Sunday, November 19, 2006

Republic of Latvia - 88

From the song we were singing on this Independence Day in the Latvian Centre in Toronto:
Tev muzam dzivot, Latvija,
Ka saulei, kas mirdz debess klaja!
Tu - jauna zvaigzne zvaigznaja,
Kas nule uzlekusi taja.
My amateurish translation:
You forever live, Latvia
As the sun shining in the sky!
You - a new star in the constellation
Who has just risen over there.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Preliminary election results

With 970 of 1006 precints reporting:
Tautas Partija 19.52%
Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība 16.81%
Jaunais laiks 16.12%
"Saskaņas Centrs" 14.10%
LPP/LC 8.53%
"Tēvzemei un Brīvībai"/LNNK 6.80%
PCTVL 5.85%
From region-by-region results and my Excel spreadsheet, here are the projected numbers of seats in the parliament:
Tautas Partija 23
Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība 18
Jaunais laiks 18
"Saskaņas Centrs" 18
"Tēvzemei un Brīvībai"/LNNK 7
As usual, the region-by-region formula distorts the vote proportions a bit. The numbers are nearly final (98-100% vote counted) for all regions except Riga. Riga results may shift by a seat or two. The most likely possibility is Jaunais Laiks gaining one more seat, either from "Tēvzemei un Brīvībai"/LNNK or Saskanas Centrs.

The current TP+ZZS+LPP/LC coalition is currently at 51 seats (out of 100) and this total is unlikely to change. Will Kalvitis be the first prime minister (since 1990) who keeps his position after the election?

UPDATE (10:25pm): Diena has a different projection, with 1 more seat for ZZS and TB/LNNK and 2 less for Saskanas Centrs. I checked my calculations but did not find any mistake.

Meanwhile, the only uncounted votes left are from abroad (including mine!). The projected seat totals have not changed. The abroad votes are credited to Riga region and can still result in Jaunais Laiks gaining a seat there.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Final opinion poll

From Latvijas Fakti, polling conducted on October 2-4, change compared to the previous week:
Tautas Partija 13.7% (+1.1)
ZZS 12.4% (+0.1)
Jaunais Laiks 9.5% (+2.4)
PCTVL 9.4% (+0.8)
Saskanas Centrs 8.9% (+3.2)
LPP/LC 6.8% (+0.9)
TB/LNNK 5.1% (-0.7)
Social Democrats 3.9% (+0.4)

Social Democrats are almost exactly on the 5% borderline. (3.9% of all polled people corresponds to 5% of those who have chosen a party to vote for.)
Projected seats in the parliament:
Tautas Partija 20 (-2)
ZZS 18 (-3)
Jaunais Laiks 14 (+2)
PCTVL 13 (-2)
Saskanas Centrs 13 (+3)
LPP/LC 10 (unch.)
TB/LNNK 7 (-3)
Social Democrats 5 (+5)

Looks like four more years of divided parliament, with at least three different government coalitions in this time. As it has been since the independence.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Opinion piece in Monday's Diena

Monday's Diena newspaper had an opinion article by Peteris Strautins in which he expresses worries similar to my Saturday's post, but in much more outspoken form. The article is now in the subscription-only archive but here is a quote:

Ja finanšu tirgi neceretu, ka Latvija parskatama nakotne tomer pievienosies eiro, mes savu riskanto ekonomikas raditaju del jau sen butu piedzivojuši kapitala begšanu. Virkne Latvijas ekonomikas arejo indikatoru ir krietni sliktaki neka Austrumazijas valstis pirms 1997.gada lielas finanšu krizes. Krizes skartajas valstis tekoša konta deficits videji bija 5% no IK, ka jau teikts, Latvija tas patlaban ir 18%. Varbut psihologisko luzumu radis 20% robežas parsniegšana?

If financial markets did not hope that Latvia would join euro in foreseeable future, we would have experienced capital flight long ago, due to our risky economy. Several of Latvia's external economic indicators are much worse than in East Asian countries before the big financial crisis of 1997. In the affected countries, the current account deficit before the crisis was, on average, 5% of GDP. As I already said, it's now 18% in Latvia. Maybe, there will be a psychological breakpoint after the deficit exceeds 20%?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The world is not very interested

about next week's Latvian parliamentary election. Only 8 foreign journalists have been accredited by Central Election Committee so far.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Latvia's economy: good news and bad news

Some economic numbers. First, Latvian economy grew 12.4% in the first half of 2006 (compared to the first half of 2005). This makes Latvia one of fastest-growing economies in the world and, according to International Monetary Fund (IMF), Latvia no longer has the lowest income in the EU. Now, Poland is the last and Latvia is second to last.

The growing economy has generated more money for the Latvian government and the ongoing election campaign is full of promises to use this money to increase salaries, retirement benefits and to reduce taxes, so that everyone benefits.

The Bank of Latvia is, however, warning of "unwelcome macroeconomic imbalances". And today's "Diena" has two one-paragraph stories (hidden on page 3) which make me think that this warning is a major understatement. First, according to Bank of Latvia, the foreign debt of Latvia has reached 10.583 billion lats (about 21 billion US $). That's about 110% of Latvia's annual economic output (GDP). Most of the debt is owed by Latvian individuals and companies. Government debt is only 639 million, the remaining 9.956 billion are privately owed.

Second, Latvia keeps borrowing at an alarming rate. Latvia's current account deficit reached 17.9% of GDP in the 2nd quarter of 2006. That means that 17.9% of economic activity in Latvia was financed by money that is either borrowed or invested from abroad (mostly borrowed, I think). I am not an economist (my knowledge of economy is mainly due to reading Dienas Biznesss and other financial newspapers) but these numbers look scary to me. There is no way how foreign banks will keep lending money to Latvia at this rate. Bank of Latvia website has an article which compares the present Latvia to Czech Republic which had a three-year economic slowdown in late 1990s, after the current account deficit reaching 7% of GDP in 1997. Latvia's deficit is already much larger than that, which suggests that the consequences may be more severe as well. (Again, I am not an economist, this is mainly my numerical common sense considerations.)

I am trying to follow the ongoing crisis in Hungary, to see if there are any analogies. The Hungarian prime minister just admitted that he has been "lying about economy day and night for past two years" to get reelected and announced an unprecedented austerity program, with salary cuts and massive layoffs of government employees. I talked to a Hungarian colleague (who currently lives outside Hungary) yesterday. He was unhappy and told me about Socialist vs. Fidesz political dynamics of Hungary. I was, however, more interested in the causes of economic troubles rather than the current political crisis and he was not able to tell much about that. It is also difficult to find good sources about the Hungarian situation on the web. (Again, it's because I am more interested in the economic analysis, rather than pictures of street riots.)

My main question is: what does this all mean for Latvia? Edward Hugh, an economist and one of bloggers at the Fistful of Euros, comments: "Baltic states look to be problematic but not today and tomorrow". One can either be worried by the first part or consoled by the second part. I am more in the first category but I hope I am wrong...

Friday, September 29, 2006

Two new opinion polls

Latvijas Fakti poll from September 23 to 26 (the number in brackets is the change compared to last week):
Tautas Partija 12.6% (-0.7%)
ZZS 12.3% (+0.2%)
PCTVL 8.8% (-0.4%)
Jaunais Laiks 7.1% (-1.0%)
LPP/LC 5.9% (-0.4%)
TB/LNNK 5.8% (unch.)
Saskanas Centrs 5.7% (unch.)
Social Democrats 3.5% (+0.2%)

Projected seats in the parliament:
Tautas Partija 22 (unch.)
ZZS 21 (+1)
PCTVL 15 (unch.)
Jaunais Laiks 12 (-3)
LPP/LC 10 (unch.)
TB/LNNK 10 (+1)
Saskanas Centrs 10 (+1)

Jaunais Laiks decline is now completely confirmed. And a poll by the competing company, SKDS. (Unofficial numbers, leaked to media. Have nonsense allegations by Dzimtene had so much effect on polling companies?)
ZZS 14.8% (+3.6%)
Jaunais Laiks 9.5% (-2.5%)
Tautas Partija 9.5% (+0.6%)
PCTVL 8.1% (-1.2%)
TB/LNNK 5% (-1.0%)
Saskanas Centrs 3.8% (+1.3%)
Social Democrats 3.5% (-0.3%)
LPP/LC 3.1% (-0.4%)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Good news

During meeting with Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper said that Latvia is close to satisfying Canada's requirements for allowing Latvians to travel to Canada without a visa.

Excellent! My experience is that Canadian consulates are generally more reasonable than US consulates (this story is one example and I know others). Still, applications for Canadian visas are only processed in Warsaw (not Riga) and mailing a passport to Poland can be time-consuming. Hopefully, we will no longer have to do that in a few years. If only United States could follow Canada in this ....

UPDATE: Estonians are one step ahead. They can already travel to Canada without visa.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

New Estonian president

Toomas Hendrik Ilves has been elected as the president of Estonia. He was born in Sweden, in a family of Estonian refugees who left Estonia, escaping from the Soviet regime. He then grew up in USA and returned to Estonia in early 1990s, after it regained independence.

Close to 10% of population of Baltic states became refugees in 1944 and 1945. My father's family, small farmers from Central Latvia, nearly left the country as well, but they changed their mind a few hours before boarding a ship for Sweden. Some of the former refugees and their children came back in 1990s and some of them are very influential in the local politics. All three of the current Baltic presidents (Ilves, Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Valdas Adamkus) are former refugees.

I expect Ilves will be a very good president for Estonia. In Estonian and Latvian political system, the president's main role is to represent the country abroad. (The domestic political power belongs to the prime minister.) After living abroad for 40 years, Ilves knows the world outside Estonia very well. And he did well as the minister of foreign affairs for Estonia in 1990s. During the last years, Vaira Vike-Freiberga was the most internationally active president in the Baltic states and the unofficial spokesperson for the region. In a few months, this role will likely pass to Ilves. (Of course, it depends on whom the Latvians elect as Vike-Freiberga's successor. But how many of our candidates can match Ilves?)

Estonia has a fairly unusual (read: bizarre) election system. First, the parliament votes. If a candidate gets a 2/3 supermajority in the parliament, he/she is elected. (That has never happened so far.) Otherwise, the election goes to the Electoral College, which is composed of all the members of parliament and one representative from each municipal government. (Yes, Tallinn (population 400,000) and Ruhnu (known in Latvian as Ronu sala, population less than 100) both have one representative each. As a result, Electoral College is completely controlled by rural Estonia.)

This system was put in place in early 1990s. I was told that it was designed to prevent a specific person, the ex-communist Arnold Ruutel, from winning the presidency. The designers of the system thought that Ruutel could win a majority in the parliament but not in the Electoral College. That was a miscalculation. In 2001, Ruutel won the Electoral College. (It's amusing to watch how those tricks with electoral system can backfire... Ruutel might have lost a simple majority vote in the parliament in 2001.)

The election went to the Electoral College this time, as well. For a while, Estonian media were trying to guess which members of College will vote which way. Both Ilves and Ruutel camps claimed they had a majority of the Electoral College on their side. At the end, Ilves won, 174-162.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

September opinion poll

My previous post on August opinion poll attracted some interesting comments from a professional survey statistician. Briefly, 9.5% in an opinion poll which polls 1000 people corresponds to a confidence interval [7.7%, 11.3%]. As a result, 1.3% change in Jaunais Laiks rating (from 10.8% in July to 9.5% in August) is not statistically significant to make any conclusions, although 2.2% drop from June to August might have been significant enough.

Meanwhile, Latvijas Fakti have released their September poll. Jaunais Laiks has dropped a little bit more, which confirms that the drop in August poll was not a statistical error. The numbers are:
Tautas Partija 13.3% (+3.5%)
ZZS 12.1% (+0.6%)
PCTVL 9.2% (-1.2%)
Jaunais Laiks 9.2% (-0.3%)
LPP/LC 6.3% (+1.2%)
TB/LNNK 5.8% (-0.8%)
Saskanas Centrs 5.7% (+1.0%)
Social Democrats 3.3% (-0.5%)

Projected seats in the parliament:
Tautas Partija 22 (+6)
ZZS 20 (+1)
PCTVL 15 (-2)
Jaunais Laiks 15 (unchanged)
LPP/LC 10 (+2)
TB/LNNK 9 (-2)
Saskanas Centrs 9 (+1)
Social Democrats 0 (-6)

The change is compared to August poll.

For the first time, the current minority government (TP+ZZS+LPP/LC) is projected to win more than a half of seats (52 out of 100), contrary to the Eastern European trend of voting out the government at every election. But I still think that "let's vote this corrupt government out" mood is going to prevail, once again. But who is going to benefit from it? Jaunais Laiks is no longer the anti-corruption outsider party and Social Democrats have their share of scandals from 2001-2005 Riga city government. Senior Citizen Party? They are still at 1.4% in the opinion poll but who knows...

Saturday, September 16, 2006

It's official:Vaira Vike-Freiberga is running for UN Secretary General

Yesterday, the three Baltic nations nominated Vaira Vike-Freiberga for the UN Secretary General. She has been discussed as a candidate since at least March. Now, it's official. The biggest problem for her might be Russia's veto power. Russian media have already characterized Vike-Freiberga as "completely unacceptable" to Russia (because of her outspoken advocacy of Latvian interests, which are often in conflict with what Russia wants).

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Latvian presidency candidates

No later than in June 2007, Latvia will elect its new president. The constitution does not allow our current president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, to run for another term and, no matter how much Latvians value Vike-Freiberga, we will not change the constitution for her. Today, New Era party announced Sandra Kalniete as its candidate for the next president. Officially, she is the first candidate.

Unofficially, 6-7 other candidates are discussed. Last week, I read an interview by Martins Bondars, a long-time aide to Vaira Vike-Freiberga. The Latvian president is elected by the parliament and the behind-the-scenes consultations about candidates are going on. The 7 leading candidates mentioned by Bondars are:
  • Sandra Kalniete (1953) - one of leaders of Latvian independence movement in late 1980s, then embassador to several countries, then the minister for foreign affairs from 2002 to 2004.
  • Andris Piebalgs (1957) - a slightly lower-profile member of the independence movement who also became an embassador and is now the Energy Commisionar for the European Commision.
  • Ojars Kalnins (1949) - Latvian American activist, Latvia's embassador to US from 1993 to 1999, now leads the Latvian Institute, an organization devoted to promoting Latvia's image abroad. (Curious fact: the previous head of Latvian Institute was Vaira Vike-Freiberga, prior to her being elected as the president.)
  • Ivars Lacis (1949) - professor of physics, the current rector (chancellor) of University of Latvia.
  • Artis Pabriks (1966) - originally political scientist with Ph.D. from University of Aarhus (Denmark), currently the minister of foreign affairs of Latvia.
  • Janis Jurkans (1946) - the first minister of foreign affairs for Latvia. Has recently claimed that he plans to quit politics.
  • Zaneta Ozolina (1957) - political scientist, aide to Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

The shortlist is of surprisingly high quality (compared to say, candidates nominated by various parties in 1999). I would be happy with any of the first five candidates. I would not like to have Jurkans as the president, though, despite myself having voted for him in parliamentary election once. I know nearly nothing about Ozolina.

Sandra Kalniete belongs to Jaunais Laiks (New Era) party. Artis Pabriks belongs to Tautas Partija (People's Party). Janis Jurkans belongs (or used to belong) to Tautas Saskanas Partija (People's Harmony party). The rest of candidates are non-partisan and have no obvious links to a particular political party. In Latvian politics, that may actually be an advantage. If the next parliament is as fractured as this one, the candidate will need support from at least 3 different parties to win. And many political parties may find it easier to support a neutral candidate than someone from another party. (Particularly, if it's a party they are not on good terms with. Sandra Kalniete may have hurt her chances by joining New Era a few months ago.) That is how Vaira Vike-Freiberga was elected in 1999. Almost no one was voting for another party's candidate and then she emerged as a neutral figure who could draw support from 3 parties.

August opinion poll comments

First, the numbers are unofficial. Latvijas Fakti decided not to release them. This has some bizarre pre-history. A few weeks ago, Dzimtene party claimed that their true popularity is about 10 times higher than in Latvijas Fakti polls (11% instead of 1.2%) and asked the Latvian anti-corruption office to investigate Latvijas Fakti. Dzimtene is a moderately obscure party which recently attracted attention by nominating Vadim Putin (who has similar name but is not related to Russian president Vladimir Putin) as a candidate to Latvian parliament. That smelled like a publicity stunt and Dzimtene's claim about opinions polls being wrong has a similar smell. Some of people involved in Dzimtene have a history of such stunts and there is nothing surprising here. Nothing, except for the reaction of Latvijas Fakti. They said they are tired of people questioning their polls and decided not to release the most recent poll. (I wonder if that means that some more influential party is unhappy as well... Dzimtene is too obscure to merit such strong reaction.) Their decision was a pity because I respect Latvijas Fakti and their numbers. But, a few days later, newspapers got hold of the numbers and, now, everyone knows them.

Second, the big story is Jaunais Laiks (New Era) falling from the first place in July to the fourth place in August. Neatkariga Rita Avize (NRA), a newspaper hostile to New Era, credits the fall to their publication of transcripts of phone conversations between a businessmen who was being investigated by the tax service and senior New Era members. The businessmen was seeking for a help against the investigation and he was getting somewhat symphatetic response from New Era people. New Era Party has the same opinion about the reasons why they fall to the fourth place in the opinion poll, except that they call it as a "smear campaign by NRA".

I think they both may be reading too much into a small change in polls. New Era numbers have declined only by 1.3%. For a poll of 1000 people, that's 13 people and the probability of polling company accidentially choosing 13 less supporters of New Era this time is not the small. According to a calculation by this blogger, the probability of such event is 5-10%, meaning that New Era numbers would get underestimated by 1.3% once every 10-20 months. As long as there isn't another opinion poll confirming the change, it may just be random noise in data.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

August opinion poll

From Latvijas Fakti polling agency, via today's Diena newspaper.

ZZS 11.5% (+1.1%)
PCTVL 10.4% (unch.)
Tautas Partija 9.8% (+0.9%)
Jaunais Laiks 9.5% (-1.3%)
TB/LNNK 6.6% (-1.4%)
LPP/LC 4.9% (-0.2%)
Saskanas Centrs 4.7% (-0.6%)
Social Democrats 3.8% (+0.7%)

Projected seats in the parliament:
ZZS 19 (+2)
PCTVL 17 (-1)
Tautas Partija 16 (+1)
Jaunais Laiks 15 (-4)
TB/LNNK 11 (-3)
LPP/LC 8 (unch.)
Saskanas Centrs 8 (-1)
Social Democrats 6 (+6)

The previous poll is here. There are some interesting events surrounding the current poll (the numbers are unofficial because the polling company refused to release them!). More on that in a few days.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

US visa problem: completely outrageous

Today's most popular story from the TVNET news (by the number of comments it received): US visa interview ends with humiliating denial.

A music teacher from Talsi and four of her students were invited to give a sequence of concerts in US, to Latvian-American communities. On June 28, they went to US embassy in Riga for visa interviews. All of them were denied visas. The most outrageous aspect is that one of the students was not even asked a single question! The consular official just took her fingerprints, looked at her application form and denied the visa!

Supposedly, the official was concerned about them not returning to Latvia after their visit. This is a complete nonsense. Latvian American organizations have invited speakers and arts performers from Latvia many times over the last 15 years and I do not know of any instances when a person invited by a major Latvian American organization has not returned to Latvia.

Now, this is not the only case when a Latvian has been denied a US visa without a good reason. I know other cases, both among my friends (and friends of friends) and among people about whom I would read in newspapers. (One newspaper story from 4 years ago: Martins Karsums, the top junior hockey star in Latvia was denied visa when he wanted to play in a junior team in US. Luckily, that did not hurt his hockey career too much and he was still drafted by NHL in 2005.) What makes this case special (specially outrageous, that is) is the official denying visa without asking a single question. Does he think he can read minds? Or does he deny applications based on his mood?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

July opinion poll

From "Latvijas fakti". The headline: The popularity of all [major] parties slightly down. The numbers (and the change compared to June opinion poll):

Jaunais laiks 10.8% (-0.9%)
PCTVL 10.4% (-0.2%)
ZZS 9.8% (-0.9%)
Tautas Partija 9% (-1.1%)
TB/LNNK 8% (-0.2%)
Saskanas Centrs 5.3% (-0.5%)
LC/LPP 5.1% (-0.4%)

This translates to the following numbers of seats in parliament:
Jaunais laiks 19 (unchanged)
PCTVL 18 (+1)
ZZS 17 (unchanged)
Tautas Partija 15 (-1)
TB/LNNK 14 (+1)
Saskanas Centrs 9 (unchanged)
LC/LPP 8 (-1)

Almost nothing has changed.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Why do the journalists like the negative headlines so much?

Today's headline from Delfi:

Last year, the number of suicides in Latvia exceeded the number of deaths in traffic accidents

Scary, isn't it? I looked up the actual report by Central Statistics Office. Compared to five years ago, the number of suicides in Latvia has declined by 27% and the number of deaths in traffic accidents has declined by 30%.

Why do the journalists like the negative headlines so much?

UPDATE: I posted this and realized that both of my previous posts were about corruption. Well, maybe this weblogger also favors negative topics.


Yesterday, I saw two news stories on Aivars Lembergs, the mayor of Ventspils:

Politics section: Union of Farmers and Greens nominates Lembergs as their candidate for Prime Minister
Crime section: Prosecutor's office charges Aivars Lembergs with bribery and money laundering

Lembergs has been banned from leaving Latvia without prosecutor's permission and may have to pay a bail of 1 million lats (1.4 million euros). It's a huge bail but Lembergs' personal wealth is in tens of millions of lats.

The timing of events is quite interesting. Most of the charges are about events that took place from 1993 to 1995. Prosecutors were not in a hurry to charge Lembergs while he was a mayor of a mid-size town. But, with Lembergs having political ambitions on a national level and election coming up in 2.5 months, things changed and old allegations are now prosecuted vigorously.

Lembergs is dismissing the charges as politically motivated. Well, the charges may not be politically motivated but the decision to bring them up now (after not trying to charge him in previous 10 years) probably is.

"Everyone investigating everyone on corruption charges" remains the main theme for October 2006 elections.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

New Era?

Jaunais Laiks (New Era Party) emerged in 2002, on a promise of fighting corruption. After 2002 election, New Era Party leader Einars Repse became the prime minister of Latvia. His coalition government only lasted for slightly more than a year but the New Era Party now leads municipal governments in several cities, including Riga.

This week, I saw two news stories on what the New Era Party has become:

The first story reveals interesting coincidences between decisions by national and city governments and large donations to the New Era Party. One example. "Ionica" company signs a 70,000 lat (100,000 euro) contract with city of Riga (whose mayor, Aigars Aksenoks belongs to the New Era Party) for creating an open-air skating rink. On the same day, the owner of the company donates 9,960 lats to the New Era Party. The article from "Diena" newspaper reveals several other stories similar to this one.

The second story involves the city government of Jurmala, a sea-side resort town. The city is lead by mayor Inese Aizstrauta who used to belong to New Era Party, until she was expelled from it a few days ago. The conflict between her and the party was over the city development plan which determines which parts of the city are open to new construction. Many parts of Jurmala are fairly prestigious places to live. Free land is scarce and a lot of it is protected for enviromental reasons. As a result, permits to build new buildings can be very valuable.

According to Aizstrauta, she was pressured by Dans Titavs (an influential New Era member who used to be one of two aides to New Era's prime minister Repse) to allow several construction projects to go ahead. Aizstrauta-lead city council voted for the development plan without Titavs-supported projects. In a few days, New Era party declared that the development plan was corrupt and expelled Aizstrauta, together with two other New Era city council members, from the party.

Meet the New Era. Same as Old Era?

Aizstrauta says that she joined the party hoping to change Latvia for better. But later, she discovered that there is "another New Era" of people who abuse popular trust in selfish interests. Besides Titavs, she named party's secretary-general Edgars Jaunups as one of those people.

For myself, I will be even more skeptical of political parties that promise an end to "politics as usual".

Sunday, July 02, 2006

June opinion poll

According to Latvijas Fakti:

Jaunais laiks 11.7% (+1%)
ZZS 10.7% (+0.2%)
PCTVL 10.6% (+0.9%)
TP 10.1% (-0.2%)
TB/LNNK 8.2% (+0.3%)
Saskanas centrs 5.8% (+0.7%)
LC/LPP 5.5% (+1.7%)
Social Democrats 3.5% (+0.1%)

This translates to the following number of seats in the parliament:
Jaunais laiks 19
ZZS 17
TP 16
Saskanas Centrs 9

Social Democrats are slightly short of 5% threshold. (Since the poll includes people who are undecided or will skip the election, 3.5% actually means 4.9% of those who have decided to vote for one of parties.)

Last month's poll is here.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Having a Latvian name may be a problem

...if running for public office in Los Angeles. Judge's Loss Stuns Experts: Election system and the jurist's Latvian name are cited is the headline in today's LA Times.

Dzintra Janavs, who has been a judge for 20 years, lost reelection to Lynn Diane Olson, a bagel store owner who almost has not practiced law in last 10 years. Janavs was rated "exceptionally well qualified" by Los Angeles County Bar Association (one of only 2 candidates with that ranking, out of 28 candidates for 18 judgeships), Olson was rated "not qualified". The legal community is in shock. Observers speculate that some voters may have preferred a candidate with a standard English name over the one with a non-English name of unknown origin.

Ouch. I thought Los Angeles was an enlightened multicultural city in which having or not having a common English name does not matter.

H/t: Volokh Conspiracy

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Powerful speech

Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga gave a speech to US Congress today. It was truly impressive. From the speech:
Pirms piecpadsmit gadiem Latvija kopā ar kaimiņvalstim Igauniju un Lietuvu atguva savu neatkarību pēc piecdesmit Padomju okupācijas gadiem. Tas tika panākts nevardarbīgā ceļā caur Baltijas dziesmoto revolūciju, pateicoties vienīgi šo tautu drosmei un apņēmībai. Tās bija gatavas stāties pretī padomju šautenēm un tankiem tikai ar saviem neapbruņotajiem cilvēkiem un dziļu pārliecību par savām tiesībām, labi apzinoties, ka šīs šautenes un tanki viņus jebkurā brīdī var satriekt, kā tie bija satriekuši tik daudzus pirms tam.

Fifteen years ago Latvia, along with neighboring Estonia and Lithuania, regained its independence after fifty years of Soviet occupation. The Baltic Singing Revolution achieved this by non-violent means, by the sheer courage and determination of the peoples of these countries. They were ready to face Soviet guns and tanks with nothing but their unarmed bodies and the deep conviction of their rights, knowing full well that, at any moment, these guns and tanks might crush them as they had crushed so many before.
Full text: Latvian, English. There is more on Latvia and our history there. No one says it better than Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

I first read the reports in the Latvian media and wasn't impressed. Then, I found the text of the speech and it was much more impressive than the reports.

Vike-Freiberga also met with Condoleeza Rice and discussed, among other things, the possibility that Latvia may be added to countries whose citizens do not need visa to visit US. There is a pending amendment to US immigration law that would add Poland to that list. If Latvia would be there together with Poland, it would save a lot of time for Latvians travelling to US. US visa procedures can be quite time-consuming, as I have experienced myself.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

In the news

"Latvijai un Venstpilij", the local party of Ventspils city (which has been consistently getting 70%+ of vote in the city council elections) has decided to participiate in the October parliamentary election together with the nationwide Union of Farmers and Greens (Zalo un Zemnieku Savieniba). This was quite widely expected for a while. The rumors are that Aivars Lembergs, the leader of "Latvijai un Ventspilij", 16-year mayor of Ventspils (and, probably, one of 10 wealthiest people in Latvia) is thinking about becoming the Prime Minister. Officially, Lembergs is not yet confirmed as a candidate. But his name appears in the news more often then the confirmed candidates, his opponents are investigating his career at full speed and two journalists have just published a book accusing him in criminally abusing his power.

In other news, Linda Murniece of the oppositionary Jaunais Laiks (New Era) party has become the chairwoman of Anti-corruption Committee of the Latvian parliament. This may mean even more investigations for the Union of Farmers and Greens, Lembergs and everyone else around the current coalition government. "Everyone investigating everyone on corruption charges" seems to be the theme for this election campaign.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

May opinion poll

"Latvijas fakti" opinion poll for the month of May:
Jaunais Laiks 10.7%
Zalo un Zemnieku Savieniba (ZZS) 10.5%
Tautas Partija (TP) 10.3%
PCTVL 9.7%
Tevzemei un Brivibai/LNNK 7.9%
Saskanas Centrs 5.1%
Latvijas Cels/Pirma Partija 3.8%
Social Democrats 3.4%

This would translate to following numbers of seats in Parliament:
Jaunais Laiks 17
ZZS 17
TP 17
Tevzemei un Brivibai/LNNK 13
Saskanas Centrs 8
Social Democrats 6

Disclaimer: Polls are provided for entertainment purposes only. The popularity of political parties may change significantly between now and the upcoming election in October 2006.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


Today was the annual Eurovision song contest where almost every European country is represented by one song and TV viewers then select the best song by phone voting. Latvia was represented by a capella group Cosmos which finished 16th with 30 points:
8 points (representing 3rd place) from Lithuania
8 points (3rd place) from Monaco
4 point (7th place) from Ukraine
4 point (7th place) from Ireland
3 point (8th place) from Estonia
2 point (9th place) from UK
1 point (10th place) from Russia
Cosmos did not make top 10 in the other 30 participiating countries.

As usual, many viewers voted for their neighbouring countries. Latvia almost always gets votes from Lithuania and Estonia, regardless of how good the song is. Russia and Ukraine also supported us this year, probably, for the same reasons. Ireland has a large number of Latvian guest workers. Monaco's vote is the only mystery here.

Not all votes are decided by friendship between the countries. To win the contest, a song has to do well across the Europe. This year's winners, Mr. Lordi from Finland, collected 289 points from 33 countries.

Most of 600 million viewers probably complained how bad the songs were but, nevertheless, they will tune back for next year's contest. And, according to Wikipedia, NBC has purchased rights to create a similar show where songs from US states will compete one against another.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Ice Hockey World Championships 2006

2006 World Championships in Ice Hockey is almost over. Team Latvia finished 10th:

Latvia - Czech Republic 1:1
Latvia - Finland 0:5
Latvia - Slovenia 5:1
Latvia - Canada 0:11
Latvia - USA 2:4
Latvia - Norway 4:2

The results are about what one could reasonably expect. Latvia almost always finishes ahead of Norway and Slovenia and was expected to win those teams. The other 4 teams are all significantly better than Latvia. 1:1 tie against Czech Republic was a nice surprise and fuelled hopes that our team could make quarterfinals, playing on its home ice with arena full of Latvian fans. The next games dashed those hopes. 0:11 against Canada was particularly painful. Canada is expected to win Latvia in ice hockey, but not by 11 goals. (Well, a referee who was very strict against Latvian players and maybe too respectful of Canadians, was a part of that.)

The generation change on Latvian team was nearly complete this time. For long time, the team consisted of players who started playing for Latvia in 1992 (after Latvia regained independence and our team returned to international tournaments) and continued playing throughout 1990s and early 2000s. In this tournament, the only players left from that generation were Naumovs, Pantelejevs, Semjonovs and Tambijevs. 14 out of 24 players have started playing for the team in last 5 years. A few years ago, there was a bit of fear that the new generation might not be as good as the previous one. But it has turned out to be fine.

Unfortunately, the games are still hard to find on Internet. I watched part of the Latvia-Finland game on an Internet feed of a Russian TV channel. When I tried to watch the next game on the same site, the access was restricted to subscribers of the Internet provider which provided the broadcast. I would be willing to watch the games on pay-per-view basis, but there was no such option, either. One website was selling access to games of 2005 World Championships, but not 2006.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Analyzing terrorist networks

Newsweek has a a story on social network analysis:
To understand why the NSA wants to look at your phone bills, check out the work of Valdis Krebs, an expert on "social-network analysis." By mapping the connections of Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, two men that the CIA had suspected as Qaeda members back in 2000, Krebs established not only that they were dangerous—they had direct links to two people involved in the USS Cole bombing—but that someone named Muhammad Atta was at the center of their social web.
Nice to hear that a Latvian scientist is doing important work! Here is a podcast interview withValdis Krebs, from ITConversations website. I'll listen to it sometime (after I finish all the work that was due yesterday...sigh).

Saturday, May 13, 2006

First post

After commenting on weblogs of other people for a while, I've decided to start my own. This will be primarily my opinions on Latvian politics, society and sports.