December 11, 2018

Populist party set for gains in Latvian election

09 October 2018, 02:55 | Darnell Patrick

Harmony a centre-left social democrat party also runs on conservative social policies

Harmony a centre-left social democrat party also runs on conservative social policies

A pro-Russia party has won Saturday's parliamentary election in Latvia.

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

Observers say it's unlikely that Harmony, led by Nils Usakovs, who has been mayor of Riga, the capital, since 2009, would team up with Kucinskis' party in a coalition because of substantial policy differences.

And the party's candidate for prime minister, lawyer Aldis Gobzems, recently suggested they were open to working with other parties.

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

"On the one hand, voters want changes".

Latvia, an EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member, is now ruled by a center-right coalition of the Unity party, the Union of Greens and Farmers and the National Alliance, but opinion polls have shown it losing ground. Since 2016, Kucinskis has led a three-party governing coalition with the conservative National Alliance and the liberal Unity parties.

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"I am sure that initiative in the coalition talks must come from the centre-right parties", Augusts Brigmanis, the Greens and Farmers Union chairman, told LETA. The forming of a government coalition could take months.

"Forming a new government will be very hard", Kucinskis said after the election.

Latvians were voting Saturday in a general election that could see a pro-Kremlin-populist coalition come to power, as the Baltic state celebrates the centenary of its independence from the Tsarist Russian empire after the World War I.

"Comrades Latvians, this concerns you".

Turnout was 54.6 percent of the 1.9 eligible voters, election officials said.

A pro-Russia party is poised to evict Latvia's western-friendly government and take power in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member state.

Before the election, some Latvians feared a strong result for Harmony and KPV could lead to them forming a government and bringing the Latvia's foreign policy closer to Putin's Russian Federation.

"KPV LV is a "shadow branch" of Harmony, which is not alone in its power quest any more", said political analyst Marcis Bendiks.

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