The Coalition Talks: A guide to week three

Plage of the Prime Minister of Latvia
Three full weeks have now passed since the conclusion of the 13th Saeima (parliament) elections on October 6th, and we are barely any closer to knowing who Latvia's 14th prime minister since the re-establishment of independence from the Soviet Union will be, or which parties will even be included in the next coalition for that matter. Although the previous two weeks were far more eventful than this one was when it comes to the coalition discussions, there still were a few major developments worth mentioning in summary.

Before you read this, if you are completely new to Latvian politics you might want to check out our guide to the election and the different parties that we first published at the end of the summer. You might also find it useful to read our analysis of the election results, our guide to the prime ministerial candidates, and our summaries of week 1 and week 2. For those of you who have been following along, here is a quick recap of last week to refresh your memory before we get into this week's day-by-day.

Last week (October 15th - 19th) in coalition talks:

Throughout the week, the other parties responded somewhere between skeptically and negatively to Jaunā konservatīvā partijā (JKP) prime minister candidate Jānis Bordāns' coalition plan that he had unceremoniously released the Friday before which included a division of ministerial posts between JKP, KPV LV, Nacionālā apvienība, Attīstībai/Par!, and Jaunā Vienotība but excluded party of current Prime Minister Maris Kučinskis and President Raimons Vējonis Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība (ZZS). When Attīstībai/Par! and Jaunā Vienotība leaders indicated that they would prefer including ZZS in the new coalition (which would mean every party except the traditionally Kremlin-friendly Saskaņa would be sitting in the government), Bordāns made the extraordinary claim that his party would rather serve as "responsible parliamentary opposition" than work together with ZZS. KPV LV candidate Aldis Gobzems and Attīstībai/Par! candidate Artis Pabriks hinted at their own counter offers that would be released later. President Vējonis met with each of the seven parties that will be represented in the next Saeima, and concluded the week by announcing on Friday that the parties should decide on either Bordāns, Gobzems, or Pabriks as a prime minister. He invited all three candidates to submit the forms required to gain a security clearance, and reminded them that only someone who could receive such a clearance would be able to become the government's next leader. Despite a high-profile meetings with KPV LV on Tuesday and the president on Friday, the traditionally Kremlin-friendly Saskaņa party has been totally sidelined once again despite having won the most seats in Saeima.

And now for this week...


Jaunā konservatīvā partija (JKP) prime minister candidate Jānis Bordāns kicked off the week with the bold claim via Latvijas Radio that his party's exclusion from a new governing coalition would be "suicide" for the other parties. Saskaņa candidate Vjačeslavs Dombrovskis used similarly dramatic language on Latvijas Televizija morning TV show Rīta Panorama when he prognosed that the parties' choice of prime minister between Jānis Bordāns, Aldis Gobzems, and Artis Pabriks offered by President Vējonis the previous Friday was "the road to Saeima's dismissal" which would theoretically trigger new elections in that case. KPV LV candidate Aldis Gobzems also made the media rounds on Monday, appearing on the Latvijas Radio 1 interview program Krustpunktā and emphasizing the need for the government to come up with a list of clear agreed goals before deciding on ministers so that parties can't later blame other coalition partners on promises going unfulfilled. He also re-emphasized that KPV LV intended to lead a government sooner or later, but would not say whether or not the party would agree to work under a prime minister from a different faction. That evening, the major party candidates agreed to let the president decide who would be the next prime minister.


Current prime minister and ostensible Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība (ZZS) candidate Maris Kučinskis warned on Rīta Panorama that the parties' slowness in forming a new government could make it difficult for a final 2019 budget to be approved by December as scheduled. Later in the day, Attīstībai/Par! co-chair Daniels Pavļuts invited the six non-Saskaņa parties to join together in six discussion groups about the following topics: health care reform, education, justice and safety, transport and infrastructure, elimination of the current unpopular green energy subsidy, and regional reform. Jānis Bordāns responded to this proposition by doubling down on his refusal to work with ZZS and instead invited the parties included in his five-faction coalition plan to come together and begin informal face-to-face discussions about the next government's plan of action.


This morning it was Attīstībai/Par!'s turn to appear on Rīta Panorama, with Daniels Pavļuts extolling the idea of a six-party governing coalition that would include both experienced political veterans and an injection of new talent. He expressed hope that JKP would soften their views on working with ZZS, and identified Bordāns' objection as the only major obstacle in the way of his six-party vision. However, KPV LV candidate Aldis Gobzems threw a major wrench into Attīstībai/Par!'s plans just a few hours later when he announced on Latvijas Radio that his party would not participate in the six planned discussion groups, and would instead focus on finishing its own proposal for a potential coalition arrangement. He also refused to participate in potential JKP-led talks, as he pointed out that he had agreed to six-party talks and not other formats. Attīstībai/Par! promised to hold the discussion groups anyway with just the four other parties present. However, representatives from most major parties were able to agree on a discussion show hosted by Latvijas Televīzija that evening that a minimum wage raise to €500 per month promised by JKP before the election was likely impossible in the near future.


In a lunchtime press conference, President Vējonis re-iterated that he would not make any decision regarding who he would invite to form the next government until Tuesday, November 6th — incidentally, the same day at the United States congressional elections. He did express hope, however, that the parties would have come together with a concrete plan for the next government and have coalesced behind one of his three short-listed candidates before then. Later in the afternoon, the first of Attīstībai/Par!'s six proposed work groups to discuss the new government's priorities took place, the topic being health care reform. As promised, neither JKP or KPV LV (tied for the second largest parties in the next Saeima with 16 seats each) took part in the workshop, leaving only Attīstībai/Par! and the three parties of the outgoing government (Nacionālā apvienība, ZZS, and Jaunā Vienotība) to agree that changes in the health system's financing model were needed. In case you were wondering, those four parties together have only 45 total seats in the next Saeima, five short of enough for a majority government that wouldn't be at the constant mercy of the parliamentary opposition.

JKP didn't stay completely out of the action however, as they hosted representatives from Jaunā Vienotība at their office headquarters and then met with members of Attīstībai/Par! at swanky jazz-themed craft beer taproom "Trompete" in the center of Old Rīga. Jaunā Vienotība representative and Minister for Foreign Affairs since 2011 Edgard Rinkēvičs called the meeting a "get to know you conversation" (in Latvian: iepazīšanās saruna"), and predicted that although the six non-Saskaņa parties had a lot of common ground, serious coalition building would not take place until the president formally nominated the next prime minister on November 6th. JKP candidate Jānis Bordāns expressed disappointment that KPV LV did not want to meet with his party in a similar fashion, and hoped that they would change their minds.


Another day, another Attīstībai/Par!-led work group in which only Nacionālā apvienība, ZZS, and Jaunā Vienotība took part. This time the topic of discussion was reduction of the amount of Latvia's municipalities from the current 110 counties and nine cities. While all four parties agreed that such reform was necessary, no specific target amount of municipalities was decided upon. JKP candidate  Jānis Bordāns instead took to the LNT TV channel's morning show to criticize the work of Attorney General (in Latvian: ģenerālprokurors) Ēriks Kalnmiers and head of the country's corruption prevention agency (KNAB) Jēkabs Straume. Kalnmiers returned the favor by blasting Bordāns' criticism as vague and lacking substance in an interview with the LETA news agency soon after. President Vējonis himself joined in the fun late in the afternoon by criticizing all of the parties' performances thus far in the coalition discussions as "unsatisfactory," and expressed frustration that so little had been accomplished in the week following his shortlisting of Bordāns, Gobzems, and Pabriks as possible prime ministers. He invited all three candidates to meet with him at Rīga castle on Tuesday next week. An article published by LSM shortly after reported that roughly 30 separate meetings had taken place between the seven parties to be included in Saeima since the end of the election despite the lack of concrete results so far.

Main takeaways:

As most analysts expected, this coalition formation process has been the most contentious and complicated in recent memory due to the fractured nature of the next Saeima and major disagreements between the most successful factions. Although JKP took the initiative in the first two weeks, Attīstībai/Par! has more or less taken the lead now in trying to achieve clear and concrete goals for the next government to accomplish (even if they have been quite vague so far). Despite being tied for the second most seats in Saeima and prime minister candidate Aldis Gobzems stressing in interview after interview that he is a serious candidate and that KPV LV intends to lead the next government, the party hasn't done much so far to ensure that happens. Then again, unlike JKP, they haven't done much to sabotage themselves either.

Week 3 power rankings:

Over the last few weeks, Otto Tabuns and I have been putting together sports-esque "power rankings" for all of the different candidates and possibilities just for fun. This week I wasn't sure whether or not it would be worth it since so little concretely changed and since the president's short-list on Friday puts a damper on quite a few of the possibilities, but I'm going to give it a go regardless.
  1. Artis Pabriks (Attīstībai/Par!) (no change since last week): Attīstībai/Par! has essentially taken the reins in the last week with their "discussion groups" about the different agenda items of the next government, but Pabriks himself has kept a surprisingly low profile. Expect Pabriks to become a bit more visible in the near future considering that he's still the most likely person to become Latvia's next head of government.
  2. Aldis Gobzems (KPV LV) (no change since last week): What exactly are Aldis Gobzems and KPV LV up to? The party has been awfully slow to reveal anything in the way of a concrete plan for the next coalition, and their snubbing of Attīstībai/Par!'s discussion groups could be chalked up to either a desire to be in charge or a lack of interest in taking the coalition building process seriously. If it's the former, then why have we heard so little from their corner aside from cursory meetings with other factions? They've certainly toned down their rhetoric since the end of the campaign and haven't done anything to concretely hurt their chances, but governments don't form themselves.
  3. Janis Bordāns (Jaunā konservatīvā partija) (no change since last week): If you had told me that a prime ministerial candidate would spend the first three weeks of coalition forming doing everything in his power to annoy the other parties and then threaten to sit out of the next government entirely despite their party's strong results, I would have assumed you were talking about Gobzems. Bordāns' performance during the last few weeks has by far been the surprise of the post-election season. Sure he was a fiery campaigner and wasn't above personally attacking opponents, but he was the one who was expected to drop the act and become a "serious candidate" after the election, not Gobzems
  4. An outside compromise candidate (no change since last week): No one has concretely been named, but whoever it would or wouldn't be almost certainly has a better chance than any of the other options on this list.
  5. Early elections  (+2 since last week): Uh oh. Now even the president himself is starting to warn that this could be a possibility.
  6. Māris Kučinskis (Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība) (+2 since last week): Kučinskis will stay on as prime minister until his successor is finally named. Then again, with the way these drawn-out talks are going, that might mean he ends up serving another two and a half years after all.
  7. Krišjānis Kariņš (Jaunā Vienotība) (-1 since last week): According to an extremely unscientific "Google News" search, Kariņš gave exactly one interview in the last week, which was enough to remind us that he is still alive.
  8. Roberts Zīle (Nacionālā apvienība) (-2 since last week): According to that same Google News search methodology, Zīle gave exactly zero. He is, however, also still alive.
  9. Vjačeslavs Dombrovskis (Saskaņa) (no change since last week): At least he appeared on TV!
That's all for now. Check back next week for our updated power rankings of the candidates as well as the latest news regarding the discussions. Also, make sure to "like" us on Facebook for important top "stories of the day" each evening, and press "subscribe" at the top of this page for more of these guides to different Latvian issues as well as weekly news analyses.


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