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Latvia - 2010 Election

Latvia is a parliamentary republic with legislative authority exercised by a unicameral parliament (Saeima), elected for a term of four years. The prime minister is nominated by the president, who is elected by the Saeima, also for a four-year term. Contrary to previous arrangements, candidates could run in only one constituency. Voters could cast their ballot for a contender’s constituency list, and indicate preferences within that list. They could place a “+” next to candidates’ names if they wished those candidates to be moved up the list, or strike out candidates’ names to remove them from the list.

Seven parties and six alliances were registered to contest the elections. All filed lists of candidates in all five constituencies.29 Altogether, 1,234 candidates ran. A number of new alliances had been formed in the preceding months. These included Unity, an alliance of three parties, including New Era and the Civic Union, both members of the outgoing governing coalition. The People’s Party joined with the First Party of Latvia/LC to form the For a Good Latvia alliance. The For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK party, a member of the outgoing government, formed an alliance with Everything for Latvia. Two contenders, For Human Rights in a United Latvia and Concord Centre, were broadly perceived as representing the interests of the Russian-speaking population, although both included ethnic Latvians on their lists. Another member of the outgoing governing coalition standing in the elections was the Union of Greens and Farmers.

The campaign took place in a calm atmosphere, and contestants were generally able to campaign freely. Campaign activities picked up noticeably in the last two weeks before the elections. Certain practices blurred the distinction between campaigning and the activities of local government. Some leading politicians on occasion took advantage of their incumbency to boost their visibility in the campaign.

The ‘playing field’ was somewhat skewed by cases of ‘hidden’ advertising not accounted for in campaign spending reports, in contravention of the law. Examples of ‘hidden’ advertising included sporting events used to promote the For a Good Latvia alliance, without identifying them as campaign events. The Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB), charged with overseeing compliance with the campaign finance rules, received numerous allegations of ‘hidden’ advertising, including in the media.

Notably, sporting events were used to promote For a Good Latvia, without acknowledging that they were campaign activities. A TV spot advertising a motor rally a week before the elections featured the slogan “For a Good Rally” that included the For a Good Latvia logo. At matches of Dinamo Riga ice hockey club, prizes were awarded by For a Good Latvia candidates and banners featuring For a Good Latvia slogans were displayed.

In two separate instances, contenders’ websites were temporarily hacked into. For a period of time on 11 September, people trying to access the Unity website found themselves being redirected to For a Good Latvia’s site. For a Good Latvia denied any responsibility. For a time on 24 September, the For a Good Latvia site was hacked into, so that different content from usual was displayed.

While the official election campaign started on 5 June, campaigning was relatively subdued until the last two weeks before the elections. Among the main campaign themes were the economy, especially taxation, welfare policies and pensions. Unity focused on Valdis Dombrovskis’ record in handling the economic crisis, and argued for the continued implementation of the International Monetary Fund’s program for tackling it; For a Good Latvia called for its renegotiation. Concord Centre called for closer relations with Russia as a way of alleviating the economic situation. The Union of Greens and Farmers emphasized the record of Aivars Lembergs as Mayor of Ventspils.

In all 62.63 per cent of 1.5 million registered voters turned out at the polls 02 October 2010. Five parties/coalitions surpassed the 5-per cent threshold. The Unity coalition came in first with 33 seats winning four more seats than its rival SC. Prime Minister Dombrovskis received the highest number of preferential votes. The other parties in his outgoing government - the ZZS and the National Alliance - took 22 and eight seats respectively. For a Better Latvia (LPP-LC) won eight seats while the PCTVL failed to win parliamentary representation.

Dombrovskis was again named Prime Minister after the October 2010 elections. Center-right parties coalesced to form the Unity bloc, winning a plurality of seats, and a majority coalition was formed with the Union of Greens and Farmers. A nationalist bloc supported the government from outside the cabinet. Voters largely rejected the populist message put forward by the For a Good Latvia party. The predominately Russophone and left-of-center Harmony Center coalition had its best showing ever, but its coalition talks with Unity failed.

The Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) was primarily responsible for fighting corruption. In May 2011, the KNAB launched a major investigation into alleged corrupt practices by high-profile politicians and business leaders, including members of parliament, the mayor of the city of Ventspils, and the chief executive officer of Latvia’s national airline, airBaltic. The KNAB searched the homes and businesses of some of these individuals. However, parliament invoked its immunity to block the KNAB’s execution of a search warrant at the office of opposition member of parliament Ainars Slesers of the For a Good Latvia Party. The investigation continued at the end of 2011. These events, and the perception of corruption connected with them, led the president to call for, and the electorate to approve, early parliamentary elections.

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