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De Facto: Intrigue aplenty as Presidential vote looms

Take note – story published 1 year ago

The theoretical talk about the impact of the upcoming presidential election on the composition of the coalition became much more concrete this week, with parties eyeing each other up and wondering what their true intentions are, reported LTV's 'De Facto' May 21. 

Tensions are rising within the three-party ruling coalition made up of New Unity, the United List and the National Alliance, with the latter two parties urging that the outcome of the vote for a new President, to be held May 31, should not impact the composition of the coalition, whatever its outcome. 

Both parties are suspicious of New Unity's motives in holding discussions with opposition parties the Progressives and the Greens and Farmers Union (ZZS), fearing that a deal might be cut in which the opposition parties support New Unity's presidential pick, Edgars Rinkēvičs, in return for a place in government, De Facto reported.

On the evening of Wednesday, May 10, immediately after the end of the working hours of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a meeting took place there. New Unity was represented by Rinkēvičs, Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš and another New Unity political heavyweight, Jānis Reirs.

Saeima faction leader Kaspars Briškens, Saeima deputy and party co-chairman Andris Šuvajevs, as well as Riga City Council faction chairman Mārtiņš Kossovičs came to the meeting from the Progressives party.

ZZS was represented by party chairman Armands Krauze, the leader of the Saeima faction, Viktors Valainis, and Uldis Augulis, a deputy with a lot of ministerial experience.

It would appear that no women at all took part in the meeting.

The meeting took place on the same night that President Egils Levits publicly announced that he would not take part in the presidential elections scheduled for May 31. He also personally informed National Alliance leader Raivis Dzintars about his move, as the party had previously committed to submit Levit's candidacy and had verbally received his consent to do so. 

Although New Unity claims that Rinkēvičs' candidacy was promoted in a hurry because Levits withdrew from the race, Dzintars voiced suspicions that this was a case of putting the cart before the horse:

"The fact that New Unity has been working on a different scenario for a long time, including a scenario with a different coalition model, is the reason why Egils Levits has withdrawn, not the other way around," he told De Facto.

"I don't know about whether there was one meeting or several. I assume that this communication has been long-lasting and that event was prepared even at the time when New Unity was expressing support for Egils Levits as a candidate. But what seems to be a very important question for the National Alliance is – will New Unity really be ready to pay the price: the presence of [jailed ZZS kingpin Aivars] Lemberg's party and the Progressives in the government.. If they are willing to pay it, from our point of view it is playing with national security interests."

The National Alliance has already surveyed its members, who are ready for the party to enter the opposition in such a situation rather than work alongside ZZS and the Progressives.

Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš told De Facto he had done his best to try to persuade all coalition parties to come up with a joint candidate, but this had met with resistance.  

"I tried to achieve this unified approach - it didn't work. Well, so I am forced to act accordingly," he said.

"Progressives" representative Šuvajevs admitted that the meeting took place, but claims that the party's goal was to try to convince two large factions of the Saeima to support their candidate, Elīna Pinto.

Meanwhile New Unity's  Jānis Reirs said the purpose of the conversation was to convince the Progressives and ZZS to support a second term for Levits.

"On that Wednesday, we talked about support... about support for the current president. Information was collected because we understand that there was not [unanimous] support for the current president in the coalition, and we also wanted to know what it was like in other political parties," Reirs told De Facto.

ZZS board chairman Armands Krauze told De Facto that he did not want to comment on specific negotiations, but when asked whether he has discussed with other forces what consequences the election of the president would have, he answers, as he himself emphasizes, only "theoretically". 

"We we don't talk about it specifically, because it is important for us to know, of course, how, if there are any changes in Latvia, is the president the one who can ensure in the future that there is stable work from the government and the Saeima," said Krauze.

De Facto offered its own guess as to the substance of the May 10 meeting, suggesting that the politicians of New Unity and the two opposition parties discussed what could happen if they pooled their 52 votes in support of a presidential candidate – most likely, Rinkēvičs. The formation of a new coalition could in theory take place quickly in the next few weeks after the presidential elections.

In such a scenario, the National Alliance would likely be cast overboard but the United List – or at least part of it – might agree to remain on board even if their presidential candidate, Uldis Pīlēns, did not win the day.  

In the previous Saeima, the existence of the government was ensured in a similar way even after the "KPV LV" party was kicked out of the coalition, as some of its members defected to other parties. Several of the United List's most prominent figures were previously associated with ZZS.  

The version that the work of a possible new government was also discussed in the conversation held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also given credibility by the statement of the leader of the Progressives, Kaspars Briškens. He claims that both New Unity and ZZS party agree that the current coalition is not moving Latvia forward.

"We see, of course, that in this geopolitical situation we cannot talk about any deviations from our geopolitical course, but regarding economic policy, industrial policy, regarding the reduction of violence in society, the fight against inequality, the fight for the rule of law, about better management in capital companies, including not appointing political inserts in port boards or state capital companies, including talking about how capital companies can be managed more effectively, for example by issuing either bonds or minority stakes on the stock exchange, in order to give such an impetus to the development of the capital market - all these the issues are stuck," Briškens said.

Edgars Tavars, the leader of the United List Saeima faction, repeatedly claimed this week that the political force "will not turn a blind eye" if its founder Uldis Pīlēns does not become President, and called on New Unity not to link the outcome of the presidential elections with the stability of the coalition.

He also echoed the statement of the United List's co-chairman, Saeima speaker Edvards Smiltēns, that trading for the election of the president is against the "spirit" of the Constitution. 

Tavars also confirmed that there have already been noticeable attempts to woo members of his faction: "Yes, I have such signals, I may not reveal them all in detail. They come to me very quickly, and in the last week these signals have actually decreased, because they understand that the United List cannot be broken up, no matter how much anyone wants to do it."

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