Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Latvia Is Changing the Wheel on Its Bike—Not Buying a New One

Latvia Is Changing the Wheel on Its Bike—Not Buying a New One

On December 7, , the Prime Minister of , resigned. Although her came into effect immediately, she will continue to lead the three-party coalition in a caretaker capacity until a new one is found.

 

The now ex-Prime Minister left during a time of dissension within the Latvian government. Though Straujuma cited the need for “new ideas and new input” as her immediate reason for resigning, her exit comes after a tortuous political period following Latvia’s successful presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Straujuma’s departure was preceded by myriad internal struggles. Significant tension among her colleagues surfaced as Straujuma confronted the Minister of Transport, alleging incompetence and asking for his resignation. Inter-personal conflicts were exacerbated by tumultuous political negotiations within the ruling coalition government, the most polarizing of which concerned next year’s budget and the acceptance of refugees. On top of the political dissonance common to coalitions, was a government formed on the unsteady grounds bequeathed by the economic crisis. The ex-Prime Minister herself admitted that there was no guarantee the government could survive until the next political term.

The roots of the government schisms can be found in the current composition of parliament, which has a total of 100 seats. Since the 2014 , the ‘Concord’ party holds the most seats, at 24. The breakdown of the rest of the seats in the parliament, held by other parties is as follows: ‘Unity’ (23), ‘Union of Greens and Farmers’ (21), ‘National Alliance’ (17), ‘Latvian Regional Alliance’ (8), and ‘For Latvia from the Heart’ (7). Because any decisions require at least a majority vote to pass, a coalition is needed. The current coalition consists of Unity, Union of Greens and Farmers, and National Alliance. Together they hold a total of 61 seats – and thus form a majority force in parliament.

The minister positions, elected by parliament, are therefore held solely by members of the coalition, divided amongst themselves. A mutual dependency between the three parties guarantees their representatives in executive government and promotes cooperation. Their fundamental ideological differences, however, remain intact. Most recently, this manifested itself in the clashes over allowing additional refugees into Latvia on a quota regime. While the National Alliance party stood staunchly against the quota, the Unity party supported it. An eventual compromise was reached, but the situation served to highlight how loss of support from any member of the coalition severely reduces the government’s ability to efficiently conduct its functions. This division of influence becomes a catalyst for power plays, and is one of the primary reasons for why the coalition dynamic sustains political intrigue to the extent that a Prime Minister may be pressured to resign.

With this background, the primary domestic consequence for the nation from the resignation of the Prime Minister is that parties will undergo a hectic process of vying for the position. Tensions over issues within coalition parties may, in the most extreme case, lead to a party joining or leaving the coalition. However, the coalition itself is bound to remain intact.

As for potential Prime Ministers, the most frequently discussed candidate is Solvita Āboltiņa, head of the leading coalition party – Unity. Yet, party support for candidates is still broadly fluctuating and her prospect at ascension remains opaque. Regardless of the incoming incumbent, Latvia’s foreign policy is unlikely to change. A new leader will take the place of Laimdota Straujuma, but it will certainly be a candidate from the ruling coalition, who will accordingly be bound to follow the current policy course. With a new Prime Minister, Latvia is changing the wheel on its bike—not buying a new bike.