Mike Collier in Riga -
Latvians voted in parliamentary elections on October 4, for which the issue of relations with its giant neighbour Russia were to the fore. After twists and turns through the vote, the current ruling coalition is set to continue, with but a few personnel changes, with the top job the source of most conjecture.
Exit polls initially suggested the Unity party of Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma had scored a notable victory, overhauling the pro-Russia Harmony party led by Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs. Harmony usually comes in first, but is then condemned to opposition by a coalition of ethnic Latvian parties.
Whoops of delight were heard for a couple of hours at the Unity election night party as they anticipated overturning that tradition. However, as the first results started rolling in, they showed Harmony would top the poll as usual, although only just.
The result was effectively a three-way split. Unity and Harmony were joined by the populist Greens and Farmers Union (ZZS), which picked up enough support that it can with some legitimacy claim to be the real winner in the vote. A strong showing for a party whose candidate for prime minister is on trial for fraud and hates Nato.
The 100 seats of the next Saeima, due to sit on November 4, will be distributed in the following fashion: Harmony 24 seats, Unity 23, ZZS 21, National Alliance 17, Regional Alliance 8, Latvia From the Heart 7. The current coalition - involving Unity, ZZS and the right-wing National Alliance - will control 61 seats. The newly-formed Regional Alliance may also climb on board to create a dominant 68 seat bloc.
As predicted, the most notable victory was that of the Regional Alliance's celebrity shock jock Artuss Kaimins, who rose from the bottom to the top of his party list. He didn't seem particularly surprised as he appeared at his party's election night bash, shunning the attention of all the fellow candidates he had overhauled before declaiming in the manner of a true revolutionary: "Politics isn't the art of compromise - it's the art of governing!"
As you were
"I think it's business as usual," Professor Daunis Auers at the University of Latvia told bne. "The outcome is what most of us expected which is a broad majority for the Latvian parties. The current government will continue in office and Harmony will continue in opposition. It's a pattern we've had for a quarter of a century and I would say nothing has substantially changed."
"Over the coming days its possible the National Alliance will ask for another ministerial post and certainly the Greens and Farmer Union might also ask for another one. Once you open up Pandora's box it will be very difficult. Eventually what we'll find after a lot of posturing is the current government broadly back in office with maybe a couple of ministerial seats redistributed," he continued.
The ball is now in the court of President Andris Berzins, who has given the parties a week to cobble together a coalition before he names a prime ministerial candidate. It seems unlikely incumbent Straujuma will continue after her campaign, and even ability to speak coherently, disintegrated during the election. Even less likely is that Berzins - at liberty to name even a non-partisan candidate - will turn to Usakovs, which would be a highly controversial move.
"I'm not sure about the prime minister because most probably Straujuma won't stay, but who will be next?" asks Ivars Ijabs, another University of Latvia professor. "Outgoing Euro commissioner Andris Piebalgs has refused as far as I know - there are rumours that [National Alliance MEP] Roberts Zile could come into the game, but everything depends on the president."
Another name in the frame is current Defence Minister Raimonds Vejonis of ZZS, "The strength of the coalition parties will be similar so Unity certainly won't be able to act like the 'big brother' any more," Ijabs concludes.
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