It’s been a good week for Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, and one that bears consideration as the first anniversary of his premiership approaches.
Let’s start at the end of the week when Domby played host to his Estonian and Lithuanian counterparts at the rather impressive Mezotne Palace near Bauska. Their joint press conference featured all the expected verbiage about economic recovery, joint strategies and close cooperation but it was notale that both Andrus Ansip and Andrius Kubilius went out of their way to praise their host.
Dombrovskis had become “a good friend and a real leader for Latvia” Kubilius said, while Ansip acknowledged that his neighbour to the south had done a painful but much-needed job of pushing through spending cuts even more draconian than his own.
With admirable modesty, Domby didn’t milk the praise and even indulged his guests when they lapsed into their favourite topics. Kubilius embarked on a familiar riff about a vague idea of “vision” and Ansip was even allowed to re-start the press conference after it had been declared closed once he realised he’d forgotten to mention Estonia getting the euro in 2011.
But Dombrovskis deserved his colleagues’ praise. Twenty-four hours earlier he carried the day in a crucial vote at the Latvian parliament. In a morning session that was uncharacteristically fascinating and brief, Dombrovskis cleverly outmanoeuvred his troublesome coalition partners in the People’s Party.
When the two votes took place – which effectively would decide whether Latvia could continue to get international loans and whether Einars Repse could continue as Finance Minister – the People’s Party voted against the government.
But as a result of what must have been some intense dealmaking behind closed doors, the opposition LPP/LC supported the government and in an even more unexpected twist the usually vehemently opposed Saskanas Centrs didn’t register their votes, giving Domby and Co a healthy majority of 54 to 22.
In a few seconds the political landscape was transformed. The international lenders were placated as the margin of victory made it look as if some broad consensus had been achieved. LPP/LC and Saskanas Centrs were made to look responsible and statesmanlike, setting aside their objections for the greater good (though expect them to be given freer reign in their joint administration of Riga city council from now on).
Just as importantly, the People’s Party have been unambiguously outed as opportunistic turncoats and have won the unique distinction of being simultaneously the biggest party in government AND the biggest party in opposition.
They also allowed themselves to be totally outplayed by Dombrovskis, which must be galling for a party that likes to think of itself as political professionals.
The year may have been a tough one for Domby – the first suggestions of grey hair have crept in at his temples – but despite constant predictions of imminent doom and having to juggle some highly unpredictable characters and situations, he should reach his anniversary as PM as a much more formidable and resilient figure than anyone expected.