Pro-Russians top Latvia vote, but no governing majority

18th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

A pro-Russian party scored an unprecedented win in Latvia's snap election Saturday but fell short of the absolute majority in ex-Soviet EU state that would allow it to govern, partial results showed.

The Harmony Centre captured 29.87 percent of the vote, according to results from 845 of the 1027 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 a key issues in the snap poll in the Baltic state struggling to emerge from Europe's deepest recession.

The new anti-corruption Zatlers Reform Party which ranked second with 20.16 percent has signalled it intends to start coalition talks with the centrist Unity bloc of incumbent Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis which looked set to finish third with 17.94 percent of the vote, according to the partial results.

The pro-Latvian National Alliance, on 13.23 percent, could be a third partner in the coalition talks, but 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 reach the five percent threshold needed to enter the 100-seat parliament, or Saeima.

Official results were expected later Sunday.

"We will talk first with Unity, then the National Alliance and after that Harmony Centre," Edmunds Sprudzs, the prime ministerial candidate with the Zatlers Reform Party told Latvia's LNT TV after polling closed.

"The three parties consisting of the Zatlers Reform Party, Unity and the National Alliance are the most likely combination. There is a long tradition of keeping the Russians out and this is the most probable coalition," political scientist Ivars Ijabs told AFP.

"Our first conversation will be with the Zatlers Reform Party," Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis also told LNT TV. "If together we would have around 40 seats or more, it could form the basis of a strong government," he added.

Freshly elected President Andris Berzins has said he would launch talks on the formation of a new government on September 28.

"We've won the election," Harmony Centre MP Andrejs Klementjevs said 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.

The Harmony Centre, 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 ($10.9-billion) bailout agreed in December 2008 with the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

The rescue package required a biting austerity drive which slashed public sector wages and pensions.

Saturday's snap ballot was forced by a July referendum in which more than 90 percent of voters backed a move by then president 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 in light of Saturday's swift rise to second spot in the polls.

Boom turned to bust in Latvia in 2008 when it saw its economy shrink by 25 percent over two years, marking the world's deepest plunge in output.

The international bailout paired with deep cuts in public spending has pulled the 2004 EU member out of recession, with its economy expect to grow as much as 5.0 percent this year.

© 2011 AFP

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