Party catering to Russian minority comes 1st in Latvian vote

REUTERS

Voter turnout was 54.6 per cent according to preliminary data, the lowest since Latvia regained independence in 1991, the Baltic News Service reported.

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.

Harmony has said it wants Latvia to stay in the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation but to have closer economic ties with Russian Federation.

Latvians voted in a parliamentary election Saturday in which a party catering to the Baltic nation's large ethnic Russian minority is expected to win the most support but have trouble forming a coalition government.

But this time around that could change.

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.

But it was subsequently occupied by Nazi Germany and after them by the Soviet Union for almost half a century until 1991.

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.

The ruling three-party government coalition fared poorly despite having improved the country's economy, which was hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis.

But polls suggest that voters are abandoning the ruling coalition.

"The message that the voters have tried to send is that we're going to have some new faces in politics", Janis Ikstens, political scientist at Latvia University, told Reuters.

"Now. voters want new faces: the current ministers can not offer anything entertaining. On the other, people do not want their country given away to the Kremlin and populists", said analyst Marcis Krastins.

"Therefore there's the possibility of a Russia-oriented coalition after the election".

Voters in Latvia, which is a member of the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, chose from more than 1,400 candidates and 16 parties to fill the country's 100-seat parliament, or Saeima.

In an upset, liberal party the Development/For got 13.4 percent and the conservative National Alliance got 12.6 percent.

Harmony meanwhile has signed on some high-profile ethnic Latvians as their frontrunners, and is on track to come out ahead with at least 28 seats.

But other parties refused to join it in a coalition over suspicions of its links with Moscow, despite its pro-EU stance. Alternatively, they could cut a deal with the center-right parties, and form a right-wing coalition more akin to those in Austria and Bulgaria.

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