Mon, Sep 19, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Pro-Russian party heads Latvia vote

WINNING AND LOSING:Despite winning 29.47% of the votes, more than any other party, Harmony Center is still unlikely to be involved in coalition talks any time soon

AFP, RIGA

A pro-Russian party scored an unprecedented win in Latvia’s snap election but fell short of the absolute majority it needed to take power in the ex-Soviet EU state, near complete results showed yesterday.

The Harmony Center captured 29.47 percent of the vote, according to results from 933 of the 1,027 polling stations, but was unlikely to find coalition partners among the second and third-place mainstream parties wary of its ties to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Fighting corruption and the Latvian-Russian ethnic divide emerged as key issues in the snap poll in the Baltic state, which is struggling to emerge from Europe’s deep recession.

The new anti-corruption Zatlers Reform Party, which came second with 20.33 percent, has signaled that it intends to start coalition talks with the centrist Unity bloc of incumbent Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, which looked set to finish third with 18.24 percent of the vote, according to the partial results.

The pro-Latvian National Alliance, on 13.42 percent, could be a third partner in the coalition talks, while the fifth-placed Union of Greens and Farmers — widely dubbed an “oligarch” party — is likely to be shunned over perceived corruption, politicians and analysts suggested.

No other parties appeared set to achieve the 5 percent threshold needed to enter the 100-seat parliament or Saeima.

Official results were expected late yesterday.

“We’ve won the election,” Harmony Center Member of Parliament Andrejs Klementjevs said on Saturday, insisting his party should be tapped to lead coalition talks in the wake of the historic victory.

“We would like the next coalition to be one that properly reflects the composition of the country,” he added.

However, Zatlers Reform Party prime ministerial candidate Edmunds Sprudzs had other ideas. “We will talk first with Unity, then the National Alliance and after that Harmony Center,” he told Latvia’s LNT TV after polling closed.

Prime Minister Dombrovskis told the same channel that “our first conversation will be with the Zatlers Reform Party.”

Political scientist Ivars Ijabs said the Zatlers Reform Party, Unity and the National Alliance are the most likely coalition combination.

“There is a long tradition of keeping the Russians out and this is the most probable coalition,” he said.

Recently elected Latvian President Andris Berzins has said he will start talks on the formation of a new government on Sept. 28.

The Harmony Center, the second-largest party in the outgoing parliament, draws most of its support from Latvia’s sizable Russian minority, accounting for some 27 percent of the country’s 2.2 million population.

It also appeared to have gained popularity for pushing for a revision of the terms of a 7.5 billion euro (US$10.9 billion) bailout agreed in December 2008 with the EU and IMF. The rescue package required a biting austerity drive which slashed public sector wages and pensions.

Saturday’s snap election was forced by a July referendum in which more than 90 percent of voters backed a move by then-president Valdis Zatlers to dissolve parliament over graft fears in so-called “oligarch parties.”

After being ousted from the presidency in July, Zatlers formed his own party bent on rooting out corruption — a move that proved popular as seen by the party’ swift rise to second spot in Saturday’s polls.

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