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Russian minority party wins Latvian vote; populists surge

09 October 2018

Harmony party, KPV LV, and the New Conservative Party earned the highest number of votes cast in Latvia's parliamentary elections after counting all votes from the polling stations located in Latvia, according to information available on the Central Election Commission's website.

The pro-Kremlin Harmony party won Latvia's general election ahead of populists, final results showed yesterday, but talks on forming a governing coalition looked thorny due to the country's fragmented political scene.

Latvia, a nation of 2 million that borders Russia, has a sizable ethnic-Russian minority of around 25 per cent - more if you count other Russian-speakers such as Belarussians and Ukrainians.

"Harmony", which is headed by the mayor of Riga, Nil Ushakov, completed the elections with a score of 19.9%.

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

"On the one hand, voters want changes. That's where the populism kicks in", he said.

The outgoing coalition of the centre-right has managed to revive the national economy after the 2009 crisis, but the electorate, exhausted by the effort, is in search of new faces. 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.

Still, its leaders and analysts believed it would have a say in the next government coalition.

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

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.

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

Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Latvia is now a member of the eurozone and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, having joined the military alliance in 2004.

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. 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.

Russian minority party wins Latvian vote; populists surge