Sunday, May 27, 2007

Zatlers vs. Endzins: issues and non-issues

With 4 days left until the Latvian presidential election, the candidates are finally known! It's Zatlers (nominated by governing coalition 9 days before the election) vs. Endzins (nominated by opposition 7 days before the election).

Now, Latvia is having a short but heated debate on the two candidates. In case of Zatlers, the debate has concentrated on cash "gifts" that he, as a doctor, has received from pacients (whether those gifts have been legal and whether the taxes on them have been paid). In my opinion, this issue is getting too much attention. The "gifts" from patients are common in Latvia. (They should not be but, in practice, they are...) If we disqualify candidates who have received them, we might have to disqualify every surgeon and specialty doctor in Latvia! (State revenue service, when asked to comment on Zatlers: "We are trying to check if there is any doctor in Latvia who has declared any of his gifts to the tax service...")

The coalition parties are trying to spark an equally meaningless debate on Endzins' past membership in Communist Party. Again, if the same standard is applied to every candidate for every government position, it would disqualify a large fraction of politically active people who were old enough to be admitted to Communist Party in Soviet period.

The main problem with Zatlers is not any of his gifts. The problem with him is that Zatlers was nominated by People's Party-lead coalition, which viewed as somewhat corrupt. The gifts are just an excuse to bring his candidacy down. If there was another People's Party-related candidate, the opposition would find a different excuse!

Similarly, the problem that the coalition has with Endzins is that he is too close to the opposition and too far from the coalition. So, the coalition would like to bring him down and they haven't found any other issue except for Communist Party membership.

I am a bit disappointed those "excuses" getting so much attention. Can we start talking about the real issues? When it comes to corruption, possible influence of personal business interests of Andris Skele on Latvian government decisions is a major issue. Zatlers' cash gifts are non-issue.

My previous posts on presidential election: