Latvia Is Changing The Wheel On Its Bike, Not Buying A New One – Analysis
By Published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute
By Eriks Selga*
On December 7, Laimdota Straujuma, the Prime Minister of Latvia, resigned. Although her resignation came into effect immediately, she will continue to lead the three-party coalition in a caretaker capacity until a new one is found.
Her resignation was submitted during a time of dissension within the coalition government. Though Straujuma cited the need for “new ideas and new input” as her immediate reason for resigning, her exit comes after a tortuous political period following Latvia’s successful presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2015.
Myriad internal struggles led to the resignation. There was significant tension among colleagues, as Straujuma confronted the Minister of Transport, alleging incompetence and asking for his resignation. Personnel conflicts were exacerbated by tumultuous negotiations over next year’s budget and by controversial discussions on whether to take in refugees. On top of the political intrigue common to coalitions, government was formed on the unsteady grounds bequeathed by the economic crisis. The ex-Prime Minister herself admitted that there was no guarantee the government could survive until the next political term.
The roots of the government schisms can be found in the current composition of parliament, which has a total of 100 seats. Since the 2014 elections, the ‘Concord’ party holds the most seats, at 24. The breakdown of the rest of the seats in the parliament as held by other parties is as follows: ‘Unity’ (23), ‘Union of Greens and Farmers’ (21), ‘National Alliance’ (17), ‘Latvian Regional Alliance’ (8), and ‘For Latvia from the Heart’ (7). Because any decisions require at least a majority vote to pass, a coalition is needed. The current coalition consists of Unity, Union of Greens and Farmers, and National Alliance, holding a total of 61 seats – and thus forming a majority force in parliament.
The minister positions, elected by parliament, are therefore held solely by members of the coalition, divided among the parties. This mutual dependency between the three parties guarantees their leaders in the executive government and promotes cooperation. However, it does not wholly dampen the ideological differences between the parties. This was showcased in the initial disagreement over whether to allow additional refugees into Latvia by using a quota regime. The National Alliance party stood staunchly against the quota, while the Unity party was for it. Though a compromise was reached, the situation showed how loss of support from any member of the coalition significantly reduces the government’s ability to function. This division of influence becomes a catalyst for power plays, and is one of the primary reasons for why the coalition dynamic sustains political intrigue to the extent that a prime minister may be pressured to resign.
With this background, the primary consequence for the nation from the resignation of the prime minister, domestically, is that the coalition parties will now begin a hectic process of vying to replace the prime minister. The structure of the coalition might see minor changes, though it is not yet clear how. Tension over issues between coalition parties may, in the most extreme case, lead to a party joining or leaving the coalition. However, the coalition itself is bound to remain intact. As for potential prime ministers, the most frequently discussed candidate is Solvita Āboltiņa, head of the leading coalition party – Unity. However, party support for candidates is still shifting. Internationally, Latvia’s foreign policy is unlikely to change. New leadership will take the place of Laimdota Straujuma, but it will undoubtedly be a candidate from the ruling coalition. The new leaders are also highly likely to follow the current policy course. With a new prime minister, Latvia is changing the wheel on its bike—not buying a new bike.
About the author:
*Eriks K. Selga is a current LL.M. candidate at Temple University. He has a wide range of research interests, recently focusing on the legal issues surrounding citizenship, and cyberwarfare issues in the Baltic States. Eriks holds an LL.B. from the Riga Graduater school of Law.
This article was published by FPRI