Russian Minority Party Wins Latvian Vote; Populists Surge

REUTERS

REUTERS

For Development/For, a new political alliance formed by several parliament members who left the center-right Unity party past year, received 12 percent of all votes, leaving the National Alliance in fifth place with 11 percent, down from 16.61 percent in the previous general election.

With all the votes counted, results Sunday from Latvia's electoral committee showed the left-wing Harmony party winning with 19.8 per cent support.

The country of 2 million, a quarter of whom are ethnic Russians, is a frontline state in Europe's and NATO's increasingly tense relationship with Vladimir Putin.

People vote during a general election at a polling station in Riga, Latvia October 6, 2018.

And the party's candidate for prime minister, lawyer Aldis Gobzems, recently suggested they were open to working with other parties. But together with an expected 15 seats for KPV LV, the two parties would need at least one other partner to clinch a majority.

Voters "want to face charges".

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

Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis' party Union of Greens and Farmers got 9.7 percent and populist newcomers KPV LV got 11.5 percent. "This is where the populism finds its niche", says the political scientist Filips Rajevskis.

On their watch the economy, hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis, has resumed growth. Latvia's centrist blocs, Unity and the Union of Greens and Farmers, which have dominated the country's politics since its foundation, received less than a third and less than half of their respective results at the last election. The forming of a government coalition could take months.

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.

Hackers targeted the Draugiem.lv network, second in popularity only to Facebook in the Baltic state, with a pro-Russian message.

Turnout for Saturday's vote was 54.6 per cent, according to the election website.

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.

Latvia's mainstream parties have kept pro-Russia politicians from power as they sought ever closer ties with the West. Political analyst Marcis Bendiks said Harmony's campaign promise to cut defence spending to one percent of GDP went against North Atlantic Treaty Organisation agreements.

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