13th Saeima elections: The parties (Part 4)

We conclude our look at the sixteen parties which will contest the next Saeima elections on October 6.

The parties are listed in the order in which they will appear on ballot papers, from number 1 to number 16. You can read more information about the election process itself at the website of the Central Electoral Commission and we will be producing a summary of our own during the run-up to voting day.

Having already dealt with the first twelve parties in previous pieces, here are the final four.

Obviously, LSM does not endorse any particular party or candidate. Information is provided for general interest purposes only, and particularly for foreign election-watchers who may be confused by the Latvian political scene and the plethora of parties on offer.

 

13. Jaunā VIENOTĪBA (New UNITY)

Quote"To create Latvia as a national, European, socially just country."

Program: "Create conditions for an increase in the average wage in the country to 1,500 Euros", get a Latvian university ranked in top 100 in Europe, election of president by open vote in Saeima, publicizing material in criminal proceedings involving public officials, publication of KGB archives, double size of Altum development financial institution, CO2 neutral economy, implement Rail Baltica, constant presence of NATO troops, gradual increase of defense spending to 2.5% of GDP, introduce legal framework for cohabitation.

Notable candidate: Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs, who is certainly more of a diplomat than a politician, leads the party list in Rīga. He is now Latvia's longest-serving foreign minister and is one of a few Vienotība figures who retain some cachet, having not got involved in the internal squabbles. 

Summary: The fall from grace of the centre/soft right Vienotība (now rather desperately rebranded "New" Vienotība) has been one of the most spectacular party collapses in memory. Following the last Saeima elections they were the dominant force in government. It wasn't the rise of some powerful new adversary or major economic crisis that saw their support evaporate - just old-fashioned internal bickering. Following the ousting of Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma they became a laughing stock when they were effectively unable to find anyone else within their ranks who wanted the job and could win the support of the party - a fairly basic requirement.
Attempts at revival under first former EU Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and now Economics Minister Arvils Ašeradens appear to have been ineffective and unless they can pull a miraculous rabbit from their hat they may or may not even cross the 5% barrier needed to win seats in Saeima. Drawing lot number 13 on the party lists may prove prophetic. The main question is: where are their former voters going to turn to instead, and if the party does fail at the polls, where will its current members and ministers go?

Factoid: At the last Saeima elections, Vienotība polled nearly 200,000 votes, accounting for 21% of the total share and winning 23 of 100 Saeima seats. If they manage half that number this time around they would probably regard it as a major victory.

 

14. Par Alternatīvu (For an Alternative)

Quote"President of the United States Donald Trump: 'Only a fool is not friends with Russia.'"

Program: End sanctions against Russia, 5 year total tax exemptions for all investors in industrial plants, national program for restoration of sugar manufacturing industry, reduce civil service numbers by 90%, restoration of lats as national currency, Latvia to become presidential republic with president ruling by decree and appointing cabinet, full confiscation of property for those convicted of corruption or sexual crimes against children in expedited trials, minimum wage and minimum pension 450 euros per month, referendum on withdrawal from EU, restoration of death penalty (including for "economic crimes")

Notable candidate: 88-year-old Ēriks Rozencveigs is the oldest candidate running in this election. He is a former physical education instructor, which may help explain his longevity.

Summary: A minor party, which submitted a list of just 37 candidates. As indicated above, distinguished by including a pro-Russian quotation by Donald Trump as part of their party program, which probably tells you most of what you need to know. A portfolio of extremely crude populist policies, which seems contradictory in many respects - for example, how to implement all these massive upgrades to the power of the state after reducing the number of public employees by 90%? With such a short party list, it is a setback that two of them have been ruled ineligible as a result of criminal records and another is suspected of not declaring he was a KGB agent. 

Factoid: Par Alternatīvu shares an address with another registered political party called SDK Dzimtene (Social democratic movement Homeland), previously known as Vislatvijas Socialdemokratu kustiba "Par Neatkarigu Latviju!" (All-Latvia Socialdemocratic movement For Independent Latvia!) and before that known as Vislatvijas Socialdemokratu kustiba "Par Dzimteni!" (All-Latvia Socialdemocratic movement For the Homeland!) and before that as "Par brivibu, socialo taisnibu un vienlidzibu" (For freedom, social justice and equality). Several of Par Alternatīvu's candidates ran last time around with a party called "Suverenitāte" (Sovereignty). And here is a bonus factoid: this time around the party list includes Einars Graudinš, who has appeared as an "expert" on various topics on Kremlin-backed media. Yet despite being born in 1965, he is listed as a pensioner.

 

15. Politiskā partija "KPV LV" (Political party "KPV LV")

Quote"Latvia needs a breakthrough. This can only be achieved through the replacement of existing power politicians and with major reforms."

Program: Raise population from 2 million to 2.5 million by 2050, dispose with coalition council (weekly meeting of coalition parties to organize their business), create one unified Latvian university, liberalize pharmaceutical industry, time limit of one year on court cases, reduce number of ministries from 13 to 6, major reforms of public administration by setting up secretariats for specific tasks, overhaul tax system, take direct control of all state schools and kindergartens. The summary program makes no mention of foreign policy.

Notable candidate: Apart from Kaiminš himself, an interesting celebrity candidate is pop singer Andris Kivičs. LSM wrote a piece about him and his curious place in Latvia's collective consciousness a year ago.

Summary: If elections are won in column inches and airtime, KPV LV is way ahead. While some have questioned where the party gets funds for its paid-for advertising on social media, it cannot be denied that a much greater volume of coverage is generated by the mainstream press and media as a result of KPV LV's provocations, its brushes with the law and its knack of presenting itself as a bunch of fearless mavericks who are not being allowed to speak by an oppressive cabal of ruling parties.
The driving force behind KPV (which stands for Kam pieder valsts? or Who owns the country?) is former actor and shock-jock talk show host Artuss Kaiminš. Four years ago his personal popularity as a result of confronting politicians on his show The Dog House saw him single-handedly haul the Latvia's Regional Alliance party into Saeima. But things did not go too well for a while. He undermined his credentials as a man of the people when he bawled "Don't you know who I am?" during a brawl in a Riga nightclub and then he quit the party to set up KPV LV.
A series of grandstanding gestures in parliament (he is in the habit of walking around with a webcam) kept him in the public eye, and his regular brushes with the Saeima ethics committee allowed him to rebuild his image as a loose cannon. Then earlier this year, he was briefly detained by anti-corruption officers. No charges have yet been brought and far from ruining his election campaign, it has done wonders with Kaiminš and his nervy sidekick Aldis Gobzems able to portray themselves as the public's fellow victims. It has to be admitted that Kaiminš' thespian training makes him a much better public speaker than most Latvian politicians and if current polls and call-in shows are any indication, KPV LV could secure third spot in the election - traditionally the "golden ticket" with power to make or break coalitions.

Factoid: To see Kaiminš in his previous incarnation as an actor, check out the film Kolka Cool

 

16. Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība (Greens and Farmers Union)

Quote"ZZS has shown that it is not afraid of courageous but well-considered decisions, taking responsibility for important choices for Latvia's growth."

Program: Continuation of healthcare reforms, gradual reforms to education, expand housing base by supporting construction of rented apartments, support for small and medium sized farmers and fishermen, maintaining balanced budget, "take advantage of Riga as a capital city", comprehensive national defense policy within NATO framework, "pragmatic" foreign policy within EU. Interestingly, the summary program does not quote a single statistic or percentage figure in connection with any policy.

Notable candidate: While it will obviously be worth watching how PM Kučinskis fares, it will also be interesting to see how much support Health Minister Anda Čaksa does, as under Latvia's unusual system, voters can strike out the names of candidates they do not like on the party list of their choosing. The health portfolio is traditionally one of the hardest in government to hold and remain popular.  

Summary: Another formation of smaller-sub parties that acts as a single entity. Foreign observers sometimes get quite excited when they see a "green" party in power in Latvia, but really the Greens and Farmers Union (ZZS) is not a green party in any recognizable European sense - after all, the "green" agriculture minister is against introducing a bottle deposit system (the fact he co-owns a brewery may have something to do with it). ZZS' traditional support comes from farmers, country folk and pensioners. The first two groups should still be on board, though the mood of pensioners is less certain.
In some ways, ZZS acts more like a social club or residents' association consisting of people with roughly similar interests and opinions than it does as an ideologically-driven party. Inertia is perhaps its greatest asset at the moment. Things are going fairly well economically, everyone is enjoying the centenary of the state's founding and Prime Minister Maris Kučinskis has shown himself to be if not particularly charismatic or forceful then at least fairly competent on a day-to-day basis. However, staying on holiday while wildfires were raging recently will not have helped his personal approval ratings.
The involvement of Ventspils oligarch Aivars Lembergs in the party's affairs remains a lucrative albatross around its neck when it comes to talk of battling corruption. Speaking of which, the lightning speed with which reforms to the banking sector were introduced under extreme pressure from the U.S. did show that when necessary ZZS (chiefly Kučinskis and Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola) could get impressive things done in a hurry. But it also raises the question of why they don't do things like that more often. Nevertheless ZZS seems certain to be in the top 3 after polling day and therefore involved in the next coalition.    

Factoid:  ZZS has been a member of every single government coalition since its formation in 2002, with the single exception of the 2011-13 government Andris Skele.

Well, that's the end of our round-up. We hope you found it of some use. If you have a vote, use it wisely - but use it!

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