New government formed, but how long will it last?

Well, they did manage to form a government after all! After weeks of wrangling and an almost painfully slow process, on Nov. 7 Latvia finally had the government that was predicted by everyone immediately after the election—a coalition led by Einars Repše and his New Era party (Jaunais laiks).

Coalition partners are Latvia’s First Party (Latvijas Pirmā partija), the Green and the Farmers’ Union (Zaļo un zemnieku savienība) and For Fatherland and Freedom (Tēvzemei un brīvībai/LNNK).

Common sense seems to have prevailed, despite some fights over ministerial chairs and various positions that provided some transient shock and horror in an otherwise slow news month.

Moreover, after all this wrangling, the decision in the Saeima (parliament) to approve Repše’s government came quickly and without debate! Various commentators consider that the quiet from the opposition—Andris Šķēle’s People’s Party (Tautas partija) and Jānis Jurkāns’ For Human Rights in a United Latvia (Par cilvēka tiesībam vienotā Latvijā)—only means that they will concentrate on attacking the government elsewhere, particularly in relation to the looming budget and further negotiations with the European Union.

As scripted, all 55 members of the four coalition parties voted in favour of the government. However, in a somewhat unsettling departure from the script, the previous day when the Saeima speaker’s position was contested (this time in a secret ballot), only 52 voted for the coalition candidate. This is fertile ground for early conspiracy theories.

Now it’s down to work for a government characterised by relative newness and inexperience. While Repše’s time as head of the Bank of Latvia has drawn widespread positive reactions, his political experience in other areas is still under question. As prime minister of a coalition government he will have to deal in a far more political style rather than the managerial style he was used to at the Bank of Latvia. Mention of a potentially dictatorial style has come from several commentators as well as from Repše’s political opponents.

However, he has so far shown astuteness in dealing with often difficult demands for positions and influence from his coalition partners, firmly rejecting some candidates for ministerial positions nominated by the partners, but compromising on other candidates so as not to alienate support. It is very clear that Repše will be the dominant figure of the new government, an objective reflection of the nature of this coalition. New Era has almost as many deputies in parliament as all the other coalition partners combined. For good or ill responsibility for all that happens will be sheeted home to New Era and Repše.

The Cabinet of Ministers is also marked by a large number of young ministers, with several in their early 30s and the oldest minister—Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete—being just 49. This is definitely a new broom. To balance this, some well-regarded former ministers have retained ministerial positions, particularly Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis as defence minister and Roberts Zīle as transport minister.

A popular choice is Kalniete, after the coalition could not agree on other suggested candidates. The only minister not to come from a political party background, she has been a career diplomat since the 1990s after being one of the prominent leaders of the People’s Front (Tautas fronte) in the late 1980s, and now has to steer the critical talks on joining both the EU and NATO.

The youth and inexperience of the new government has been quickly picked up by the opposition, which dismisses the potential of the new government and sees it as a retreat from professionalism. The opposition also been critical of the coalition’s joint declaration of its government’s objectives, seeing it as the vaguest of all hitherto declarations, which are traditionally issued for each new coalition government. The declaration is largely a statement of intent and is full of promises of high-quality administration and ethical principles of government. However, it does have some firm measures, such as limiting any potential budget deficit to 3 percent of gross domestic product, in line with EU norms.

The guessing game is on for how long this government will last, a popular quiz at the moment in Latvian newspapers.

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