Pro-Russia party scores huge success in Latvia election

By Richard Connor

In Latvia, a party backed by the large Russian minority, has won almost a third of votes in a snap election. But its more nationalist rivals may unite to keep the Harmony Party from power.

Latvia's pro-Russian Harmony Party captured 29.47 percent of the vote, according to results from 933 out of 1027 polling stations on Sunday.

The party, which enjoys support from the country's sizable Russian community, was set to win a greater number of seats in parliament than any other party – although it appears likely that second and third-placed mainstream parties will unite to prevent it from forming a ruling coalition.

"We've won the election," Harmony Centre representative Andrejs Klementjevs said Saturday, insisting his center-left party should be asked to lead coalition talks. "We would like the next coalition to be one that properly reflects the composition of the country," he added.

The anti-corruption Zatlers Reform Party, ranked second with 20.33 percent, has said it plans to start coalition talks with the centrist Unity grouping of incumbent Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis. Unity appears set to finish third with 18.24 percent of the vote.

Both parties are center-right in focus and are suspicious of the Harmony Party's links with Moscow.

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

Premier Dombrovskis told the same channel, "Our first conversation will be with the Zatlers Reform Party."
Nationalists, Greens and farmers

The pro-Latvian National Alliance, with 13.42 percent, might be a third partner in the coalition talks. The fifth-placed Union of Greens and Farmers, was expected to have a poor showing because of perceived corruption.

Recently-elected President Andris Berzins has said that talks on the formation of a new government would be launched on September 28.

The Harmony Party appeared to have gained some popularity after campaigning for a revision of Latvia's 7.5-billion-euro ($10.9 billion) bailout agreement with the European Union and International Monetary Fund in December 2008. The rescue package required an unpopular austerity drive which slashed public sector wages and pensions.

Fighting corruption, as well as suspicion of Harmony's links with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, also emerged as key issues in the snap election as the former Soviet republic struggles to emerge from a deep recession.

Saturday's ballot was forced by a July referendum in which more than 90 percent of voters supported a call by then-president Valdis Zatlers to dissolve parliament. Zatlers stood down to form the party, claiming it would root out corruption.

Latvia's Russian minority accounts for some 27 percent of its 2.2 million population.