February 16, 2019

Russian-minority party 'wins' Latvia election

09 October 2018, 02:56 | Devin Moran

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

The left-leaning Harmony party is the country's largest with 24 seats but it has been shunned by Latvian parties over suspicions of being too cozy with Moscow despite its pro-EU stance.

This time around, however, it could find the necessary ally in the KPV LV, a populist party led by former stage actor Artuss Kaimins, who has retained popularity with voters despite his being detained over corruption allegations in June.

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. Also, the right-wing party "New Unity" passed into the parliament with the result of 6.6%. That, she said, is "good news for Latvia".

But with three hours to go, turnout was low at 39.06 percent, according to the election website.

This prospect is scary for more than one in this baltic country of 1.9 million inhabitants, whose history is marked by hard relations with the large Russian neighbour.

After casting his ballot, President Raimonds Vejonis 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.

Other parties have previously formed coalitions to keep Harmony out of government.

At the last election, Harmony won the most seats but was excluded from power when the other parties refused to include it in any deal due to its ties with Russian Federation.

Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis, head of the centrist Union of Greens and Farmers party, has led a three-party governing coalition since 2016 with the conservative National Alliance and the liberal Unity parties.

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

"Voters want new faces: the current ministers can not offer anything entertaining", political scientist Filips Rajevskis told AFP. "That's where the populism kicks in", he said. But many observers say they expect KPV LV and the New Conservatives to attempt to form a coalition with the Kremlin-friendly party.

Latvia, a member of the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, shares a 276-kilometre (167 miles) border with Russian Federation which makes it a frontline state in the increasingly hostile relationship between the West and President Vladimir Putin. However, with seven parties winning seats, coalition talks could go on for weeks or months. Polling stations open on Saturday from 0500 GMT to 1700 GMT, with exit polls soon after and results expected early Sunday.

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