Tag Archives: unity

Latvia election results: center-right coalition set for reelection

latviareelecPhoto credit to LETA.

Basically, Latvia’s election turned out nearly as everyone imagined it would. Latvia has had a center-right government since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and it will do so again. latvia

A coalition of center-right parties, led by prime minister Laimdota Straujuma, will continue to govern Latvia, continuing the country’s cautious approach to budget discipline. Straujuma, a former agriculture minister, known as a tough negotiator among EU Circles, has won her first electoral mandate since becoming prime minister in January, and she will hope that her country’s low debt and higher economic growth in the years ahead can result in lower unemployment. Even as Russia shakes its sable against NATO, rattling nerves in all three Baltic state, there’s reason to believe that the worst of Latvia’s difficult past half-decade is over.

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RELATED: Latvian right hopes to ride Russia threat to reelection

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Though it endured a painful internal devaluation and a series of budget reforms over the last five years, Latvia entered the eurozone in January, and Straujuma’s predecessor, Valdis Dombrovsksis, who resigned late last year after the freak collapse of a supermarket roof near Riga, the capital, is set to become the European Commission’s next vice president for ‘the euro and social dialogue,’ making him one of the most important voices on setting EU economic and monetary policy over the next five years.


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The opposition Sociāldemokrātiskā Partija ‘Saskaņa’ (Social Democratic Party “Harmony,” which previously contested Latvian elections as the wider ‘Harmony Centre’ alliance), though it won the greatest number of seats in the Saeima, Latvia’s parliament, will be unlikely to find coalition partners in light of its role as the party of ethnic Russian interests and its cozy ties to Moscow and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Having lost seven seats from its pre-election total, the result will certainly be something of a setback for its leader, Riga mayor Nils Ušakovs, who had tried to emphasize the party’s social democratic nature, even as he offered sympathetic words with respect to  Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. It follows a similarly poor showing in the May European parliamentary elections.

Continue reading Latvia election results: center-right coalition set for reelection

Latvian right hopes to ride Russia threat to reelection


Just days after former prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis was nominated as the European Commission’s vice president for the euro and social dialogue, his successor back home in Latvia is fighting to keep Dombrovskis’s party in power after five tumultuous years.latvia

Laimdota Straujuma, a former civil servant and, until her election as prime minister on January 22, Latvia’s agriculture minister, will attempt to win another mandate on October 4 for the broad center-right coalition government that, in the form of many different parties and combinations, has governed Latvia since its independence in 1993. Dombrovskis’s newly formed party, Vienotība (Unity), the fusion of an alliance of several center-right liberal parties, won Latvia’s October 2010 elections and, though it finished in third place in the most recent September 2011 snap elections, it continues to govern in alliance with three other center-right and populist parties.

If Straujuma (pictured above) is successful, she should send flowers to the Kremlin, because Russia’s newly aggressive tone with respect to its ‘near abroad’ has become a leading factor during the campaign.

When Dombrovskis became prime minister in 2009 amid the global financial crisis, Latvia was facing its worst economic turmoil since the post-Soviet adjustment of the early 1990s. Dombrovskis prevented a devaluation of the lats currency, salvaging Latvian hopes to enter the eurozone (it did in January 2014).

But Dombrovskis’s orthodox economic policy forced budget cuts and a steep internal devaluation and boosted Latvia’s unemployment rate in 2009 to what was then a EU-wide high of 20%, which today rests just above 11%. Though growth has bounced back, Dombrovskis resigned last December after a freak accident in a suburb of Riga, the Latvian capital, when a supermarket roof collapsed and killed 54 people.

In a normal election, with a weary Latvian electorate, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect its center-left party to take advantage of years of austerity to form what would be Latvia’s first truly center-left government.

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RELATED: Despite risks, Latvia (and all the Baltic states)
still wants to join the eurozone

RELATED: Who is Laimdota Straujuma?
Latvia’s likely first female prime minister

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What’s more, Latvia’s center-left party, Sociāldemokrātiskā Partija ‘Saskaņa’ (Social Democratic Party “Harmony,” which previously contested Latvian elections as the wider ‘Harmony Centre’ alliance), was on something on an upswing, winning the largest number of seats in the 2011 elections (31) in the Saeima, the 100-member, unicameral Latvian parliament, and it made even stronger breakthroughs in the 2013 local elections, when Harmony took control of the Riga city council.saeima

But what held Harmony Centre and now, the ‘Harmony’/Social Democratic Party back was its historical role as a party supported mostly by ethnic Russians and Russian speakers. Though Latvia has the largest ethnic Russian population of the three Baltic states (around 26.9%), that’s not a large enough support base to build a majoritarian government. Continue reading Latvian right hopes to ride Russia threat to reelection

A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 3)

Nearly a week after the European elections, the reverberations are still shaking the entire continent, on at least two levels — the consequences of the historic level of eurosceptic parties elected across Europe and in terms of the growing battle between the European Parliament and the European Council over electing the next European Commission president. European_Union

In the first part of a Suffragio series examining the results of the May 25 European parliamentary elections, I focused on the five most populous countries in the European Union: the United Kingdom and France, where eurosceptic parties won the greatest share of the vote; Germany, where chancellor Angela Merkel won another strong victory; Italy, where prime minister Matteo Renzi won a near-landslide mandate just three months into his premiership; and Spain, where both traditional parties lost support to a growing constellation of anti-austerity movements — so much so that Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the leader of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), Spain’s traditional center-left party, resigned

In the second part, I examined the results in nine more countries — Poland, Romania, The Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Hungary and Sweden.

In the third and final part, I examine the results in the remaining 14 countries of the European Union. Continue reading A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 3)

Hungarian election results: historic win for Orbán


With almost all ballots counted, Viktor Orbán has not only won reelection as Hungary’s prime minister, he will also command the same two-thirds supermajority as his party, Fidesz – Magyar Polgári Szövetség (Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Alliance), has held for the past four years.  Hungary Flag Icon

But the other winner in Sunday’s election is the nationalist, far-right Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom (Jobbik), which improved on its 2010 performance to win nearly 21% of the vote.

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RELATED: How Hungary’s Viktor Orbán got his groove back

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With just over two-fifths of the vote, Fidesz will win over two-thirds of the seats in Hungary’s Országgyűlés (National Assembly), which Orbán reduced in number from 386 to 199 for this year’s election. That will continue its power to determine Hungarian policy, virtually without opposition — in the past four years, Orbán has used a similar supermajority to rewrite the Hungarian constitution, diminish the power of the constitutional court, and revise an election law that maximized his party’s gains in Sunday’s election.



Though Lehet Más a Politika (LMP, Politics Can Be Different), a liberal green/left party, seems likely to to make it into the National Assembly (just barely!), the election results leave Orbán with almost nearly the same supermajority that he had in 2010 and, in fact, Orbán is the first prime minister to win reelection in Hungary since 1990.

The center-left opposition, Osszefogas (‘Unity’), hardly won a quarter of the vote, and it barely overtook the surging, xenophobic, euroskeptic Jobbik. That’s despite a late-January attempt of the center-left and centrist opposition  to unite behind Attila Mesterházy, the leader of the Magyar Szocialista Párt (MSzP, Hungarian Socialist Party).

It’s the worst of both worlds for European policymakers who hoped that the 2014 Hungarian elections might curb Orbán’s power — not only has Jobbik made real gains (thereby making itself almost as strong as the center-left opposition just two months before European parliamentary elections), but Orbán and Fidesz will hold an impregnable supermajority for the next four years to continue consolidating power, eliminating checks and balances and, potentially, reducing faith in the rule of law and Hungary’s democratic institutions.

How Hungary’s Viktor Orbán got his groove back


Despite a united opposition front, prime minister Viktor Orbán is headed to a crushing victory in Hungary’s April 6 parliamentary elections this weekend, consolidating his hold on power in the emerging central European country of 10 million.Hungary Flag Icon

Orbán’s victory looks so assured that it’s hard to believe anyone ever thought that his chances for 2014 reelection would be much tougher.

Only a year ago, Orbán appeared to have a much more troubled path to victory.

For example, an Ipsos poll from January 2013 shows that the three largest of the five parties that comprise the opposition, Osszefogas (‘Unity’), would win a combined 43% of the vote, compared to just 41% for Fidesz – Magyar Polgári Szövetség (Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Alliance). The largest opposition party, the Magyar Szocialista Párt (MSzP, Hungarian Socialist Party) won 32% of the vote.

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RELATED: Hungarian left unites, but will it be enough to stop Orbán?

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But the most recent March 31 Századvég poll gives Fidesz 51% of the vote, with just 25% for Unity. The far-right, anti-Semitic, ultra-nationalist Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom (Jobbik), which has surged over the past six months, would win 18%, and there’s a chance that it could actually win more seats on Sunday than the center-left Unity.

In early 2013, despite an uphill challenge under new election rules, designed to benefit Fidesz, the opposition had a strong case against Orbán, who has isolated Hungary from the rest of the European Union, increasingly chipped away at democratic checks and balances and the rule of law, and nearly torpedoed an already struggling economy with tax increases, further budget cuts, and a haphazard nationalization of Hungry’s private pension system.

What happened? Continue reading How Hungary’s Viktor Orbán got his groove back

Considering Andrus Ansip’s legacy in Estonia


Earlier this week, Estonia’s prime minister Andrus Ansip stepped down after nine years leading the tiny Baltic country of just 1.3 million.estonia

His departure brings even more change to the Baltic states — Laimdota Straujuma became Latvia’s new prime minister in January following the resignation of Valdis Dombrovskis over the collapse of a supermarket roof near Riga, the Latvian capital, that killed 54 people.

Ansip and Dombrovskis share a lot in common, both in terms of politics and the policy trajectories of their governments.

Like Ansip, Dombrovskis stepped down having presided over difficult economic reforms that stabilized their country’s respective credit ratings and credibility with global debt markets and that helped unleash economic growth after the immediate downturn of the global economic crisis and the European debt crisis.  Both prime ministers, uncharacteristically, won reelection in the middle of implementing some fairly hefty budget cuts (enough to lower Estonian public debt to just 5.7% of GDP as of 2012) — Ansip most recently in the March 2011 elections, when Reform actually gained two seats (for a total of 33) in the 101-member Riigikogu, the Estonian parliament.

Ansip ushered his country into the eurozone in 2011, the first of the Baltic states to do so, and Dombrovskis’s government followed, with Latvia acceding to the eurozone on January 1 of this year.

Just as Latvia’s governing center-right Vienotība (Unity) faces a difficult election in October later this year, Ansip’s own center-right Eesti Reformierakond (Estonian Reform Party) faces a similarly difficult challenge in elections expected to take place in March 2015.  Continue reading Considering Andrus Ansip’s legacy in Estonia

Who is Laimdota Straujuma? Latvia’s likely first female prime minister.


On January 1, when Latvia celebrated its accession to the eurozone as the 18th member to embrace the single currency, it should have been a moment for Latvian prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis to celebrate shepherding his country into the core of Europe just barely two decades after its independence from the Soviet Union.latvia

Instead, Dombrovskis was counting the last days of his truncated tenure after the collapse of a supermarket roof in a suburb of Riga, the Latvian capital, killed 54 people.  Dombrovskis, the 42-year-old wunderkind economist, resigned as prime minister shortly after the tragedy, calling for an independent commission to investigate the incident and arguing that Latvia needed a new government in the wake of the accident.

Though it may have been an act of political integrity, Dombrovskis’s resignation came at a nadir for his shaky minority.  His party, the center-right Vienotība (Unity), placed third in local elections in June 2013, and disapproval was running high for his government, a coalition that also includes the more stridently right-wing Nacionālā apvienība (National Alliance) and the center-right Reformu partija (Reform Party).

Unity’s decision to nominate Laimdota Straujuma, the current agriculture minister, as its designate for prime minister is designed in part to boost the party’s chances at winning elections expected in October of this year.

The three parties that supported the Dombrovskis have indicated they will back Straujuma, and a fourth, Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība (ZZS, Union of Greens and Farmers), a union of Latvia’s green party and its agrarian party, will join them, along with three additional independent lawmakers.  That support will give Straujuma an immediate boost — while the previous coalition controlled just 50 seats in the 100-member Saeima, Latvia’s parliament, Straujuma’s government will command a 16-seat majority:


That means that when Latvian president Andris Bērziņš formally nominated Straujuma as prime minister, it all but assured that she will command a majority to become the country’s first female prime minister.

So who is Straujuma? And what challenges does she face in the months ahead?

Dombrovskis came to power in 2009 facing a contraction that amounted to 18% of Latvia’s GDP, and he’s presided over Latvia’s resurgence.  Latvia has achieved some of the highest GDP growth in Europe — 5.6% in 2012 and an estimated 4% in 2013.  That growth has come even while Dombrovskis implemented budget cuts to bring Latvia’s debt to one of the lowest levels in all of Europe and forced upon Latvia a sharp internal devaluation — the kinds of wage cuts that have allowed Latvia to become more competitive.  Even his push to join the eurozone was controversial, with nearly half the country opposing the move as recently as a month ago, notwithstanding the fact that the previous currency, the lats, was already tied to the euro.

Though it’s hard to miss the resemblance to German chancellor Angela Merkel, Straujuma comes to power as a former civil servant, and there’s no way to know if she’ll last nine months as head of government, let alone nine years.  As agriculture minister, she participated often in negotiations at the EU level over the Common Agricultural Policy, which affects Latvian farmers, and she developed a reputation as a tough advocate for Latvia.  But she’ll lead a party that’s massively unpopular and a government that she says will follow roughly the same course:

… the new government must not destroy the state budget for this year, [Straujuma] told reporters last night, reports LETA.

The next government will have to ensure stability, stressed Straujuma. One of the key priorities, that is “of major importance for businessmen and society”, is preparing a program on absorption of European Union funds for Latvia. The European Commission should approve the program by mid-2014 so absorption of the funds could begin in the second half of the year, emphasized Straujuma.

Unity’s Andris Vilks is almost certain to continue as finance minister in the new government, and Reform’s Rihards Kozlovskis and Edgars Rinkēvičs will remains interior minister and foreign minister, respectively.  Jānis Dūklavs, a member of the Union of Greens and Farmers, will replace Straujuma as minister of agriculture, a role that he held between 2009 and 2011 in the first two Dombrovskis governments.  Raimonds Vējonis, a former environment minister, will become Straujuma’s new defense minister. Continue reading Who is Laimdota Straujuma? Latvia’s likely first female prime minister.

Despite risks, Latvia (and all the Baltic states) still wants to join the eurozone


Latvia was formally accepted yesterday as the 18th member of the eurozone, meaning that on January 1, 2014, it will join Estonia as the only former Soviet republic to have adopted the euro as its currency.latvia

That might be surprising given that, in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis and, in particular, the ensuing eurozone sovereign debt crisis, the eurozone has not been the most popular club.

Malta and Cyprus joined at the beginning of 2008 (we know how well that worked out for one of them), Slovakia joined at the beginning of 2009 and Estonia followed in 2011.  But though Croatia recently joined the European Union to much fanfare, and though other Balkan nations are anxious to follow suit into the European Union, there’s little Balkan sentiment to join the eurozone, nor is there an incredible amount of appetite from other more established EU members, like the United Kingdom, Denmark or Sweden, or newer central European countries.

It’s a different story in the Baltic states, though, and it’s not hard to see why — for small states that were swept into the Soviet Union for much of the 20th century, eurozone membership is as much about geopolitical strategy as about economics.  It explains why the only other European country on target to join the eurozone anytime soon is Lithuania, the third and final Baltic nation, which hopes to join the euro in January 2015.

But the specter of Russian domination doesn’t explain everything — after all, Poland is gently backing away from joining the euro, and its history with Russia is also complicated (though perhaps balanced by an equally complicated relationship with Germany).  Moreover, even Latvian nationalism in the face of valid concerns about Russian influence hasn’t kept the decision to join the eurozone from becoming incredibly unpopular, and polls show that a majority of Latvian voters oppose the decision to replace the Latvian lats with the euro by a nearly two-to-one margin. Continue reading Despite risks, Latvia (and all the Baltic states) still wants to join the eurozone