Cracked and Rusted Unity getting a new paint job

Raivis Vilūns

PHOTO: Erakogu

2016 hasn’t been kind for one of the leading government parties in Latvia - Unity who. is now becoming a metaphor for shooting oneself in the foot. The party in less than one year has lost support, lost one seat in government, lost prime minister chair and the trust of people who voted for Unity in 2014.

In May Unity approval rating where in the all time lowest point - 5,4%, for comparison in 2014 elections they got more than 21% and held the Prime Minister chair. Now thanks to the discord inside the party and ambitions of now former party's leader Solvita Aboltina, Unity has a serious work to regain even part of the lost influence.

The Unity was born from three different parties in 2010 when they ran for the parliament and won by getting 33 out of 100 seats. Valdis Dombrovskis from Unity was the Prime Minister who steered Latvia through the toughest part of the financial crisis. Hard decisions were made, but Unity remained as one of the top parties. In 2014 half a year before the elections Dombrovskis resigned and Laimdota Straujuma also from the Unity took over the Prime Minister seat. In the following elections Unity received 23 seats and once again was the government forming party - Straujuma remained the Prime Minister.

The party leader Solvita Āboltiņa can be classified as an iron lady wit iron will, her strong and sometimes forceful way of handling things make her a rare occurrence in Latvian politics as most of our representatives are quite mild mannered. As the government did fine, and Latvia and Unity rode the political satisfaction wawe of a successfully led EU presidency, nothing signaled and called for a need of a new government. Well only except for the ambitions, as some journalists note, of the Unity own leader - Aboltiņa.

In the fall of 2015 the talks of government collapse increased, there were some issues with getting an investor for AirBaltic that forced the minister of transportation Anrijs Matīss (Unity) to resign, but it was far from the biggest scandals in government and it got solved rather swiftly. But in december Straujuma resigned. She didn’t have a solid reason, just some talk about «government needing new energy».

Since there wasn’t any actual reason for resignation, the general unofficial fact is that Āboltiņa in a bid to become Prime Minister toppled her own party lead government. But alas she didn’t become the Prime Minister for few different reasons, of with the main reason were that the so called «liberal wing» of the party disapproved of her methods and publicly showed support for Greens and Farmers parliamentarian Māris Kučinskis, who then later in february of 2016 became the Prime Minister. 

Journalists were amused, voters were baffled, political analysts started to count all the mistakes. 

In few months time the party approval ratings dropped to 6%.

The partial solution was found in the search for the new leader of the party, since Aboltiņa possibly discouraged by the fallout from government changes and the pressure from the inside of the party stated that she won’t run for leader's seat.

The new possible leaders were found in Martiņš Smiltens, a relatively young politician with some experience, and in the older more experienced politician and former European Commissioner - Andris Piebalgs. The Unity even made series of public debates all around Latvia were Smiltens and Piebalgs discussed their vision on the future of Unity. It all ended last Saturday when Piebalgs was elected as the new leader.

Although as journalists note Piebalgs would not be easily controlled by Āboltiņa, it’s worth to note, that she got a seat in the board as well.

There is a chance that all this was just a nice and public «paint-job» for the parties rusted interior and exterior, and the split of liberal wing is still coming. The first test for the «repainted» Unity will be next year in the municipality elections.

Unity seats in the last three parliaments:

10th Saeima (2010) - 33 seats

Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis (Unity) from 3.11.2010 to 24.10.2011

11th Saeima (2011) - 20 seats

Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis (Unity) from 25.10.2011 to 22.01.2014,

Laimdota Straujuma (Unity) from 22.01.2014 to 4.11.2014

12th Saeima (2014) - 23 seats

Prime minister Laimdota Straujuma (Unity) from 4.11.2014 to 11.02.2016

Prime minister Māris Kučinskis (Greens and Farmers Union) from 11.02.2016