BALTIC BLOG: Latvia's “Manchurian Candidates”

By bne IntelliNews October 2, 2014

Mike Collier in Riga -

 

Latvia's political world is many things, but never dull. Predictions that the current campaigns to win 100 seats in the Saeima in the October 4 election would be the most boring ever have proved inaccurate with a selection of bizarre characters and incidents entertaining the electorate.

The most notable phenomenon of all has been an actor-turned-shock-jock named Artuss Kaimins. Until recently he was best known for a role in the 2011 film “Kolka Cool”, which attracted criticism from fine upstanding citizens for its depiction of young people drinking, fighting and swearing (sometimes even in Russian!).

Since then he's started his own YouTube show called Sunu Buda (Dog House), in which he invites politicians into his studio and lambasts them for an hour while offering them drinks and swearing (sometimes even in Russian!). The whole thing is filmed by cameramen wearing balaclavas to protect their anonymity.

The show has been a huge hit, particularly among the young and Latvians overseas, because Kaimins is both clever and fearless, saying things to politicians' faces that are usually only whispered. He asks if they are paedophiles and makes them swear on the bible that they do not own companies everyone knows they do own.

It makes for compelling if sometimes uncomfortable viewing and has made him one of the most recognisable faces in the country. It also meant he became political gold and he surprised everyone when he announced he would be a candidate for the newly-formed Regional Alliance party, which consists largely of dull men in suits talking about infrastructure.

At Kaimins' own insistence he was placed at the bottom of their electoral list, but owing to a quirk of the Latvian electoral system that allows voters to express particular approval of one candidate and disapproval of others, his fan base is set to catapult him to the top of the list. On October 1 he even tweeted an approving image of a ballot paper with all his other party colleagues' names crossed out.

Simply the best

The other bizarre element in the campaign comes from another new arrival, a party called Latvia From The Heart, which sounds like it should be a Tina Turner live album.

Leader Inguna Sudraba was a respected auditor for exposing the tricks of oligarchs, then spent a couple of years denying she would forge a political career, prior to this attempt to forge a political career.

Her start wasn't promising: the day she announced the formation of the party happened to be the day the prime minister of the time, Valdis Dombrovskis, resigned. On hearing the news, Sudraba promptly fainted in mid-speech. Provided being PM doesn't involve ever hearing any bad news, that need not be a handicap.

Her image was further tarnished when she was filmed having lunch with one of the very oligarchs she used to harass, and questions concerning the source of her party's funding have never been satisfactorily answered. More than one MP has told bne they suspect it of being “a Moscow project” – a notion given some credence by a literally mind-bending TV report on September 28 outlining how party members were attending transcendental meditation sessions that pondered the mysteries of the universe and how great Vladimir Putin is. The next day, the party launched radio ads that try to win votes via mass hypnosis. As New Age music floats in the background a soothing voice intones: “Remember what you must do when you go into the voting booth... remember... Inguna Sudraba... remember.”

Worryingly, polls suggest Sudraba could win up to a dozen seats in parliament as her vast mind-control network expands. If so, the shock could well cause her to explode.

 

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