Latvia elections: new parties replace traditional ones

 

In the 2018 Saeima elections in Latvia, the Social Democratic Party Harmony emerged victorious, although its total seats in the parliament decreased. Harmony must however share the power with new parties which are going to replace the traditional ones in Latvian Parliament. Riga-based political analyst Toms Rātfelders provides insight into post-election Latvian politics. 

 

 

Abbas Zeynalli: What was the cause of decrease of trust to main political parties, especially to Harmony? 

Toms Rātfelders: First of all, the Harmony for a very long time has been the largest political party in the Latvian Parliament. It is the one which is trying to put special emphasis on the inclusion of Russian speaking population in the Latvian society. In this election it has once again emerged victorious. The parties, which lost the trust the most were the ones, which were included in the previous government (Harmony was not). The party, which experienced the biggest drop of support was the center-right Unity. Although being the second largest power in the last Latvian parliament, this party has been mired with different corruption and patronage scandals in recent years and despite helping to achieve strong economic growth, has failed to resolve numerous problems, like social inequality, education reform and healthcare reform. 

 

What reasons could you cite to explain the dramatic rise of KPV LV? Should we assess it as part of the pan-European rise of populist and right-wing parties or a unique phenomenon within the Latvian context? 

There have been different problems, which the parties at power in the previous parliament could not solve, including social inequality, education reform and healthcare reform. However, I think that we should also take into account the role of the leader of the party. It is led by a relatively young figure in Latvian politics, Mr. Artuss Kaimiņš, who has managed to successfully distance himself from the scandals, which did plague the last parliament. He has drawn a lot of attention with his loud criticism of the work of the Latvian political elite and populistic messages that everybody understands, especially people from the working class, which formed the backbone of his support base. He has also managed to do one other significant thing: mobilize a significant amount of votes from the Latvian diaspora abroad. 

Regarding the next part of your question, I could say: yes, partly. However, KPV LV is not really as far right in its political spectrum as in several Western countries. There are lots of differences. For example, KPV LV has never stated that Latvia should quit European Union or NATO and take more sovereignty into our own hands. It demands Latvian government take more responsibility for itself, however the EU and NATO have to always be present. No politician in Latvia is brave enough to say that NATO is not necessary. That is because we are living in a geopolitical environment, where we simply cannot disregard NATO as our main security provider. I think that the case of KPV LV shows a bit of Latvian exceptionalism in terms of the rise of far-right parties in Europe.

 

Will the new possible coalition able to present something new for the political agenda or change the political course of country?

There is still very little information on what the new coalition will be, because it is still being formed. However, the problem what the new coalition will face is that it will be very divided. All the parties elected in the parliament have had very similar amount of percentage of collected votes, and it has translated in the similar number of places in the parliament. If you want to form a governing coalition in such a situation, you have to include a lot of political parties with a lot of different political agendas. This, however, means that it will be pretty hard to get some sort of coherence and strong policies. I think that it will be very hard for actors involved to come up with the agreement on what Latvian political vision should be, what things should be done, not only on the superficial level, but also on deep and comprehensive level. I personally fear that a lot of policies and reforms will be very general, not really reaching to the specifics. Specificity is, however, very necessary in order to make a real difference.

 

How these Parliamentary election results will affect to upcoming Presidential elections? 

It is still too early to speculate. However, I will once again reiterate my previous point on having a very divided parliament. I would say that, it will be also very hard to come up with the presidential candidate. It will be a long bargaining process between parties involved and we can have different scenarios in this case.