Latvian centrists set to win national vote

Latvia held a general election on Saturday amid divisions over Russia’s attack on Ukraine among the Baltic country’s large Russian ethnic minority.

An exit poll predicted that the centre-right will win the most votes, but whoever forms the next government will face huge energy problems as a result of the war.

New Unity board members said the figures showed approval of the prime minister’s policies.

A joint poll predicted that Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins’ centre-right New Unity party would win the election, taking 22.5% of the vote.

The survey was conducted by Riga Stradins University, SKDSA research center. LETA Newswire, Latvian Television and Latvian Radio.

The poll also predicted that a new centrist party supporting green development – United List – would be second with 11.5% of the vote and the opposition Greens and Farmers Union would come third with 10.9% support.

Only eight parties are expected to cross the 5% barrier and secure representation in the 100-seat Saeima legislature.

A total of 19 parties had more than 1,800 candidates running in the elections. Official results are expected Sunday morning.

The initial turnout was 59%, the central election commission said, compared to 54.5% in the 2018 elections.

Karins, who became head of the Latvian government in January 2019, currently leads a four-party minority coalition which, along with New Unity, includes the centre-right National Alliance, the centrist center Development/For! and conservatives.

Karins, a 57-year-old Latvian-American dual citizen born in Wilmington, Delaware, told Latvian media that it would be easier to continue with the same coalition government if New Unity wins. He ruled out any cooperation with pro-Kremlin parties.

Support for parties addressing Latvia’s Russian ethnic minority, which makes up more than 25% of Latvia’s 1.9 million people, is expected to be mixed; some loyal voters have abandoned them since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

This election is likely to sound the death knell for the opposition party Harmony, whose popularity has continued to decline.

The pro-Moscow party has traditionally served as an umbrella for most Russian-speaking voters in Latvia, including Belarusians and Ukrainians.

In the 2018 election, Harmony won nearly 20% of the vote, the most of any party, but was barred by other parties from entering government.

However, Harmony’s immediate and fierce opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused many voters who still support Russian President Vladimir Putin to desert her.

Opponents of the war, meanwhile, tended to gravitate towards the main Latvian parties, which condemned the invasion.

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