Wednesday, 14 November, 2018

Latvia votes as Russians, populists eye power

Relations with Russia have long been a dominating topic in Latvia's national politics Relations with Russia have long been a dominating topic in Latvia's national politics
Kenny Thornton | 09 October, 2018, 14:56

Latvians headed to the polls on Saturday in a parliamentary election in which the rise of a populist party could reshape the political landscape and open the door for the Baltic country's long shunned pro-Russia party.

The left-leaning Harmony party - which has a cooperation agreement with Russia's ruling party, United Russia - and advocates the interests of Latvia's Russian-speaking citizens, became the biggest party, with 19.8 percent of the vote, according to country's central election commission.

Members of the minority account for about 25 percent of Latvia's 2 million people, a legacy of almost 50 years of Soviet occupation that ended in 1991.

While Harmony was the most popular party in Latgale and Rīga, KPV LV was the leader in Kurzeme and Zemgale, while the New Conservative Party won in Vidzeme region. "We don't have any red lines regarding any other political force", lawyer Aldis Gobzems, KPV LV's candidate for prime minister, said in a recent TV debate.

Party (12.04%), the National Independence Movement (11.03%) and the Union of Greens and Farmers (9.96%), which now leads Latvia's ruling coalition, and the New Unity party (6.67%). "On the other, people do not want their country given away to the Kremlin and populists", said analyst Marcis Krastins.

That means the trio would have to find at least one additional party to form a majority government, which requires 51 seats in parliament.

Under their watch the economy, hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis, has resumed growth.

Weird light in Arizona sky is from SpaceX launch
A graphic explaining sonic booms, provided by Vandenberg Air Force Base ahead of a planned SpaceX launch on October 7, 2018. SpaceX had previously flown first-stage rockets back to land after Florida launches but had not done so on the West Coast.

Unity, now rebranded as New Unity, might not even meet the five-percent threshold required to make it into parliament.

Political science professor Juris Rozenvalds from the University of Latvia said the talks could go on until the end of the year with the old cabinet kept in place for the time being.

After casting his ballot, President Raimonds Vejonis from the Green Party called on fellow Latvians to come to the polls, pointing to the Brexit vote as an example of what might happen if they didn't. "The borders of Russia have no end", it said in Russian, followed by images of soldiers annexing Crimea, Russian tanks parading in Moscow and a smiling Vladimir Putin.

The turnout in the elections fell by 4% compared with the last elections and amounted to 54%.

The Baltic state is a member of both North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union putting it on the front line of the increasingly tense relationship between the West and Moscow.

But it only ended its official co-operation agreement with Mr Putin's United Russia Party past year, raising concerns in the West that its transformation is only skin deep.

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