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Latvia - Political Parties

Concord Centre SC3031
Reform Party RP-16
Fatherland and Freedom VL-TB/LNNK814
Greens and Farmers ZZS28 13
For a Good Latvia PLL9
At least five Members of the same candidate list may form a parliamentary group. Members elected from the same candidate list may form only one parliamentary group and may not join another parliamentary group. If an MP leaves a parliamentary group, he or she does not lose the Saeima mandate but becomes an unaffiliated member of parliament. Starting with the 10th Saeima, MPs elected from the same candidate list may belong to only one parliamentary group and may never join another one. Individual parliamentary groups may form political blocs, and unaffiliated MPs may join these blocs.

In the 11th Saeima there are five parliamentary groups as of 2012. The election of the 10th Saeima was held on 2 October 2010. The turnout was 63.12% of eligible voters (967,162 people), including 13,012 citizens who voted abroad. Thirteen candidate lists were submitted; however, only 5 parties and alliances of political parties passed the 5% threshold and won seats in the Saeima.

Elections of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia were held on 18 March 1990. For the first time since the Soviet occupation, candidates from various political movements were allowed to participate in parliamentary elections. The turnout was 81.25% of eligible voters (1,593,019 people). Elections of the 5th Saeima were held on 5 and 6 June 1993. The legal basis for the election was the Law on the Election of the Fifth Saeima adopted on 20 October 1992. This was a slightly amended and modified version of the Saeima Election Law adopted in 1922. The turnout was 89.9% of eligible voters (1,118,316 people); including 18,413 citizens who voted abroad. Twenty-three candidate lists were submitted, and 8 won seats in the Saeima.

The elections of the 6th Saeima were held on 30 September and 1 October 1995. The turnout was 71.9% of eligible voters (955,392 people), including 12,501 citizens who voted abroad. Nineteen candidate lists were submitted, and 9 won seats in the Saeima. The others did not pass the 5% threshold. In December 1995, the Socialist Party Equal Rights bloc broke up, but in November 1996 it again formed a parliamentary group which functioned until May 1997. In July 1996, the National Harmony Party parliamentary group broke up, but it began functioning anew in September 1997. The parliamentary group of the Latvian Unity Party functioned from the election until February 1997.

In July 1996, the members of parliament who had left the For Latvia parliamentary group formed a new parliamentary group, For Nation and Justice, which functioned until February 1997. In June 1997, the parties For Fatherland and Freedom and the LNNK (Latvian National Independence Movement) merged, and a parliamentary group bearing both names was established. Prior to that, the LNNK had formed a parliamentary group with the Latvian Green Party.

In June 1997, the Latvian Green Party formed a parliamentary group with the Latvian National Reform Party. It functioned until August 1998. The parliamentary group of the peoples union Freedom functioned from September 1997 to January 1998. On 28 July 1998, the Labour Party, the Christian Democratic Union, and the Latvian Green Party united to form a joint parliamentary group which functioned until the term of office of the 6th Saeima expired.

During the 6th Saeima, the membership of the Democratic Party Saimnieks parliamentary group increased while that of Latvias Way and For Latvia parliamentary groups decreased. The number of unaffiliated members of parliament fluctuated, sometimes reaching more than 20 members.

According to the constitutional amendment, for the first time in the history of Latvia the 7th Saeima elections took place on one day only, namely, on 3 October 1998. The turnout was 71.9% of eligible voters (944, 667 people), including 10,080 citizens who voted abroad. Twenty-one candidate lists were submitted, but only 6 lists won seats in the Saeima. The others did not pass the 5% threshold. The elections of the 8th Saeima were held on 5 October 2002. The turnout was 71.51% of eligible voters (997,754 people), including 7,490 citizens who voted abroad. Twenty candidate lists were submitted; however, only 6 parties and associations of political parties passed the 5% threshold and won seats in the Saeima.

A total of 19 parties and party associations fielded candidates for the 2006 9th Saeima (parliament) election elections. Opinion polls suggested that no more than seven had realistic chances to be represented in the Saeima. Ex-central banker Einars Repse's New Era (JL) party, which was the most dramatic newcomer on Latvia's political scene grabbing a fourth of the Saeima (parliament) seats in 2002, the People's Party (TP), the Greens and Farmers (ZZS), and the ethnic Russian-dominated PCTVL are neck and neck in the polls. The election of the 9th Saeima was held on 7 October 2006. The turnout was 60.98% of eligible voters (908,979 people), including 7,580 citizens who voted abroad. Nineteen candidate lists were submitted; however, only 7 parties and associations of political parties passed the 5% threshold and won seats in the Saeima.

On 31 January 2009 the Speaker of the Saeima (in absence of the President who was away on international travel) promulgated a new election campaign law. The new law closed loopholes which some parties took advantage of during the 2006 presidential elections. Under the new law, media now have to publish their ad fees four months before a campaign, and must offer that price to all political parties. The Anti-Corruption Bureau (KNAB) gained the right to stop a campaign if it is exceeding the spending limit. Political parties wishing to buy advertising time must sign contracts directly with media companies, making the actual amount of money they spend on ads easier to track. The KNAB agrees that the recent changes to the law were essential for cleaner elections in Latvia's municipal and European Parliament elections.

With public trust in established Latvian political parties hitting record lows, two new parties have emerged hoping to gain momentum in the June 2009 local and European elections before settling down in Saeima, Latvia's parliament, in the 2010 elections. Both Sabiedriba Citai Politikai (Society for a different politics, SCP) and Pilsoniska Savieniba (Civic Union, PS) came into being after splits within the existing parties and thus lack promising newcomers. Yet, both will try to overcome the public skepticism of politics and repeat the success of other Latvian parties formed shortly before elections and winning them. Their greatest challenges would be raising funds and convincing voters that they offer anything new. The first test for both parties will be municipal elections scheduled for June 2009. These elections will be the first in which parties will need to secure 5% of the vote in each district to win election to the local council. Despite low popularity ratings and the 5% threshold, officials in both parties are optimistic about their future prospects.

In Latvia, newly-founded parties have a tradition of winning in every election since the restoration of independence (save 2006 when there were no new ethnic-Latvian parties). However, all of these parties succeeded by bringing in "fresh faces" not previously involved in politics and who enjoyed high personal popularity with the public.

Civic Union (Pilsoniska Savieniba, PS) came into being after splits within the existing parties and thus lacked promising newcomers. PS defines itself as a "party of patriots, rooted in the regions" and mainly comprises former members of the Fatherland & Freedom (TB/LNNK) and New Era (JL) parties. Party leaders Sandra Kalniete (previously JL) and Girts Valdis Kristovskis (previously TB/LNNK) have for years belonged to the Latvian political elite, serving as ministers of foreign affairs and defense respectively. PS, which was founded in April 2008, is considered an official faction in Saeima, consisting of six MP's. It was set to grow to seven as a TB/LNNK deputy, convicted of fraud and forced to resign from Saeima, will be replaced by a former TB/LNNK member who has since joined PS. According to the October 2008 SKDS poll, PS was supported by 1.8% of voters. Interestingly, the party's poll numbers dropped by about half when pollsters stooped referring to it as "Kalniete and Kristovskis' new party" and instead used its official name. It had around 400 registered members.

By November 2009, within the governing coalition, a grouping of three centrist parties (New Era, Civic Union, and Society for Alternative Politics) is now coalescing under the banner "Unity," while two other parties (People's Party and the Union of Greens and Farmers) served the fortunes of their own respective wealthy and populist leaders, Andris Skele and Aivars Lembergs. The New Era party of Prime Minister Dombrovskis (15 of 100 seats in Parliament), the Civic Union (6 MPs) and the Society for Alternative Politics (3 MPs) announced on 19 November 2009 that they would campaign on a joint electoral list in the 2010 elections under the banner "Unity", while forgoing a full party merger. In opposition, another populist and dynamic "oligarch," Ainars Slesers, has allied his Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way with the largely ethnic-Russian Harmony Center coalition, taking control of Riga City Council in local elections in June 2009. Although national elections were eleven months away, the jockeying and posturing had begun, with every party seeking to maintain at least the 5% threshold needed to secure Parliamentary representation.

For Fatherland and Freedom (TB/LNNK), as the only mainstream true-blue nationalist party, clearly pitches its message at the nationalistic ethnic Latvian voter. The party's selling points are tough line on naturalization and language, and hawkish attitude towards Russia. TB/LNNK's economic program is fairly market oriented, and in foreign policy it is staunchly pro-NATO and pro-EU. It won 16 Saeima seats in the 1998 elections but in 2002 managed to squeak into parliament with only 7 seats. However, it did well in the 2004 European parliament elections winning 4 of Latvia's 8 seats. As of 2006, TB/LNNK sat in the opposition on its own choosing so that it can run for the Saeima as an outsider. Its election chances in 2005 were difficult to measure since most of its talent sat in Strasbourg and was not be running for the Saeima.

For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL) represents a pro-Russian political group advocating automatic citizenship for all residents of Latvia at the time of independence and demands semi-official status for the Russian language. PCTVL professes statist economic policy, implicit anti-EU and explicit anti-NATO foreign policy and promises to mend fences with Russia. PCTVL appeared on the Latvian political scene in 1998 when four groups, mainly representing the interests of non-Latvians, formed a joint slate. In 2002, PCTVL grabbed a quarter of the Saeima seats but was left in deep opposition as its ideology was anathema to ethnic Latvian parties. In early 2003, PCTVL disintegrated due to rivalry between the leaders of various groups but several Russian nationalists centered around the Equal Rights movement revived the brand-name popular among local Russians. PCTVL power base, located mainly in Riga and the eastern region of Latgale, consists almost entirely of ethnically non-Latvian voters.

Harmony Center (Saskanas Centrs - SC) is a coalition centering around the National Harmony Party but without its long-time leader Janis Jurkans. It was created formally in 2005 and inherited eight of National Harmony party's Saeima members. At its convention, SC elected a young politician and TV journalist, Nils Usakovs, as its leader for the 2006 elections. National Harmony Party was a key member of the PCTVL bloc before it disintegrated. Now the two competed for the votes of almost the same electorate. SC appeared to be centrist and more moderate that PCTVL on ethnic policy (yet it still calls, among other things, for non-citizens to be able to vote in local elections and for semi-official status to the Russian language) and more business oriented, although it has admitted that its voters will nevertheless mainly be non-Latvian.

Harmony Center is a coalition of five political forces (Socialist Party, Social Democratic Party, New Center Party, Harmony People's Party and the Daugavpils City Party) that have a single common point of reference: their predominately ethnic-Russian voter base, about a quarter of the electorate. These elements hold varying economic and political platforms, from the hard-line Soviet-style leftism of the Socialist Party led by the radical Alfreds Rubriks to the more socially inclusive and economically open Harmony People's Party. Since the June 2009 municipal elections that brought SC to power in the capital city of Riga, through a coalition with the ethnic-Latvian Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way (LPP/LC), speculation focused on the prospects for SC assuming a role in forming the next central government coalition following the 2010 parliamentary elections in October. By late 2009 SC was leading in all major public opinion polls with a consistent block of support around 15 percent - substantially more than the next leading party, Union of Greens and Farmers, with around 8 percent.

SC had muscled out the Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL) party as the preeminent ethnic-Russian political force over the past few years. While PCTVL has remained a single-issue party focused on increasing the rights of ethnic-Russians in Latvia, SC has attracted a larger following by offering a broader political platform and a more coherent economic policy based social democratic doctrine. SC has benefited from the personal popularity of its young Riga Mayor, Nils Usakovs, a former journalist who has brought vitality to the party. SC's rising influence is also a function of the fractured nature of the existing coalition government and the increasing animosity among the center-right, ethnic-Latvian parties.

The foreign policy of SC and several events are complicating the party's domestic political strategy. Among ethnic Latvians, SC is widely suspected of being a proxy for political and business interests in Moscow. The signing of a cooperation pact between SC and Vladimir Putin's United Russia on November 21 has fueled the suspicions of many ethnic-Latvian voters and politicians about SC's true intentions. Compounding these suspicions: Russia's ZAPAD military exercise, reports of an increase in ethnic-Russians in Latvia seeking Russian passports in line with Russia's compatriot policy, a phone-in poll on a Russian-language broadcast in which a huge majority of callers described Latvian independence as "a mistake", and even an inflammatory statement by the always colorful Russian State Duma Deputy, Mr. Zhironovsky, that Russia should annex portions of eastern Latvia where ethnic-Russians are present in large numbers.

Latvia First Party (LPP) is a business project of the wealthy businessman Ainars Slesers. It has defined its orientation as centrist, and has announced that its activities will be firmly based on "Christian values." Before the 2006 elections, LPP appears to have adopted an anti-gay stance as its key campaign message. Owing to excellent TV commercials, LPP won nine Saeima seats in 2002, although the polls conducted before the elections predicted that it might not cross the five-percent threshold. The party's popularity suffered earlier in 2006 when its leader and then transport minister Ainars Slesers was implicated in a vote-buying scandal in the city of Jurmala. Nevertheless, Slesers remained LPP's prime ministerial candidate. In order to bolster its waning popularity, in 2006 LPP teamed up with liberal Latvia's Way (Latvijas Cels, LC), once a popular and star-studded party that was represented in every Latvian government from 1993 until 2002. LC suffered a crushing defeat in the 2002 elections and had been struggling to stay alive ever since. Most political observers point out the ideological discrepancy between the conservative LPP and the liberal LC.

The hard-charging Christian fundamentalist Ainars Slesers abandoned any pretense of power-sharing when he shunted aside former Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis for full control of the Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way (10 MPs) on 14 November 2009. Slesers sees Latvia's future in a rebalance of relations with Russia and in attracting Russian investments, trade and tourism. In addition to furthering his own economic interests, this stance is popular with his city council allies, the largely-ethnic Russian left-wing coalition Harmony Center. Slesers adopts a stern and uncompromising public persona, and while his partnership with ethnic Russians is anathema to Latvian nationalists, dire economic circumstances, the backing of Latvia's Lutheran, Catholic and Orthodox churches, and a mighty campaign war chest (Slesers possesses great personal wealth) will all assist him. About seven percent of voters declaring a preference in late 2009 said they will vote for Slesers, and another 27 percent (mostly ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Belarussians) will support Harmony Center. Slesers made public his desire to form a national government with Harmony Center support.

New Era (JL) defined its orientation as center-right and pro-Western. Its main campaign slogans focus on clean government and fighting corruption. Created before the 2002 elections, it won the plurality of seats (26 out of 100) in the previous elections, and led the coalition building talks. New Era entered the 2006 election season as one of the most popular political parties, although its popularity had shrunk compared to 2002. The party left he coalition government earlier in 2006 over a vote-buying scandal involving the First Party. This was later widely viewed as a mistake, with even party members saying that it only reinforced their opponents' portrayal of New Era as unable to work well with others. The party's image was tarnished by party leader Einars Repse's flamboyant lifestyle and his questionable financial dealings. His 2006 involvement in a fatal car accident could also have a drag on the party's popularity. Also, a scandal that broke out in mid-August 2006 following the newspaper publication of transcripts of phone conversations implicating New Era in using illegal campaign funds may hurt the party in the run-up to the 2006 elections. To bolster its chances in these elections, New Era managed to persuade the well-known pro-independence activist and ex-Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete to run for the Saeima on the New Era ticket. They also announced Kalniete as their choice for President in the 2007 indirect elections, a move that drew mostly yawns from political observers.

People's Party (TP) was founded before the 1998 Saeima elections by then highly popular ex-prime minister Andris Skele who is one of the richest men in Latvia and is dubbed as one of this country's "oligarchs." TP is a conservative, and pragmatically nationalist, party. Its base consists of business people and educated urban electorate, mainly in western and north-eastern Latvia. Even though TP founder Skele had formally left active politics and is a rank-and file member of the People's Party, most pundits and TP's political opponents believe that he still wields significant power within the party. TP's prime minister Aigars Kalvitis led the minority government in 2006.

People's Party founder Andris Skele, a gruff and "can-do" multi-millionaire, formally re-assumed control of his party on 21 November 2009. The party suffered from low popularity ratings and is facing a bleak future; Skele believes that only he can reverse it's downward spiral. Despite the fact that the party was the largest in the governing coalition (19 seats), Skele's strategy was to criticize the government from within while the campaign continues. Skele promised low taxes, microenterprise loans, a balanced budget, better public administration, and infrastructure investment, while criticizing the IMF and Scandinavian banks for inflicting hardship on Latvia. Skele hectored his listeners for over an hour at a highly-scripted party congress, promising to clean up the party, with no mention of foreign policy other than a pledge to increase energy ties with "Russia, Scandinavia, Poland and Lithuania". However, the current foreign minister, Maris Riekstins (who joined the party at the height of its fortunes several years back), promised no change in foreign policy under a People's Party-led government. The People's Party would not align itself with Slesers and Harmony Center. The People's Party, which remained well organized in the Latvian countryside will need all Skele's skill and wealth to overcome a great deficit of public trust. Only some six percent of voters expressing a preference in late 2009 say they would vote for the party, leading to speculation that Skele and company may not break the five-percent threshold for parliamentary representation.

Society for a different politics (Sabiedriba Citai Politikai, SCP) came into being after splits within the existing parties and thus lacked promising newcomers. The core of the economically center-left SCP is formed by former members of the ruling rightist People's Party (TP), most notably former minister of foreign affairs Artis Pabriks and minister of regional development Aigars Stokenbergs. The latter was expelled from TP for publicly criticizing the party in October 2007 and founded an NGO "Society for Political Change," which in 2008 was transformed into a political party. He was joined by Pabriks, who left TP after having expressed his frustration with the party's handling of attempts to dismiss the anti-corruption chief. The party has declared establishing a welfare state similar to those found in the Scandinavian countries its main aim and led the fight for a failed referendum in August to increase pensions. SCP counts approximately 450 registered members and was supported by 3.7% of voters in an October 2008 public opinion poll by SKDS. Pabriks and Stokenbergs are the only ones representing the party in Saeima and they cannot run for other office or their seats will return to TP. Both MP's, as well as party chair Gatis Kokins, have cited raising funds as the chief need of the party.

Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) was formed by the Green party and the Farmers' Union before the 2002 elections with a view to winning more parliamentary seats. ZZS platform appears to be centrist although it is trying to recruit in its ranks public figures of all political convictions. ZZS is believed to be the pocket party of the wealthy and influential mayor of Ventspils, Aivars Lembergs. In July 2006, the Prosecutor General's Office indicted Lembergs for corruption, money laundering and abuse of office. Lembergs will not run for parliament; however, in 2006 ZZS made him their candidate for prime minister. There is no requirement that the prime minister, or any other minister, be an elected member of parliament, but it has been the tradition for prime minister. ZZS had been in every ruling coalition since the 2002 elections, and had a brief spell of premiership in 2004 when Indulis Emsis led a shaky minority government.

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