Larvia’s elections on September 17 were called as a result of the political upsets in the summer when President Valdis Zatlers tried to confront the grip that he said the country’s three “oligarchs” had on its parliament, the Saeima. Bloomberg has a useful summary of the state of play. It looks as though the parties affiliated with the tycoons may win only 14 of 100 seats, down from 51 five years ago and 30 in 2010.
Aivars Lembergs, mayor of the big port of Ventspils, will probably do best. A poll gives his Greens and Farmers Union 8.5% which will at least get it into parliament. He faces a long-running investigation for bribery, money laundering and abuse of office since 2008 (he vehemently denies all wrongdoing). Ainārs Šlesers, who was at the centre of a controversy that prompted this summer’s crisis, is unlikely to return to parliament. His “For a Better Latvia” is polling less than the 5% threshold. The third “oligarch” Andris Šķēle has dissolved his party.
But the voters’ verdict is not quite what Mr Zatlers may have expected. Though they backed his referendum to dissolve the Saiema, his Reform party is down from its strong showing of 17% percent in August and set to win only 11.5%, Its likely coalition partner is Unity, headed by the prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis. But it is polling only 13.6%. That is not enough to form a strong government. The winner of the election is likely to be Harmony Centre, which attracts most of its votes from Russian-speaking Latvians. The latest poll gives it 20%.
The big question will be whether Harmony Centre finally gains a role in national government: in the past the “Latvian” parties have regarded its refusal to accept explicitly that the country was occupied during the Soviet period as an impossible barrier. But there may be some wiggle room. Some combination “Illegal” or “forcible” as adjectives and “annexation” or “incorporation” as nouns might prove enough. The alternative would be the radical-right “All for Latvia” group which mixes old-style nationalists with young radicals. Or else Mr Lembergs, again.