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Wednesday 16.01.2019 | Name days: Lida, Lidija
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Languages «a must-have». An interview with ex-president about political market methods and communist approach

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUThere are two ways a political market is realized during closed presidential elections: one involves approval of candidates in exchange for votes, and the other – for money. If it’s the latter, it is best for no one to know how elections are performed. Harmony, which now stays quiet about open elections, has always been against this proposal, because it does not allow for creating a political market – sale of votes in exchange for influence, which has been done before. The Union of Greens and Farmers resists open elections because it is the main holder of «communist inheritance». This is demonstrated by this party’s behaviour in relation to such matters, ex-president of Latvia Valdis Zatlers told BNN in an interview.

Open presidential elections – a way to put an end to sale of votes

«I am relatively well-aware of the way presidents, myself included, were elected,» said the ex-president.

According to Zatlers, Latvia’s president should be elected by the Saeima through an open vote. «We are told that an open election presents the risk of political influencing and indecisiveness, but nothing like that would happen. It is exactly the opposite – open elections would be more transparent for society.» Zatlers adds that open elections would mean the end of political trading era in Latvia. In addition, the ex-president says this idea has matured enough in Latvia to be realized.

Commenting on the way President Andris Bērziņš was elected, that an open election process is needed by political parties that do not trust their own members, Zatlers called such an assumption nothing more than speculation. «If there are open elections, it is necessary for party members to explain why some vote in favour and others against. This means internal discussions in parties, including UGF, would become far more important and justified than they are now. It’s because actual arguments would be needed in this case. There is simply no way to tell people – look, trust us, this is the correct decision.»

«I hoped that after the last elections everyone will have understood that there are also fake prime minister candidates – people who will never become prime ministers»

Why doesn’t Latvia have open elections and why does UGF oppose this form of elections? Zatlers says: «You have to understand: UGF was built with communist party principles in mind. To this day it exists as a rural communist party – this kind of thinking has survived to this day because many of this party’s leaders are former communists.» He stresses that when a party is ruled by dictatorship, the way a party thinks is very different from a multi-party democracy. Zatlers recalls published data about the number of former communists in Saeima’s parties. «Most of them are concentrated in a single party. We are dealing with a rural communist party with a weak presence in the capital.»

Also Zatlers says Ušakovs’ decision to not participate in Saeima elections as a candidate seems unacceptable to him. «What is this? A political party’s leader says his party does not want to be in the government. He says he does not want to participate in the political process because he is busy in Riga with different important tasks. What is he talking about – who would trust such a party?»

«Politicians always say a party’s leader should become a prime minister candidate at some point – everyone has to participate. Even Krišjānis Kariņš should put down his MEP mandate and say – I want to become a prime minister candidate, I will take part in the fight and the fight will happen here – not let everyone think he will remain in Brussels for the big money and will come back only if he becomes prime minister,» comments Zatlers.

«I hoped everyone will have understood after the last elections that there are many fake prime minister candidates who will never become prime ministers. But time and time again everyone takes a lesson from Lembergs’ book – you can just stay on the sidelines, because you’ve never been in a bad place with the Saeima, never taken responsibility, never been in the central government. All he has ever done is make money in Ventspils – that’s it. Everyone wants to copy him and do the same, because they believe that is a story of success. Can it be considered a story of success for the future? Definitely not.»

As for Harmony’s chosen presidential candidate Pēteris Sproģis, Zatlers believes a person who is not ready to fight cannot become president in Latvia. «If you’re not ready for black PR, if you’re not ready for merciless, unfair attacks, it means you’re not ready to take this post. You have to be strong and withstand it all. No one can be blamed for not being strong, but if you have already decided – you have to be prepared for everything.»

Zatlers believes Harmony was very selfish by picking Sproģis as its candidate. «They need a strong candidate, but should priests enter politics? This is a very serious matter, because everything is fine with religious matters in Latvia. All religions are freely practiced and do not conflict with one another. State support is also provided to them, if needed. Here we can see reasonable communion between the state and church. Then why enter politics in this case? What is the goal you have put for yourself?»

«Priests take care of our souls, but priests do not lead us into battle,» Zatlers comments the political situation.

A president elected by the people – politicians’ promotional slogan

It should be said topic of a president elected by the people enjoys a bit of renaissance every now and then. Even Latvia’s current president Raimonds Vējonis has proposed allowing the nation to elect the next president in 2019. Zatlers says: «It is no surprise this proposal was voiced by the president, because this figure always has a high popularity rating, at the very least because of his status. The president in people’s eyes is always the last instance to turn to.» Zatlers stresses this topic, often mentioned before elections, is often used by as slogan or gesture for elections to demonstrate the desire to be liked by people.

«I think residents can easily elect the president without any problems – nothing bad would happen. The people’s decision is the people’s decision. To people who say residents are not clever I always they are. But in this case it is no longer a political compromise – it is a political battle. Do we really need this? Russia’s recent meddling with other countries’ elections proves that meddling in single-person public elections is much easier than putting pressure on 100 deputies that pick the president from several compromise candidates.»

Seeing as how the last two of Latvia’s presidents are closely tied to UGF, Zatlers mentioned that other political parties had allowed those presidents to be elected. «Political compromise, it seems, was that other political parties were left with no other choice. In the last elections everyone liked Egils Levits. You see, to be a liked and appropriate candidate does not mean you will get votes. Political powers have to fight for votes. If political powers come up, like the National Alliance did, and announce that «we have the best candidate», this is not enough. The National Alliance should have gone and convinced other political parties that theirs is the best compromise candidate and the best candidate in the country. This process continues all the time. However, in the last two elections this process was not entirely intensive. Because of that, votes were divided due to some other factor, not because parties fought for their candidate.»

Languages – a must-have

According to Zatlers, language knowledge is one of the most important requirements for people hoping to become president of Latvia. The ex-president comments: «Languages are a must-have.»

«A president needs to be able to communicate without a translator and discuss important matters tête-à-tête, otherwise his influence is considerably lower.» Zatlers also mentioned history knowledge as a no less important requirements. «Language can be easily checked and history can be learned.»

«The rest is determined by the president’s previous life – his life experience and education. We have to look at a person, not some points and IQ. We have to look at their life experience – a person learns some experience after reaching 40. This influences how we – the nation – see the president.»

When asked why people in Latvia propose candidates with poor English language skills and who are unable to represent their country appropriately, Zatlers says: «I will not speak of presidents’ ability to represent their country on an international arena – all presidents have done this to the best of their ability and in line with conscience. As for the people proposing candidates, they want only one thing – for the president to be useful for internal politics. As for UGF – it is a typical and very cautious party that never sets up goals. Their only objective is self-preservation. They always say: ‘You know, let’s think about it. You know, this is definitely something we should not do, it will hurt some group of residents.’ They know nothing about foreign politics.»

«When president Andris Bērziņš received no support for a repeated term, I understood that the political powers that propose their own candidates always try making sure that president stays for no more than one term, because Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga’s second and more successful term scared them,» Zatlers said.

The ex-president says one of the most important matters when evaluating the next president is their ability in foreign policy matters. «There is no peace time. There is only one constant fight for influence, recognition and compliance with Latvia’s interests. Here is where the president is one of the most important players. The foreign affairs minister is the most important player. The president is the second most important player.»

Zatlers says the president is responsible for expressing Latvia’s unified and clear position in foreign politics. «The president has to be very active in foreign policy matters, because the less work he has here, the more active the president has to be there.»

«The president needs to be able to answer all questions – even unpleasant ones. The president has to be able to get up from the floor. Only then people will respect him.»

Zatlers believes people will only love and respect a president whose opinion other politicians take into account. «We have to understand people’s love is often not enough. Also people have to understand no university prepares presidents. If a person wants to become president, the person has to study a lot and be well-versed in many different matters. The president also needs to able to approve advisors and form a team of advisors in the president’s chancellery.»

«It is important for the president to be able to listen to opinions of all parties and meet with them as often as possible. All political leaders always speak to the president. This means if we want balanced influence, the president needs to meet with all parties.»

«The president needs to be able to answer all questions, only then will people respect him,» said Zatlers.

As for upcoming Saeima elections, Zatlers said: «Not a single party has set up a goal – they are too busy fighting amongst themselves. New parties put efforts into improving their positions. Even old parties want to stay. Right now it seems they do not know what to do. Because of that they are keeping quiet, thinking if everything goes well, they will enter the government. Because of that, it is pointless trying to predict results of Saeima elections.»


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