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Latvia - 2018 Election

The 13th Saeima election took place 06 October 2018. The parliament is elected for a four-year term by proportional representation through open party lists in five multi-member constituencies. The number of seats elected in each constituency is determined by the CEC based on the number of eligible voters in each constituency according to the population registry four months before elections. The Constitution provides for a four-year parliamentary mandate but in case of early elections the mandate is reduced to three years.

In Latvia, the main event of 2017 was the summer local government election where the big question was whether the country’s so-called “Latvian parties” could band together to a sufficient degree to take over the majority in the Riga City Council which had been run quite corruptly for the previous eight years by the Harmony Party in tandem with the rather clumsily named Honour to Serve Riga.

Since the 1990s, the Kremlin has disseminated three grand narratives about Latvia: that it systematically discriminates against its ethnic Russians; that fascism is on the rise; and that Latvia is a failed state. Although these themes are intertwined with the everyday content of pro-Kremlin news coverage, their actual impact on the Latvian public opinion is an open question. Discrimination claims focus on Latvian “ruling nationalist parties” that allegedly humiliate the Russophone minority through language and citizenship policies. Accordingly, the primary audience of this narrative is Latvia’s Russian speakers.

The last few years have witnessed the emergence of more ideologically consistent parties. This is in contrast with the rather vague groupings, often centered around one particular figure, which had defined Latvian politics since independence. She cites For Latvia’s Development (liberal, centre-right), For! (liberal, centre-left), and The Progressives, an explicitly social democratic party who campaign under the slogan “turn Latvia in a Nordic direction”.

“Screw the president,” “screw the government,” and “punch the prosecutor in the throat.” These are only three snippets of salacious conversations that took place between Latvian business and political figures. Transcripts of the conversations, which were released in June 2017 by the Latvian weekly magazine IR, continue to shake Latvian politics. The materials not only corroborate suspected corruption and abuse of power at the highest level of government, but they also shed light on plans to restrict press freedom, interfere with democratic processes, and take advantage of state institutions.

Una Bergmane wrote " Farmers and Greens is currently the leading party in Latvia. Some people claim that the younger generation of Farmers and Greens leaders are distancing themselves from Lembergs. For example, despite Lembergs’ anti-NATO rhetoric, Farmers and Greens’ leaders are committed to Latvia’s pro-Western orientation. The 2018 election will be the first that Farmers and Greens will face as the leading government party, and their record is far from compelling. They have failed to implement badly needed reforms in healthcare and education, and their tax reform has been widely criticized. "

Following the 13th Saeima election, political forces shaping the next coalition will have to arrange their Foreign and Defense Minister picks with the president, said Latvia's president Raimonds Vejonis appearing on LTV 31 August 2018. He said that while Latvia is safer than ever, geopolitically speaking, at the same time it's noticeable in the pre-election time that the stable values and systems are being called into question.

Vejonis stressed that the next government leader should have western geopolitical leanings, just as the defense and foreign ministers should. "I have to have 100% certainty that the people put forth for these posts will preserve the euro-Atlantic course," he said. He also said it's expected the next Saeima will continue reforms in education, healthcare and government administration. Vejonis' own term runs out in 2019.

Journalists from the Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism, Re:Baltica, said it had become impossible to keep track of who is spending what and consequently whether any election rules are being violated. The The Corruption Prevention and Combatting Bureau (KNAB) "has no way to oversee or audit party spending on Facebook and Google. KNAB has said hitherto that it has the tools to do so, but declined to disclose [its methods]. According to off the record information, KNAB had hoped for cooperation from Facebook, but so far nothing has happened," said Re:Baltica 12 September 2018.

The first exit poll released after voting ceased in the 13th Saeima elections on October 6 suggested the largest share of the vote went to the Harmony party (19.4%), with the For Development/For! alliance (13.4%) in second place, the National Alliance (12.6%) in third position and the New Conservative Party (12.4%) in fourth. Though tipped by some to be a top-three party, KPV LV (11.5%) managed a provisional fifth place, with the Greens and Farmers Union (9.7%) of incumbent Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis in sixth place, a result that may place his job in jeopardy. The final party estimated to have crossed the 5% threshold is New Unity (6.9%).

Falling short are Latvia's Regional Alliance (3.5%) and Latvia's Russian Union (3.2%). The Progressives (2.7%) and the Latvian Nationalists (1.1%) are the only other parties estimated to have won more than 1% of the vote with the remaining 5 parties sharing the scraps between them.

For comparison purposes, in 2014's final results, Harmony won 23% of the vote, Unity 21%, the Greens and Farmers Union 19.5%, the National Alliance 16.6%, For Latvia From the Heart 6.8%, and Latvia's Regional Alliance 6.6%, meaning six parties made it into Saeima.

Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis faced a tricky decision in the near future when nominated a potential Prime Minister to attempt to form a new government coalition. Though the self-styled social democrat Harmony party topped the poll this time around with 20% of the vote, it was unlikely Vejonis will choose Prime Ministerial candidate Vjaceslavs Dombrovskis as his nominee. Harmony, which draws much of its support from Latvia's large Russian minority, has topped the poll in the past but has never been in government as "Latvian" parties have tended to band together to form a large enough bloc to prevent Harmony having any chance of a workable parliamentary majority.

It was even less likely Vejonis will choose Aldis Gobzems of the new and overtly populist KPV LV party, which finished in second place with 14%, as Vejonis said before the vote he would be looking for a nominee willing to carry on with the general direction of the outgoing administration in several key areas rather than introduce the radical changes that were part of KPV LV's election program.

Though regarded a a safe pair of hands, it might prove difficult to nominate outgoing Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis again if it was confirmed that his Greens and Farmers Union party saw a significant fall in support and it finished in sixth place. Former Foreign Minister and Defense Minister Artis Pabriks is likely to be a front runner for the nomination. He is the PM candidate for the new For Development/For! alliance, which finished in fourth place.

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