Latvia’s center-right coalition has formed a negotiation group to agree on the next government after securing a safe majority in parliament in last Saturday’s general election. The parliamentary election, however, was narrowly won by the opposition leftist pro-Russia Harmony party with 23.2 percent of the vote, but its chances of being taken into the new government appear to be slight, given that the three ruling parties have won 56 percent support between them. The Unity party emerged as the runner-up in the election, winning 21.6 percent of the vote, Greens and Farmers Union (ZZS) came third with 19.7 percent and the National Alliance took fourth place winning 16.5 percent of the vote.
As Latvia goes to the polls to electsa new parliament Saturday (04.10.2014), Russia’s Ukraine policy will likely have a strong impact on the result. The government in Riga is no longer ruling out an act of aggression from the Kremlin, which has repeatedly declared its intent to protect Russians abroad. Their share of the total population of the Baltic state is 26 percent, significantly higher than that in Ukraine, where they make up 17 percent. Latvia has a difficult relationship with Russia. In 1940 it was annexed by the former USSR. “The experience of 60 years of Soviet occupation is rooted deeply in historical memory,” says Norbert Beckmann-Dierkes, who heads the German Konrad-Adenauer Foundation in Riga. The 100 seats in Latvia’s parliament, the Saeima, will be fought for by 13 parties. Some represent Latvians only, others the Russian-speaking population, many of whom are so-called “non-citizens.” These are mostly Russians who, after Latvia became independent in 1991, were not offered passports. Nearly one in eight residents in the country is a “non-citizen.”
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.
A total of 13 political parties or coalitions will be on the ballot Sept. 17 when Latvian voters go to the polls in the homeland and abroad to elect a new parliament, according to the Central Election Commission in Rīga.
No. 1 in the packet of candidate lists voters will receive will be Vienotība (Unity), a center-right party that merges Jaunais laiks (New Era), Pilsoniskā savienība (Civic Union) and Sabiedrība citai politikai (Society for a Different Politics).