Latvians elect their deputies, favorite centrists
Latvians began voting on the renewal of their parliament on Saturday in the shadow of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and are preparing to keep centrist Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins as head of government, analysts said.
This result seems likely to be due to the weakening of the populist, conservative and social-democratic Harmonie party (close to the Russian-speaking minority), while Mr Karins’ pro-Western party, Neue Unity, leads the polls with around 13% of voting intentions.
Two days before the election, President Egils Levits had called on the citizens of the Baltic country, which is a member of the EU and NATO, to vote while warning them against pro-Kremlin parties close to the large Russian-speaking minority “had at the beginning of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine hesitated to say clearly who is the attacker and who is the victim”.
“It is very likely that Karins will win President Egils Levits’ nomination to form his second cabinet, but the success of this attempt will depend on how many smaller parties pass the 5 percent eligibility threshold and whether they are ready , to support Karins.” tells AFP the political scientist Marcis Krastins.
“The Russians who are invading Ukraine are helping Karins because people gather around the flag at times like this,” he adds.
The conflict in Ukraine, the quest for energy independence from Russia, inflation and expensive energy are forcing this country of 1.8 million people to rely on proven leaders.
– Solidarity with Ukraine –
Concerned about Russian aggressiveness, like the Poles and their Baltic neighbors, Lithuanians and Estonians, the majority of Latvians endorse the priorities announced by the outgoing government: increasing the defense budget, showing solidarity with Ukraine and improving energy security.
For Lelde Muceniece, a computer science student in the small rural town of Bauska, “People are concerned about heating, electricity, gas prices, social security issues in both Bauska and the capital Riga, which could affect their vote on election day.
Backed by Russian speakers — about 30% of the population — Harmonie, which has consistently won parliamentary elections for a decade without ever finding an ally for the government, and which garnered nearly 20% of the vote in 2018, has experienced since then, a gradual decline accentuated by corruption cases that caused him to lose Riga City Hall.
He is credited with just 5.1% of voting intentions, just above the acceptance threshold, in a poll released this month.
– Russian-speaking electorate –
Harmony, widely seen as pro-Russian, said it condemned the invasion of Ukraine but remained silent on allegations of atrocities by Russian forces in Ukraine. As a result, the Russian-speaking electorate has partially turned to two new parties, the Union of Russians in Latvia and Stability, one openly pro-Kremlin, the other populist, Russia-friendly, albeit less radical.
For Aivars Lapsans, a musician based in the Vidzeme region, the chances of a good result seem slim.
“One thing is clear: no pro-Kremlin party will win significant votes outside of the cities populated by Russians,” he says.
A total of 19 lists of political parties or their alliances presented 1,829 candidates for the 100 seats in Riga’s parliament.
According to a recent survey by the private institute SKDS, Mr. Karins’ new unit is at the top with 13.3% of the voting intentions. They are followed by the current opposition Greens and Farmers (7.8%, centre-right) and the National Bund (7.3%, centre-right), one of the five governing coalition parties.
Polling stations that opened at 7:00 a.m. local time (4:00 a.m. GMT) must close at 8:00 p.m. (5:00 p.m. GMT). The first exit polls are to be published a few minutes later.
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