If I miss the Number 10 tram to work in the morning, I have the luxury of waiting in the rain for another one 20 minutes later. But elections come around rather less frequently and I am starting to get the feeling that the wait for the next one is going to be an extremely long one.
On October 3rd it all seemed simple. The people had spoken – and spoken clearly. They backed Dombrovskis’ Unity bloc and gave reasonable backing to Harmony Centre and ZZS. They categorically rejected the oligarchic PLL, and the ultranationalsts were left with less than 8% of the vote – normal for a European nation.
The momentum was with Dombrovskis. He had grown in stature and assurance, and even some of his political opponents seemed to acknowledge the fact, admitting that he had the mandate and no longer trying to talk over him in TV debates. He had shown what he could do as a stop-gap premier and was ready to move to the next level surrounded by a government of his choosing.
Less than three weeks later, that has all changed. Instead of acting with boldness and confidence to put together the coalition he wanted, Dombrovskis and the other leaders within the Unity bloc (whose “unity” is questionable) look like they are playing hide-and-seek with potential partners. First it was to be a coalition of 3 parties, then 4, then 2…
Dombrovskis isn’t solely to blame. Instead of using each other as excuses not to join the coalition, either the Nationalist Alliance and Harmony Centre should have seized the initiative by showing how keen the were to contribute to a constructive coalition. The smart move would have been to call each others’ bluff and see who would really walk away from a “government of national unity” first.
Given the unpredictable nature of Visu Latvijai! who started throwing their weight around as soon as they were elected, we could easily have seen a situation where the “disloyal” Harmony Centre provided the stability they could not.
The voters who delivered their verdict have been forgotten as the party machines do their shady deals behind closed doors.
In most countries, new governments get a chance to enjoy a “honeymoon period” when they know they retain the goodwill of the electorate and can push through important legislation quickly. It rarely lasts long but does at least give some sense of achievement and focus to the first weeks. In Latvia that could have been the 2011 budget – but that will now looks like it will be a very messy dogfight that will place huge strains on the new government from the beginning.
At times it is as if the month-long hiatus between the general election and the accession of a new government is specifically designed to rob any incoming government of the momentum it might have gained at the polls.
The great tragedy is that what should have been a game-changing election for Latvia is now starting to look like all the others, with parties breaking into all sorts of petty squabbles and predicting that the government will last a matter of months.
That’s the trouble with the Number 10 tram – the next one will certainly come along, but there is no guarantee there will be room to climb aboard.