Latvians headed into polling stations on Saturday to vote in the country’s general election. Their votes will be cast under the shadow of the Russia-Ukraine war, divisions among the Baltic country’s sizable ethnic-Russian minority, and a weak economy with particularly high energy prices.
Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins of the center-right New Unity Party emerged as the top vote-getter with up to 20% support, according to multiple preelection polls.
“Russians invading Ukraine helps Karins to secure voters in Latvia because in such times people tend to rally around the flag,” political expert Marcis Krastins said.
This level of support, however, will not be enough to win Karins a majority government.
The 57-year-old became the head of the Latvian government in January 2019 by forming a coalition with four parties: the center-right National Alliance, the centrist Development/For!, the Conservatives and Karins’ own New Unity Party. He told Latvian media outlets that it would be easiest to continue with the same coalition government if New Unity wins.
Over 1,800 candidates belonging to 19 parties are running for office in Latvia. Only eight of these 19 parties are expected to pass through the 5% threshold required to secure a place in the 100-seat Saeima legislature.
Death knell for the opposition?
Latvia’s Social Democratic Party Harmony, which usually has strong support from the Russian-speaking minorities in the country, is likely to be left out in the cold in this general election.
The Moscow-friendly party has garnered more votes than any of its peers in past elections but also failed to form a government on account of being excluded by other parties. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has weakened the party’s position further. Harmony’s staunch opposition to Russia’s invasion isolated it from the pro-Putin voters. On the other hand, those who are against the war aligned themselves with other Latvian parties.
Harmony is now trailing in fifth place with 5.1% support, according to a poll by Latvian public broadcaster LSM.
mk/xx (AP, AFP, dpa)
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