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Lembergs and Urbanovics - «brothers forever»

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

Aivars Lembergs (on the left) and Janis Urbanovics

Popular wisdom: there are lies, big lies and statistics

If we believe that sociological surveys form an impression of public opinion, this opinion seems to be quite strange in Latvia. Let’s compare the results of the most recent surveys conducted by the German company GfK (Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung), whose headquarters is based in Nuremberg, and the Latvian company SKDS (Marketing and Public Opinion Research Centre). The outlook appears rather fantastic:

Bearing in mind that in classical sociology the margin of statistical error does not exceed 3%; the only ratings that do not provoke any questions are those in relation to VL-TB/LNNK. Even more so, because in any coalition combination, this political power will only be able to play the role of a typical straw capable of breaking the camel’s back. The impossible differences in other positions, unavoidably point to the following conclusions:

1. Either sociologists from various respectable companies have conducted surveys in different Latvias…

2. Or the solution has been adapted to the answer provided in a teaching book. It is true though that the authors of our political “teaching book” are unknown.

In spite of this, the data provided by both GfK and SKDS are interesting. Forecasts provided by SKDS have been coming true for many years. On this occasion too, we are offered the opinion of 61.3% of potential voters (add 3.8% to the aforementioned SKDS figures in favour of LPP/LC and PCTVL). Assuming that out of the remaining 40%, some people have not yet made up their mind and a certain number of them will not take part in the elections at all; this looks quite credible.

However, according to GfK surveys, “Harmony Centre” and the Union of Greens and Farmers will make up the majority in the 11th Saeima – 54 seats. It can also be interpreted as a call to vote for Lembergs and Urbanovičs’ political associations. And from here into the wide beyond…

From political hatred to political love in just one step

As we know, the bicycle going by the name of the “Union of Greens and Farmers” is pedalled by their Saeima faction with its leader Augusts Brigmanis, while the handle is in the hands of Ventspils Mayor and leader of “For Latvia and Ventspils” party, Aivars Lembergs. This is also more or less the principle of the “Harmony Centre” – informally it is driven by the head of the political association’s parliamentary faction and leader of the “Harmony” Party, Jānis Urbanovičs. These politicians are similar to one another in a way that when talking about work of their parties, both of them seem absolute democrats. But in reality they lead their political structures with a firm hand and in a somehow authoritarian style.

Both are veteran graduates of the SUCP. Both know how to address voters when answering unpleasant questions. Neither of them has to dig deep in pockets for the right words and both are equally adept at smoothly evading such questions. And, self-evidently, both are sufficiently refined combatants in the polemic with their political opponents and in their clashes with the opposition.

Therefore, it is no wonder that Lembergs, whose political association has constantly been represented in the Government since the 8th Saeima, including the Prime Minister, has all this time been the object of criticism from the part of the leader of the parliamentary opposition Urbanovičs. In politics, this is par for the course: by definition the leader of a political force divorced from political power must criticise his most successful opponent whose confederates feel just as comfortable in the government as at the Parliamentary buffet.

This is how it’s been with our stars to date. But when did this- recently – begin? At which point, did the poses of the duellists from “Harmony Centre” and the Union of Greens and Farmers, Urbanovičs and Lembergs, evolve into mutual reverence? As recently as six months before the 10th Saeima elections, both incompatible adversaries acted completely in accordance with the algorithm of political opposition. As soon as Lembergs declared in the NRA newspaper on 21 April 2010 that unlike Urbanovičs he could “demonstrate the results of long-term political activity”, there was an immediate counter-attack from “Harmony Centre”. First of all, “Harmony Centre” Chairman, Rīga Mayor, Nils Ušakovs delivered a counter-punch to Lembergs on “Baltkom” radio: “Jānis Urbanovičs is “the best of all the candidates for Prime Minister”.

However, in an answer to a question posed by the website on how he rated his chances of leading the Cabinet after the 10th Saeima elections, the best of the best told: “I am a humble, but confident person. There is nobody else after all.”

Everything seemed to point to Urbanovičs having clear grounds for demonstrating his confident humility. Two months before the election, the bookmaker’s firm “Triobet” gave Urbanovičs the best chances of becoming the next Prime Minister; odds were 2.25/1. The odds of then-Prime Minister Dombrovskis were 2.3/1, Lembergs’ – 6.5/1, whereas Ušakovs was quoted at 40/1.

In an interview given to BNS new agency, Urbanovičs appeared somehow tired and anxious, stating that “he realised how difficult job that would be”, and that he was “not looking forward to occupying the position of a prime minister”.

It’s true that political observers lost a great deal of courage when Urbanovičs, who appeared to be playing on his home ground, lost to Lembergs. In pre-election debates on the Russian-speaking First Baltic TV channel between the prime minister candidates, Lembergs was excellent as always, whereas Urbanovičs looked like a burst balloon. Moreover, the debates for some unknown reason were hosted by a TV journalist from the Russian Government’s television channel “Ostankino”.

This is strange, but plausible: worn out by political battles, not prepared properly for the live broadcast, over-confident in his charisma and in fact – there are lots of reasons why Urbanovičs was not at his best at that moment. It can happen to anyone.

But look, the 10th Saeima was elected, Dombrovskis once again took up the Prime Minister’s chair after November 3 and Lembergs’ people were back in their positions. Lembergs himself was once again pulling the strings, while as usual Urbanovičs was at the head of the opposition – a repeatition of the previous scenario. With one exception though: on May 28 this year, President Zatlers initiated the dissolution of the parliament. With the support of “Unity”, he began the process of liberating the game from rules dictated by oligarchs. In the subsequent referendum, people supported the President. And, during this period, Riga Mayor Ušakovs skilfully moulded relations with the residents of the capital and the mass media boosted “Harmony Centre’s” popularity ratings almost sky high.

It may seem that it was the right moment for Urbanovičs to show Lembergs who is about to pick the winning laurels in the endless battle of long-standing political adversaries. However, something quite different came along: the clinch in the political ring turned into hugs.

“Harmony Centre” and the Union of Greens and Farmers: overload?

The first question that pops into mind is: when exactly did Urbanovičs and Lembergs become political partners? Was it really on July 8 when the Mayor of Ventspils appeared on the “Vopros s pristrastijem” television programme and announced: “The Government must be led by a true leader. And this is what “Harmony Centre” parliament faction leader Jānis Urbanovičs could become”. Or three months before (i.e. even BEFORE Zatlers instigated the dissolution of Parliament) when Urbanovičs memorably informed the “Diena” newspaper that: “Currently, the best solution for Latvian politics could be appointment of Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs as Prime Minister.” Or when Lembergs announced on “Baltkom” radio on October 21, 2010: “I have never opposed to a coalition with “Harmony Centre”.”

Or perhaps here we should refer back to October 5, 2010, when journalists uncovered the fact that a private meeting between Urbanovičs and Lembergs had taken place three days before the 10th Saeima elections. Afterwards, “Harmony Centre’s” prime ministerial candidate was more than reserved when answering questions from “Ir” about the contents of the meeting: “Issues of a general nature were discussed during the course of the meeting, as well as possible collaboration.”

However, political observers are entitled to retain the belief that these issues may well have been quite concrete, and collaboration rather than being possible was in fact altogether realistic.

In political language, the people’s wisdom “Tell me who your friend is and I’ll tell you what you are” can be translated as follows: “Tell me who you vote with fraternally in parliament and I’ll tell you with whom you’ve formed an alliance.” Moreover, this alliance could be just as easily be covert as public. And it’s the former type of alliance that comes to mind when remembering the vote to oust Jānis Maizītis when he sought a third term as Latvia’s General-Prosecutor.

Before the vote, 73 out of 100 deputies were willin to see Maizītis retain his position as General-Prosecutor. This was confirmed by all the “Harmony Centre” deputies interviewed by journalists. This position is understandable: in contrast to the previous General-Prosecutor Jānis Skrastiņš, whose special relationship with one of Latvia’s three oligarchs Andris Šķēle was akin to a thistle in the eyes of people; Maizītis’ cloak of honesty was unblemished by compromising materials. Moreover, it was he who gave the green light for the investigation into Lembergs’ shady dealings, as a result of which the Latvian state is prosecuting Ventspils Mayor for serious crimes. Moreover, courts in London have frozen his assets worth USD 135 million under suspicion of economic crimes on an international-scale.

Accordingly, it becomes clear that only Saeima deputies from the Greens and Farmers Union obedient to Lembergs and deputies from the Saeima faction “For Good Latvia!”, controlled by oligarchs Šlesers and Šķēle, could vote against Maizītis re-appointment as General-Prosecutor. After all, Šlesers and Šķēle were the addressees of Lembergs’ message when he was arrested after a sanction issued by Maizītis: “They’ll start with me and continue with you.” However, even if both these factions had voted en masse against Maizītis; this would not have prevented the prosecutor from holding his office for the third time, because Lembergs, Šķēle and Šlesers only had a total of 30 mandates.

But whatever happened, happened. Instead of 73 deputies who had previously announced their readiness to vote for Maizītis’ reappointment actually doing so; 75 deputies voted against. People were in shock: who else is inconvenienced by Maizītis, if the long arms of the prosecutor’s office have actually only reached as far as Lembergs? The biggest disappointment was voiced by an ostensible opponent of the governing coalition, “Harmony Centre” faction leader, Jānis Urbanovičs: “I did not see this coming. It is so illogical that its consequences for parliament and the state as a whole could be extremely destructive. Those who previously doubted that this parliament was elected in accordance with the law and who questioned in whose interests it was operating – now have clear evidence.” Furthermore, immediately after the vote to remove Maizītis, Urbanovičs appeared on “Baltkom” radio and declared: “This is counter to our conscience, and I believe that President Valdis Zatlers should instigate a referendum on the dissolution of parliament already today to prevent future amorality in our house.”

However, the peculiarity of the body of Latvia’s deputies is concealed in the circumstance that many secrets are no longer such, as soon as politicians agree on secrecy. Jānis Lagzdiņš, a parliamentary deputy since Soviet times who quit the “For a Good Latvia!” faction in protest at the results of the vote on Maizītis’ re-appointment, remarked in an interview given to “Diena” newspaper the following day that the decisive role in the removal of the General-Prosecutor was played by the double-dealing of “Harmony Centre”.

However, this opinion was buried under Urbanovičs’ loud disappointment at the dirty game played against Maizītis. However, the more time passed; the more information appeared indicating that “Harmony Centre” was instrumental in the removal of the prosecutor loathed by Lembergs. And Urbanovičs became increasingly lazy is responding to these allegations. Indeed, after “Delna”, the Latvian arm of “Transparency International”, the international non-governmental organisation that fights against corruption globally, stated that Urbanovičs “lied about the vote that took place in 2010 concerning Jānis Maizītis’ confirmation in the office of General-Prosecutor” in its review of politicians with questionable reputations; the leader of the opposition made no attempt at all to rebut this allegation.

If “Harmony Centre” really had no objection to the General-Prosecutor, and lent a helping hand in removing Maizītis from office, a logical question arises: why did Urbanovičs need this? There is a logical answer: it was not Urbanovičs who sought this outcome. It was absolutely necessary for Lembergs. And this is where plausibility of another scenario is given credence. Operation “Get rid of the prosecutor!” was devised as a test of the viability of the Urbanovičs–Lembergs tandem. And then a repeated test came in the form of Valdis Zatlers not being re-elected for the second presidential term. It was the same schema.

Presidential election: Test No.2?

On May 15, BNN news agency reported that 63 deputies had voiced their support for Zatlers’ re-election even though 51 votes would have been sufficient. However, by June 2 Latvia already had a new president – Andris Bērziņš. 53 deputies voted for his election. His surname on the list of candidates appeared at the very last moment following an initiative from five deputies from the faction of Greens and Farmers. However, few were in any doubt that these five deputies were just carrying out orders from Lembergs. And there are solid grounds for this assumption.

What does a politician who has decided to occupy high public office do? First of all, he is granted official support from his party and then he steps into consultations with other political parties. But what happened in our case? First of all, parliamentary deputy Bērziņš headed off for a meeting with Lembergs, a deputy of a council located 210 km away from Rīga. After this meeting, Lembergs described Bērziņš: “He has a number of good characteristics that would give him grounds to hope for the support of the parliamentary majority”. Later on, Lembergs asserted that the intiator of the meeting was Bērziņš. Meanwhile, information appeared in the mass media revealing the identities of the parliamentary deputies from the Association of Greens and Farmers who proposed Bērziņš’ election: Dana Reizniece, Jānis Vucāns and Gundars Daudze, i.e. parliamentary deputies from Ventspils elected to the 10th Saeima.

Dana, by now Reizniece-Ozola, has had solid education at the school of Lembergs. She is the former head of Ventspils City Council’s Investment Department. She was later delegated to run Ventspils High Technology Park. Also Gundars Daudze has only Lembergs to thank for his career. He started out as a humble anaesthetist-reanimatologist at Ventspils Hospital. Spotted by the mayor, he was appointed as the hospital’s senior doctor, a board member of the city’s party “For Latvia and Ventspils”, local council deputy. Then he was elected in 10th Saeima and immediately appointed as the Ministry of Welfare’s Parliamentary Secretary and as Chairman of the Saeima 10 months later. Jānis Vucāns enjoyed a similar career trajectory. With Lembergs’ blessing, he became the Rector of Ventspils High School, a board member of the city’s party “For Latvia and Ventspils”, a 10th Saeima deputy and during the very same 10th Saeima, this doctor of mathematical sciences was appointed as the Deputy Chairman of the Saeima’s Budget and Finance Commission.

However, this configuration for the group responsible for the emerging initiative was inconvenient to Lembergs. The official list was expanded to five people with only a single deputy from Ventspils – Vucāns Other deputies from the faction of Greens and Farmers represented various Latvian regions. Out of this quintet, with the exception of Vucāns, Iveta Grigule and Aivars Dronka are of particular interest, but we shall come back to them later.

After the first round of voting, Bērziņš lacked only one (!) vote to become Zatlers’ successor in the Presidential Castle. The second round of voting put everything in place. And on this occasion, Lembergs was right: the parliamentary majority supported Bērziņš. And in this regard, the media had a few questions for Urbanovičs.

“Harmony Centre’s” Saeima faction leader appeared on “Baltkom” radio: “We didn’t care who we were voting for – for Valdis Zatlers or the ex-banker, Andris Bērziņš.” But in fact, they did care and a great deal. Television channel LTV announced that Urbanovičs’ team had reached a secret agreement with Lembergs’ team concerning Bērziņš. In turn, the television channel TV3 recorded Urbanovičs’ admission to one of his colleagues that he has mistakenly spoiled the voting slip on which he voted for Bērziņš during the first round. He promised to correct his mistake during the second round. Nobody from “Harmony Centre” has dismissed this information.

Before the vote, the aforementioned deputies Aivars Dronka and Iveta Grigule actively lobbied Bērziņš’ candidacy. “De facto” TV programme quoted Dronka’s conversation with “Harmony Centre” deputy Valērijs Orlovs, which proves that an agreement existed to elect Bērziņš. However, Iveta Grigule’s joy at this success was clouded by her demise on the very same day as Bērziņš was elected: the board of Latvia’s Association of Greens and Farmers expelled Grigule from their list. No, not for lobbying, but instead for illegal transactions during the 10th pre-election campaign period discovered by the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau. As a result of which neither the party, nor the Association of Greens and Farmers will receive State financing for the 11th Saeima election campaign in the amount of LVL 95,015.50.

But all credit to Lembergs. He is never forgetting about those who have defend his interests. Grigule has retained her position as Deputy Chairman of the Saeima’s Foreign Affairs Commission, and, not being a member of any party, is balloted for the 11th Saeima elections on the list of Greens and Farmers in the Vidzeme electoral district, occupying the relatively high place of 9th in the list of 30 candidates.

And thus it was the test of Lembergs and Urbanovičs’ mutual political affection – Test No. 2. The Presidential Palace is run by Bērziņš. To pre-empt any foolish talk; in his very first press conference, the new head of the country announced: “If anybody imagines that I’ll be walking on somebody’s lead, that of some oligarch or anyone else, you won’t see this from me.” These are powerful words if we turn a blind eye to a few details. The first being that President Bērziņš did not provide a clear answer to a question posed twice as to whether he is prepared to entrust the formation of the new government to Lembergs. The president alone is responsible for deciding on whether he will be given the nickname, “the man from Puze”, namely, the parish where Lembergs resides

A case from long ago. Or was it really so long ago?

One could conclude that Urbanovičs and Lembergs only became close during this year in connection with the dismissal of Maizītis, the General-Prosecutor who was such a threat to the Mayor Ventspils. However, indirect evidence points at the process starting off a long time beforehand. And not just because a significant time was required to set up and execute the plot against Maizītis. The first signs of the evolving alliance appeared already back in 2009.

We will consider this thesis in connection with Ventspils local council elections. “Harmony Centre” implemented its pre-election campaign by openly criticising Lembergs’ authoritarianism and the persistent threat of “foreign” business,. The party thus tripled its representation on Ventspils Council. However, afterwards a series of peculiar events occurred: none (!) of Urbanovičs’ party deputies voted AGAINST Lembergs election as council chairman. And even more peculiarly – 66.6% of “Harmony Centre’s” deputies voted FOR Mayor Lembergs. As a matter of urgency, those representatives of “Harmony Centre”, who would not have obediently complied with the will of the city’s boss under no circumstances, were dismissed from their seats in the municipal commissions. During the period from July 2009 to August 2010, in reviewing 85 different matters, “Harmony Centre” deputies voted against decisions prepared by Lembergs’ party in only 7–11% of cases. When Lembergs did not let through “Harmony Centre’s” projects, Urbanovičs’ messengers were friendly in their support for the proposals of their political opponents.

Latvia’s inter-party collaboration is characterised by the so-called “driving belt” system. In practice, this means that in individual cases, anyone who enjoys the trust of the leaders of other parties, even of those in opposition, may act in accordance with the shared interests of these “opponents”. Among those playing a role in the implementation of such a “driving belt system” balancing the interests of Urbanovičs’ and Lembergs’ interests may well be Mārtiņš Lauva, a graduate of Ventspils High School. He has been a council member of the Chamber of Trading and Industry since 2008, and heads the chamber’s Kurzeme regional department.

People are not appointed to responsible positions in Lembergs’ leading bodies by chance. In all probability, the second most important institution in Ventspils in terms of operational importance is “Ventspils” Basketball Club. It enjoys particular attention of the mayor. And this is understandable, because achievements in basketball are converted into bonuses for the council and its leading functionary. And there is no way that Mārtiņš Lauva would have become a leading representative of this club without Lembergs’ consent. And this is how he got his start. Later, he would rise to become a Latvian Basketball Association Council Member, while Ralfs Pleinics was appointed as the Managing Director of this association. Up until that time, Pleinics had carried out the duties of Senior Manager at BC “Ventspils”. These appointments would never have occurred without the blessing of Lembergs.

However, Urbanovičs was not in the least perturbed by this. He positioned Lauva as “Harmony Centre’s” financial consultant, and appointed him to second place in “Harmony Centre’s” list of deputies in the Kurzeme electoral district. Moreover, this financial consultant who has personal debts of almost EUR 1,100,000 has donated LVL 18,000 which is the maximum amount allowed by law into the coffers of “Harmony Centre”.

Evidence of the fruits of hitherto unknown “driving belts” is also provided by the fact that a parliamentary candidate from Urbanovičs’ enjoys the special attention of the parties who make up the governing coalition. Even though theoretically the latter should demonstrate the same opposition on all fronts to people from “Harmony Centre”as demonstrated by the opposition between the government and Riga City Council. But Lauva is a special case. A week after Lauva’s registration as a deputy candidate from “Harmony Centre”, it as decided in the meeting of state secretaries to suggest the Cabinet to permit Lauva to fell trees on a parcel of land owned by him in Jūrmala’s protected coastal bluff zone. And such a decision was seemingly inevitable, given that senior members of the Association of Greens and Farmers: Environment Minister, Vējonis and Agriculture Minister, Dūklavs came out in support for Urbanovičs’ man. 19 days before the opening of polling stations, the government unilaterally allowed a representative from the camp of its political opponents to fell pine trees wherever he feels like doing it.

Millionaire Lauva’s 10th Saeima pre-election campaign is Ventspils was unique. He was the only one of “Harmony Centre’s” candidate who didn’t have any problem with it. Other candidates from the political alliance led by Urbanovičs, who didn’t receive a dime from the party’s coffers, saw clear lack of love from the part of Ventspils Council. But this did not benefit Lauva, and he was not elected to the Saeima. And here we see yet another trait shared by Urbanovičs and Lembergs. Left without a deputy’s mandate, Lauva nevertheless didn’t remain without a cushy appointment: the financial consultant was appointed Chairman of the Board of the “Roads Authority” company, which is 88.7% owned by Rīga City Council.

…by the way, there is a certain degree of amazement at the fact that the pre-election campaign run in Ventspils by the “Harmony Centre” list for the 11th Saeima is running so smoothly.

What now?

But now let’s touch upon the events of the day. As we know, everything concealed will sooner or later come to light, and therefore there is no doubt about the truth of Urbanovičs’ words to “Baltkom” radio: “Harmony Centre could not afford to vote for Valdis Zatlers, because in that case it would have been excluded from the game.” What exclusion and what game is Urbanovičs referring to? Since no explanations can be expected from “Harmony Centre”, let’s attempt to model the situation.

The fact that, in alliance with Greens and Farmers, “Harmony Centre” supports consolidation of sanctions against malicious use of the Russian language, is a reminder that the whole Urbanovičs’ faction failed to notice what it was voting for and looks like a foolish charade in a bad game if only due to the fact that 10 deputies, including Urbanovičs and Deputy-Speaker Andrejs Klementjevs avoided participation in the vote. The same also occurred in regard to the second reading of the draft legislation concerning the eviction of residents from privately-owned residential buildings in the event of the bankruptcy of owners.

Therefore, the game goes on, and the results of the sociological survey conducted by the German company GfK indicating that Urbanovičs’ team and Lembergs’ team will jointly receive 54 mandates in 11. Saeima and will be able to form a government without reckoning with anyone else may very well be part of this game. However, the tactics are changing during the course of the game.

Firstly, Urbanovičs and Lembergs exchanged compliments about how each of them would make a great Prime Minister. Later Urbanovičs told “Open City” («Открытый город» ) magazine that “Harmony Centre” would not base its pre-election campaign on the personality of the Mayor of Riga, Nils Ušakovs. In spite of this, at the start of July Urbanovičs’ party nominated not one but two Prime Ministerial candidates: Urbanovičs himself and Ušakovs, with whom just a few weeks beforehand Urbanovičs had apparently not even reckoned. However, in August, the website quoted schoolmaster Urbanovičs as saying of his pupil Ušakovs (who, by the way, has never referred to Urbanovičs as his teacher). “…I am absolutely convinced that Riga’s Mayor Nils Ušakovs is ready to undertake the duties of Prime Minister.” And what’s more, “Ušakovs is the best…”

It merely seems that, as the dynamic political situation develops, Urbanovičs is somewhat unusually for him in a state of reflection. We can observe similar traits in the camp of the Greens and Farmers. On 5 September, LETA news agency published the following comment from the head of the GFA faction, Augusts Brigmanis: “I am almost certain that “Harmony Centre” (SC) will win the 11th Saeima elections and form the next government.” Similar comments have been made by Lembergs.

Since Urbanovičs didn’t explain which game he is still part of by jointly “sinking” Zatlers together with Lembergs, the “Harmony Centre” leader has given us the chance to consider the different versions of this political game ourselves.

Scenario “Tall in the saddle!”

Urbanovičs and Lembergs jointly secure more than 50 seats in the Saeima and form a coalition between “Harmony Centre” and the Greens and Farmers Union. Bērziņš is forced to entrust the formation of the government to this tandem, but names only one politician who will become the head of the Latvian government. Regardless of the President’s personal disposition towards Lembergs; his prospects of becoming Prime Minister are doubtful. And not just because he has spent many years in the top ten list of Latvian politicians with dubious reputation compiled by Transparency International, the international non-governmental organisation engaged in a global battle against corruption. We will further note that, according to data from a survey conducted by SKDS at the end of June this year, 54% of respondents stated that the reputation of parliamentary candidates and politicians is important. 32.3% remarked that reputation could be of decisive significance.

Lembergs. To nominate a person for the office of Prime Minister, whom the state headed by President Bērziņš is prosecuting for serious crimes committed against this same state, would deal a heavy blow to the international reputation of the Latvian President. Moreover, let’s remember that globally Lembergs will first of all be described as a person whose assets worth USD 135 million have been arrested by the High Court in London. At home, the people have not forgotten the symbolical “oligarchs” funeral” on AB dambis which was attended by thousands of people. The President MUST take these factors into account.

Ušakovs. No matter how sympathetic he appears, there is seemingly little likelihood that he will be asked to form the government. And not just because Lembergs quite rightly refers to Ušakovs’ still negligible experience of politics in practice. It is sufficient to mention the collapse of “Rīga’s mark” project devised by Ušakovs and his slighly premature announcement on “Eho Moskvi” radio that in Latvian national problems are receding into distance. They haven’t gone anwhere and things should be openly referred to in their proper terms: if Bērziņš entrusts the formation of the government to Ušakovs; in doing so he will incite the forces of nationalism and create confusion and rebelliousness among a large section of the sovereign nation to which he himself belongs. This rebelliousness doesn’t directly apply to Ušakovs. However, it is merely the product of a 20 year period in which the people have been continually reminded that the Russians are coming and Latvians must not give up. The situation demands durable STATE policy if the image of the Russians as the enemy is to be transformed into the image of Russia – the good neighbour. Currently, there are no grounds for expecting official policy to be developed along these lines.

Urbanovičs. Like Lembergs, Urbanovičs is in the top ten of the “Dubious reputation” list together with his colleagues from his parliamentary faction: Ādamsons, Dolgopolovs, Kabanovs (“Harmony Centre” is the most widely represented party on this list). Transparency International included Urbanovičs on his list due to his lies in Maizītis’ “affair”, his connection with the “recipients of grants from Lembergs”, as well as the doubts expressed by former President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga regarding the transparency of “Harmony Centre’s” financing. The organization also singled out Urbanovičs’ inability to provide an explanation regarding transactions involving the use of offshore instruments, and ambiguities in his personal income declaration.

President Bērziņš cannot afford to ignore the fact that in the minds of many Latvian voters, Urbanovičs is a foreigner, particulary in connection with painful issues such as recognition of the occupation and preservation of the Latvian language. In turn, among Russians Urbanovičs’ is one of them, particularly after the Saeima’s vote on the consolidation of language sanctions and the eviction of tenants of bankrupt residential building owners from their homes.

In spite of this, there is a perception among certain sections of society that if Lembergs were to appointed Prime Minister, streets throughout the country would become as clean as those in Ventspils and that the municipal police would punish building owners for not promptly removing snow from the streets. In turn, many hope that in the event that Ušakovs is appointed as Prime Minister, pensioners would be able to use public transport just like they can in Riga. Moreover, in a hope for a saviour, people forget that businesses disadvantageous to the Mayor of Ventspils have no hope of surviving in this city. While Ušakovs has effectively placed the city at the mercy of terrorists by signing a decision to authorise construction of a 1,050,000 tonne ammonium nitrate handling and storage terminal in Rīga.

“Harmony Centre” had then to attract a political figure representing consistent authority to sections of society and residents of all nationalities, i.e. Ingūna Sudraba. As late as 26 November 2010, political expert and head of the “Latvian facts” company, Aigars Freimanis told the newspaper “Telegraf” that Sudraba was one of this political alliance’s candidates for the position of head of state. In February 2011, the Saeima’s Deputy-Speaker, “Harmony Centre” deputy Andrejs Klementjevs told “Baltkom” Radio that his political alliance had not discounted the possibility of nominating its own candidate for president, adding that, “If the candidate proposed by the coalition would be a good one, then “Harmony Centre” would also support it.”

However, in late May, on the last day for the nomination of candidates, Urbanovičs’ team decided that the presidential elections shall take place without a candidate of  theirs. Nevertheless, just a day later after a meeting with Andris Bērziņš, the very same Klementjevs informed the media that his faction would support the presidential candidate who would guarantee “Harmony Centre” a place in the government. The Deputy-Speaker stressed that the “29 votes of his deputies are very important and could decide the outcome of the election. Therefore, “Harmony Centre” would not play about with a free vote.” The events that followed completely contradicted this. Urbanovičs announced a free vote, and the game begun hand in hand with Lembergs.

Why did Urbanovičs reject Sudraba as “Harmony Centre’s” presidential candidate? Perhaps he was reminded of his experience with the former Chairman of the Constitutional Court, Aivars Endziņš, a less than promising figure in these games, whom “Harmony Centre” wanted to see in Zatlers’ place? Having lost out to Zatlers, Endziņš actively supported Kristovskis and Kalniete, sharp critics of “Harmony Centre” and subsequently key players in the formation of an element of the “Unity” alliance, i.e. “The Civic Union” party. Back then, Klementjevs admitted that, “Endziņš never said that he would support our policies…”

It would appear that the answer lies elsewhere: Sudraba would never under any circumstances dance to the tune of the party leaders or act counter to the national interest, but the power hierarchy in Urbanovičs’ team is built along the same lines as that of Lembergs’ – one faction, one party and one leader.

Scenario “On the wagon train”

How come we have come to this? Having renounced their erstwhile political ambitions, both Lembergs and his confederates are asserting that power is virtually in the hands of “Harmony Centre”. When has the Mayor of Ventspils ever been prepared to play second fiddle? Never, except for this occasion. There has also been a change in the rhetoric emanating from the camp of the Greens and Farmers. Whereas previously curses rained down on Zatlers’ Reform Party and on “Unity”, and the VL-TB/LNNK alliance outside its chosen brackets, in order not to alienate voters not holding radical positions; well, the wind is blowing from a different direction. The leader of the Greens’ and Farmers’ Saeima faction Brigmanis cautiously suggested that “As a centre-right party, GFA’s closest partner is still “Unity”, adding that Lembergs’ team could also work with VL-TB/LNNK. The attitude towards Zatlers’ party has also softened: we will not offer ourselves to it allies, because it doesn’t even want to work with us.

Here one can clearly detect a message aimed at the nationalist parties: boys, let’s be friendly to one another. But friendship with VL-TB/LNNK automatically eliminates the possibility of friendship with “Harmony Centre”. However, one should remember that all sorts of miracles can happen: it was the related conduct of these political forces which resulted of the question of a vote of no confidence being raised in the Saeima in relation to the Minister of Justice, “Unity” Party deputy, Aivars Štokenbergs.

Lembergs has always been more politically flexible than Urbanovičs. Not for nothing did Ventspils emissary Daudze leave the influential seat of Saeima Deputy-Speaker to head the office of the unassuming new President Bērziņš, while the now vacant seat was occupied by another Ventspils emissary – Vucāns. In turn, the Minister of Transport is also being minded by another Ventspils loyalist: Parliamentary Secretary Dana Reizniece. And a candidate from the ranks of the Alliance of Greens and Farmers has also been found for the position of Economics Minsiter in the person of Kristīne Krasovska, veteran Deputy Executive-Director of Ventspils Council and a member of Lembergs’ pocket party, “For Latvia and Ventspils”. And in all probability, the Mayor of Ventspils is also working on a backup plan which, in the event that the coalition with “Harmony Centre” doesn’t come to fruition, would see him retain his position at the forefront of political power riding the bicycle of the existing coalition. And what can “Harmony Centre’s” voters expect?

Lembergs has a couple of trumps up his sleeve. If together with Urbanovičs he secures a majority in the Saeima, then the country can expect a new configuration of power, in which Lembergs’ business interests in Kurzeme and those of Urbanovičs in Latgale will not be pushed to the back of the queue. The influence of oligarchs on central government would then remain, merely undergoing a cosmetic change. And in this case, the 11th Saeima would become the centre of the harmony shared by this political duet. If the insistent contention of the Greens and Farmers that the Russian party is just one step away from power is borne out. The electoral mood of this sovereign nation will rapidly swing towards the nationalist parties. In this case, depending on how parliamentary seats are divided up among Latvian parties; even though he is almost impossibly compromised, Lembergs will retain significant opportunities to remain one of the levers of the execution of political power in this country. In contrast, “Harmony Centre” will remain mired in deep opposition without any real opportunities to influence political processes nationally.

One should add that in the aftermath of an intense period in which Lembergs has breathlessly stuffed the radio, television, press and the Internet full of mantras about what a bad man Soross is (one is left to wonder whether Soross has ever heard of Lembergs) and what a good man he himself is. He is also speaking about how dangerous Dombrovskis is, and how Zatlers is utterly devoid of talent; about how Ventspils is the embodiment of Paradise on Earth and how Latvia will flourish after Lembergs is appointed  Prime Minister. There are clear signs that the Alliance of Greens and Farmers is no longer the monolithic institution of old. In a recent interview with “Ir” magazine, the chairman of this alliance, Environment and Regional Development Minister, Raimonds Vējonis didn’t bother to hide the fact that there is a degree of confusion and upheaval within the political alliance. Support for Lembergs is not as strong as it once was.

It may well seem in the “Tall in the saddle!” scenario, and the scenario “On the wagon train” is comparable to a stalemate in chess, whereby any subsequent move is disadvantageous to the players. Particularly so, if the SKDS sociologues turn out to be right and Lembergs’ and Urbanovičs’ prospects of securing a majority in the 11th Saeima are in considerable doubt, compared to the joint prospects of Unity, Zatlers’ Reform Party and VL-TB/LNNK. It’s true that there is a third possible outcome whereby VL-TB/LNNK’s place in the potential coalition is taken by Harmony Centre, especially because both current Prime Minister Dombrovskis and former President Zatlers admit that the time has come to grant a Russian party a seat in government.

Let’s not dally on the difficulties that threaten the success of such a coalition; they are well-known. Howevever, regardless of whoever Urbanovičs enters the coalition with, in principle there is no and is not going to be any new algorithm for the resolution of the problems the country is facing. Latvia is so tied to the international lenders, by the agreements signed with the EU and NATO that there are practically no reserves left for implementation of its own policy focused on priority national interests. Moreover, these popers were signed with direct or tacit agreement of Lembergs’ subordinate – Greens and Farmers Union.

And there’s no getting away from the fact that next Saturday “Harmony Centre’s” voters must choose the lessers of all the available evils. Firstly: voting for the real power apex tandem of Lembergs-Urbanovičs and awaiting the moment when soon enough the skeletons start falling out of their cupboards faster than raindrops in October, and the State will not emerge from the crisis, but observe yet another lawless battle. Secondly: voting for “Harmony Centre”, remaining outside the gates of power, but continuing to protect the interests of its voters as effectively as it has done until now. Or thirdly: accepting that politics is not possible without compromises and that one such compromise is a possible coalition between “Harmony Centre”, “Unity” and Zatlers’ Reform Party.

For the time being, “Unity” and Zatlers’ Reform Party will once again set out acknowledgement of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Latvia as a pre-condition for “Harmony Centre’s” inclusion in the governing coalition. Whether this is merely pre-election rhetoric or an impossible ultimatum aimed at slamming the doors of the government right in front of the Russian party’s nose will only become clear after the final votes are counted. Nevertheless, Lembergs’ statements on the subject of occupation have been so widely distributed that his position is acceptable to both Latvian and Russian voters.

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