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New political parties: misery of the glitter 1

Since 1993, before every Saeima (Parliament) election, we have seen the emergence of various projects which propose to save society. These are projects of various levels of quality and believability, but they are almost equal in terms of their critical approach toward the situation in Latvia and in terms of the promises which they make about the future. The “Repse party” is quite recognizable against this background.

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Foto:N. Mezins

Since 1993, before every Saeima (Parliament) election, we have seen the emergence of various projects which propose to save society. These are projects of various levels of quality and believability, but they are almost equal in terms of their critical approach toward the situation in Latvia and in terms of the promises which they make about the future. The “Repse party” is quite recognizable against this background.

Statistics show that the number of successful new political parties is declining. In 1995, three new parties won seats in the Saeima - the Democratic Party Saimnieks, the People’s Movement for Latvia, and the Latvian Union Party. In 1998 there were only two - the People’s Party and the New Party. It appears that in 2002, there will be only one - the organization which Einars Repse has not yet founded (linear hopes about 2006 may not prove to be justified). This may be true because interests are gradually emerging, because voters have a deeper understanding of democracy, or because the party system is becoming crystallized. In Latvia, we must also speak of the rapid increase in the cost of election campaigns. Financially weaker competitors are automatically excluded. There are also limited human resources for political activities.

The arrival of new parties in the parliament ensures a certain circulation at the level of the political elite (or recirculation if the “same old furniture” is still in place). This helps the system to recruit leading employees and to reveal those who are political clowns. The circulation of ideas, however, has been weaker.

All of the newly arrived parties, of course, have criticized the situation in the country. In 1995 the People’s Movement for Latvia (TKL) set the tone: “The years of Communist dictatorship in Latvia destroyed all of the moral and ethical foundations that are necessary for the functioning of a health society, state and economy.” The Latvian Union Party (LVP) focused more on the things that happened in Latvia after 1991, criticizing the fact that industry and agriculture had been destroyed. The Democratic Party Saimnieks (DPS) griped about the state’s failure to support local manufacturers and about the critically low standard of living in Latvia. Three years later, the People’s Party (TP) and the New Party (JP) both repeated the thesis that local companies must be supported, and they both spoke about raising the standard of living in Latvia.

One of the causes of problems in Latvia, according to the parties, is the presence of crime and corruption. The first to fight against these problems was DPS leader Ziedonis Cevers, who promised before the 1995 election that he would deal with organized crime in three months. The LVP promised to get rid of corruption at all levels of power, while one of the eight self-declared goals for the TKL was to set up a strict anti-corruption system. Three years later, the TP knew that “the fight against crime, maliciousness and banditry is the primary goal for the institutions of government.”

To be sure, the fight against corruption requires positive stimuli. The LVP and the TKL promised to increase the salaries of government employees. The TP proposed a similar viewpoint, saying that civil servants earn little money. The pay raise should make civil servants more accessible and less haughty (DPS), and it should force the government apparatus to work on the behalf of the state’s interests (TP, JP). Those on whose behalf the state was already working began to love this country.

In an uncorrupt country with a developed economy, each working person would be able to support not only himself, but also three children (TP). Pensioners, however, might have problems, so the TKL announced welfare for everyone, the LVP promised that pensions would be brought up to the survival minimum, the DPS and the JP promised higher pensions, and the TP was most concrete in its statement: “A country in which old age means poverty is a criminal country. Pensions must guarantee income that is worthy of a human being.”

We could go on and on with this comparison of intentions, but at the end we would still find that approximately 90% of the promises coincide. The greatest differences relate to foreign policy (greater or lesser Euro-enthusiasm, attitudes vis-à-vis NATO membership, relations with Russia) and inter-ethnic policy. It would be more productive to seek out differences in the methods that are applied to the reaching of these goals, but for various reasons, parties are loath to talk about these. If we are to speculate about concrete steps that are to be taken, we have to deal with surface assumptions about party ideology and the things that party leaders have done in the past.

Against this background, the “Repse party” that has yet to emerge looks quite recognizable. Everything (except the Bank of Latvia and the banking sector) is bad, because the country is corrupt, and corruption can be battled not only with a firm hand, but also with higher salaries for civil servants and other employees in the public sector. Production can be enhanced through lower taxes, and that must go hand in hand with strict tax collection procedures. Trust my previous experience. I have come to work!

These impressions, true, are based on the fragmentary things that the potential leader has said in public. There is no party, there is no program. Ideas will not be important in the case of Repse, however. There are still quite a few dissatisfied voters floating around in our country, and they really need to find a new hero so that four years later they can once again be disappointed and blame others for their own problems. Let’s not begrudge this!

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