, patting people on the back and explaining why it was probably better to do this than that then nudging them into doing it. Clearly this impressed not only myself as a brief tug-of-love then broke out between the Greens and Farmers' Union and Unity for his services, with both virtually admitting that a parliamentary seat was his for the taking if he would just sign up as a member.

Kucinskis opted for the former, possibly so he could complete a clean sweep of Latvian microgarchs (they are smaller than proper oligarchs) for whom he has worked: Skele, Slesers, Lembergs. But ironically it seems to be Unity that is benefitting from Kucinskis'decision not to join them. As they were unable to provide a candidate of their own in good time, it is a pretty good second best to have a PM who almost joined the party.

And it turns out that Kucinskis most probably isn't a mere microgarchic gofer after all. He is not flashy, he is not dynamic. He doesn't come out with very good soundbites. He tends to mumble. A recent lunch hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Latvia promised it would see him outline his "vision for Latvia". Clearly the release was not written by Kucinskis himself because he would never use such an inspirational type of word. He does not have a vision.

What he does have is an ability to explain things to people, to pat them on the back, to nudge them to do this, not that.

The next 100 days

The big question for the next 100, 200 or 500 days is whether he can nudge often enough and effectively enough for all the little nudges to add up to a direction. The initial signs are reasonably encouraging. In particular the plan to reform the State Revenue Service makes sense and is something that has been required for years. His understated approach may end up generating more results than previous blustering vows to ''get tough'' and ''crack down'' that have done precisely nothing.

On the ridiculous and hysterical pseudo-controversy about signing the Istanbul Convention, Kucinskis was criticised in some quarters for not asserting his authority and expressing a strong opinion. But it could be argued what he did was actually quite clever, allowing Justice Minister Dzintars Rasnacs and friends to dig themselves an ever-deeper hole with their over-the-top rhetoric and hokey historical arguments before in effect simply sighing: "Well, thanks for that Dzintar, but I think we'll sign anyway."

There is no shortage of colorful, loud, charismatic and controversial politicians on the world stage right now. Luckily, Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis is not one of them and it is inconceivable that he ever will be. It is nice to think a Prime Minister with super powers may be just around the corner, but until he or she makes themselves known, having a guy who is quite good at patting people on the back and nudging them in the right direction is not too bad. 

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