«For more than ten years I’ve felt the influence of Aivars Lembergs’ network in politics. I’ve noticed a major difference between the government that was led by Laimdota Straujuma and the one led by Māris Kučinskis. The latter having affected matters of media – basically Kučinskis’ government has done everything it could to block all positive movements on the highest political level if only because this positive movement was not desirable for Lembergs’ policy. It seems to me all people involved in politics are aware that Lembergs’ influence is undeniable. We can discuss the level and tendencies – whether declining or increasing. One thing is clear – the influence is still there,» said Progressive party’s board chairman Roberts Putnis in an interview to BNN.
«Interests of organized crime may be one of the factors that play a role in this government’s formation»
Putnis says that there are currently 32 votes in the Saeima with a very clear position – no cooperation with the Union of Greens and Farmers. «Parties with a smaller number of votes and seats in the parliament should respect that,» he said.
He reminds that slogans of political campaigns during the 13th Saeima elections were in line with the ideology of «putting an end to» Latvia’s current form of governance. Progressive party, for example, stands in favour of ending the «scheming era».
«It is well known that at the beginning of 2000 foreign countries pointed their fingers towards Latvia – the World Bank and European institutions said state capture is the main reason why Latvia is where it is development-wise. Both economically and development-wise we are behind Estonia. Perhaps this is normal but we are also behind Lithuania.»
Putnis believes the currently ongoing government formation talks show signs of influence coming from organized crime on Latvia’s policy. «This is clear when looking at all the developments in the State Revenue Service,» comments Putnis.
He reminds that the chief of Economic Police had performed personal estimates of the volume of unpaid VAT in Latvia. According to his estimates, the amount reaches EUR 600 million. This amount is generally lost to all kinds of VAT fraud schemes. «We’ve lacked political – UGF’s government truly could have put a stop to this,» comments Putnis.
He believes criticism to NCP – that this party should not take over Finance Ministry because it means control over Finance Police – was unjustified from «old» politicians. «Likely people who complain [about Finance Police control] know what is going on, so they do not want new people there.»
Putnis believes there should be more political support for state law enforcement institutions to work efficiently and combat organized crime. He believes this matter is not beneficial for old political parties. «This is why the interests of organized crime may be one of the factors that play a major role in the government formation process,» says the politician.
«It was personally very sad for me to see UGF at the helm during celebration of Latvia’s centenary»
Putnis believes society has made it clear they want to see new governance in Latvia. «Parties that form this old policy – both in terms of members and political views – were very harshly punished by voters in 13th Saeima elections.»
When asked about the difficulties with government formation, the politician mentioned that many countries experience problems with this, even Sweden, whose democratic system has always been stable. At the same time, he says that this particular stage of talks is an exception in Latvia’s history even considering that something like this is nothing special internationally speaking. «The problem is that it outlines negative political responsibility, because elected people have not done much to form a government even though it was entirely possible,» says Putnis, adding that «it was personally very sad for me to see UGF at the helm during celebration of Latvia’s centenary».
Putnis believes political forces that received the least support from voters should be the last to decide on government formation.
It feels as though parties have to keep Lembergs’ scholars network on life support now that power is slipping from them
As for government formation talks, Putnis says he feels disappointed. «Multiple parties that have entered the Saeima were given a very clear mandate – to work actively on creating a functional government and implement at least some of what was promised. Matters of inequality and poverty are the primary ones. The matter of rule of law is also important to a number of parties. Unfortunately, nothing of the aforementioned seems to change, and there is no logical explanation, because if we look at the elected parties, we will see no dramatic differences that would impede formation of a coalition with 66 votes.»
Putnis stresses that Latvijas Attīstība, which looks in favour of cooperating with UGF while other parties are strongly against, is definitely not a party that is new to Latvia’s political arena. «This party does not differ greatly from what I’ve described here and the type of party that has performed an act of state capture.»
He reminds that Progressive party, Latvijas Attīstībai and Kustība Par! party held talks on possible cooperation before elections. However, Progressive party failed to find common ground with LA.
According to Putnis, LA benefited the most from creating Atīstībai/Par! «Many people want to see a liberal party, and these people received support from the academic environment. LA benefited from this,» he says. «LA’s strategy has fully paid off if we look, for example, at the head of the Budget Committee Mārtiņš Bondars and the people elected there. LA has secured strong positions largely thanks to support from Kustība Par!»
It should be said, however, that stood against oligarchs; at one point it included Andrejs Judins, who tirelessly supported combating influence of oligarchs.
«Although at first Kustība Par! fought for the new policy by joining forces with LA, the result of this partnership was a party with entirely new values. Voters could compare both parties, make conclusions and compare previously made promises,» says Putnis.
He adds that he is surprised by the ongoing behaviour exhibited by AP. «Now it seems AP stands next to the National Alliance ‘All for Latvia’-‘For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK’ and claims New Conservative party is too radical and conservative. Purely politically speaking, NA is nationally far more conservative than NCP on all positions. This is ever so lightly odd. I had expected smarter PR from politicians.»
«It seems that old parties are out of breath, and it feels as though parties have to keep Lembergs’ scholars network on life support now that power is slipping from them. Additionally, there are a number of systematic figures and networks that are interested in maintaining ties between business and state administration. With such a radical change in government and only some political players from the previous system remaining it means certain risks for the established system. This, I believe, is what we can clearly see in this process,» says Putnis.
The leader of Progressive party says New Unity consists more of the ‘old’ Unity than ‘new’. With eight seats, Putnis says the party can play on both political fronts. «Currently it seems the party has some conflicts on the inside – the party cannot choose which path it should take.» He adds that both NU and UGF have been applied with the largest penalties from voters. The politician believes the two parties should be the last to participate in government formation talks. «Nevertheless, I see NU could form a government with or without UGF.»
Latvia’s prime minister could have unprecedented functions – he could serve just as a moderator
According to Putnis, there is no scenario at the moment that would allow forming a new government from currently available people.
«There should be a person with a level of trust and authority across all political spectrum. I believe it should be someone not from any of those parties. I don’t have a specific proposal, but purely mechanically we can see from the culture and mutual trust in political talks – none of the parties feel safe about their interests if any party from the standing coalition ends get its own prime minister.»
Latvia could see never-before seen prime minister functions: serving as a moderator or mediator, but not leader, said Putnis. «This is entirely possible with a fractured Saeima. I think no one has considered such a scenario, but organization-wise I see no other scenario.»
On Monday, 26 November, Latvian President Raimonds Vējonis decided to entrust formation of the new government to KPV LV prime minister candidate Aldis Gobzems. This fact was still unknown at the time of this interview.
«We’ve seen the big money slip away»
When asked why Lembergs’ influence is still felt in Latvia’s politics, Putnis claims a lot of effort was put into forming «addiction ties» over the years.
According to him, political parties that had used compromises in relation to short-term financing solutions have become addicted in the long run. «You never know what that other side has on you and how it can blackmail you in the future. Such ties have to be severed. This is why it is important to cease UGF’s influence in the government by leaving them in the opposition. This will help reduce this party’s influence for two to four years, letting people break free from them.»
«Political party financing is traditionally a big problem in Latvia. Parties remain dependent on major financiers. Not all of them, of course, but it remains a major problem. We, Progressive party, have experienced as much – seeing big money slip away. But it is a long-term choice. You lose the battle, but hopefully win the war.»
Putnis believes in Lembergs’ case his political activities were mostly aimed at avoiding prison these past ten years. «This is a simple way to put it.» Putnis believes Lembergs has no political vision. «What idea does Lembergs represent in Latvia?» Putnis rhetorically asks.
As for the reasons why Progressive party failed to enter the Saeima, Putnis mentioned several. «One of them is that we failed to attract finances. Thirty thousand for the campaign, and this is legally registered money without corruptive funding, was too little when compared to what other parties had at their disposal.»
Also Putnis believes his party failed to attract Russian-speaking residents who oppose nationalistic opinions and would rather see themselves represented in a more open political party. He believes one strategic mistake was the failure of uniting with Kustība Par! without LA.
«Ir magazine made a video prior to elections, showing that it is better to vote for parties with ratings above 5%. I believe this was an undemocratic and unfair move. I think we were the only party that suffered because of that if we consider the audience of Ir magazine. Those were a couple of percent we lost, because there were many doubting voters who picked Progressive as an alternative».