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Wednesday 20.02.2019 | Name days: Smuidra, Vitauts, Smuidris

Wild party competition and political chaos – what goes on during pre-election period?

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUIf we compare who fought under 5% barrier some 8-12 years ago, we will see Daugava’s diggers, head nurse parties and eurosceptics parties whose ability to create some form of a working party programme was very weak. Now political parties’ competitiveness is so high that up to eight parties may successfully overcome the 5% barrier and this points to healthy competition. At the same time, in all this competitive mess it is impossible to understand where parties get financing and access to media resources, politologist and Providus think tank head researcher Iveta Kažoka commented on the pre-election period in an interview to BNN.

Wild competition among political parties is healthy for Latvia’s politics

The politologist says this year’s competition among political parties is ‘wildly large’ in the context of the 5% barrier. She also believes this competition will only benefit Latvia in the long run, because it creates pressure on parties that usually remain calm, such as Harmony and Union of Greens and Farmers, to improve their standards. «If not these, then the next elections parties may experience a ‘Riga scenario’: suddenly parties that were previously less than notable competitors will appear in the parliament,» says Kažoka.

She explains: «We noticed during last year’s municipal elections – no matter how safe parties previously elected in Riga City Council may have felt feel, energetic newcomers managed to exceed older parties’ results. Both the New Conservative Party, For Latvia’s Development and Latvia’s Association of Region gained better results than Unity and National Alliance.»

«While it generally seems that both the National Alliance and Unity may go unnoticed, it is likely neither party may overcome the 5% barrier,» says Kažoka. «I do not recall any other precedent when we had seen something similar. It is likely up to eight parties may overcome 5% barrier,» adds Kažoka.

«Some of the parties that are close to overcoming 5% barrier have picked a clear niche – showing that either parties in power or the political elite is corrupt and needs changing.» Kažoka also notes that up until now parties have not had any clear offers for other fields. Nevertheless, they are much louder now. This specifically applies to KPV LV and New Conservative Party.

According to Kažoka, competition in politics is a healthy thing. «The fact that there are so many parties taking part in elections creates a headache for voters, but this headache is for their own good».

She stresses that the competition trend has become more and more welcomed in the past several Saeima elections. Parties queuing at the 5% barrier have become much more capable. If we compare who fought under 5% barrier some 8-12 years ago, we will see Daugava’s diggers, head nurse parties and eurosceptics parties whose ability to create some form of a working party programme was very weak.

Can we truly expect an eve ‘blacker’ campaign this year?

When asked if Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis was correct when he said Latvia has never experienced a pre-election period as black as this year’s, Kažoka said: «This is shaping to be the blackest campaign in the history of pre-election periods, because three months are left and so much has already happened – parties have regrouped, new parties have formed, people have left some parties and joined other parties, criminal processes have been launched against deputies, a business newspaper has joined in pre-election campaign. Had this happened two to three weeks before elections, I would have had something to compare it with. But this happened three to four months prior to elections. All we have left to do is think what else we can expect. If this trend continues, Mr. Kučinskis will have been right.»

The politologist says: «Perhaps the largest risk in the context of elections is that Latvia’s people have become tired of the black campaigns and will stay outside the political process entirely.»

It is easy for someone from the outside to interfere with Latvia’s party chaos

Another risk mentioned by the politologist is that this political party chaos makes it impossible to figure out where parties get funding and access to media resources to promote themselves and blacken the reputation of their competitors.

«Latvia and especially its security services should make sure there are no scenarios similar to those in France, Britain and USA, when after elections or referendums it becomes known that there had been influencing attempts by a certain eastern superpower.»

She says Britain is currently caught in debates about how much of the Brexit referendum was sponsored by Russia. A similar discussion and investigation currently continues in USA. Shortly before elections in France information surfaced in regards to materials undermining French President Emanuel Macron’s reputation. An investigation into this matter revealed tracks leading to Russia. Kažoka stresses it is easy for someone from the outside to interfere in Latvia’s political chaos. Because of that, it is important for Latvia’s residents and security institutions to follow developments very closely. «If some campaign appears out of nowhere and it is unclear where it came from and who paid for it – serious inspections will have to be performed.»

«It is hard to compare parties to predict how they intend to realize their politicians if they enter the Saeima.»

«The biggest problem of Latvia’s political spectrum is that parties have relatively few ideas in relation to economics, education and healthcare.» Kažoka explains there are only some parties capable of developing quality political programmes for those matters. Often these programmes do not differ much one from another. This means parties do not many different ideas about what needs fixing in economics.

«Matters that revolve around values are put on the foreground. These values are easily comprehensible and easily explainable to voters. Whether it is a very aggressive fight against the existing elite in an attempt to explain that ‘new blood’ is needed or a simple attempt to convince voters to trust parties, we will be the ones to form the new political elite. Under such conditions it is very hard to offer some alternative. Some parties are trying to do just that. Voters will decide if parties do well,» says the researcher.

On the other hand, Kažoka says the most imaginative parties will be valued by voters.

«For demanding voters who want to know what parties stand for the biggest problem is that many, especially large parties, are ideologically undefined. Harmony calls itself a socialist democratic party. At the same time, they have no problems with proposing a very, very right-wing economist as their prime minister,» Kažoka said.

«UGF has had no general policy for the longest time,» said the researcher. She allows that UGF’s offers are very situational. «When you read their programmes, there is no clarity what they support and what they do not.»

The politologist says these are the reasons why it is hard to mutually compare parties to predict what kinds of politicians enter the Saeima and what they might do for education and economics. «Do they think taxes should be increased, reduced or kept unchanged? Rarely demanding voters can answer this question after reading their programmes.»

People have a range of choice – for conservatives and liberals

At the same time, Kažoka stresses that «unless voters are looking for the impossible – an ideal party that would satisfy everyone – they will still have a range of choice to cast their vote.»

«Every person from every political niche has something to choose from – both the most conservative people and very liberal people. Russian speaking voters and Latvian nationalists have someone to vote for,» says the politologist.

She adds that «if there are motivational ideas that will encourage people to participate in elections not because there are angry, but because they want very specific changes in Latvia or trust people who can bring those changes, the election process will not have been wasted – it will have given Latvia’s society hope of doing something better with the country».

Providus researcher concludes: «Right now it seems parties will be able to mobilize voters. People become more interested in politics. At the same time, pre-election fever is felt has been felt June and July, which are usually calm months. It should be said that this is much earlier than usual. This means some processes have caused society be become agitated. Still, only the election day will show how it all ends.»

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