Latvian election: War in Ukraine expected to have strong influence on voters

A total of 19 parties have more than 1,800 candidates running in the election

Polling stations opened on Saturday in Latvia for a general election which has been influenced by neighbouring Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Divisions among the Baltic country’s sizeable ethnic-Russian minority and the economy, particularly high energy prices, have also been major talking points during campaigning.

Several polls showed the centre-right New Unity party of prime minister Krisjanis Karins emerging as the favourite, with up to 20 per cent support.

Mr Karins, who became head of Latvia’s government in January 2019, currently leads a four-party minority coalition that, along with New Unity, includes the centre-right National Alliance, the centrist Development/For! and the Conservatives.

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A total of 19 parties have more than 1,800 candidates running in the election but only around eight parties are expected to break through the 5 per cent threshold required to secure a place in the 100-seat Saeima legislature.

Mr Karins, a 57-year-old dual Latvian-US citizen born in Delaware, told Latvian media outlets that it would be easiest to continue with the same coalition government if New Unity wins. He has excluded any co-operation with pro-Kremlin parties.

Support for parties catering to the ethnic-Russian minority that makes up more than 25 per cent of Latvia’s 1.9 million population is expected to be mixed; a share of loyal voters have abandoned them – for various reasons – since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The election is likely to be the death knell for the opposition Harmony party, the popularity of which has steadily declined.

The Moscow-friendly party traditionally served as an umbrella for most of Latvia’s Russian-speaking voters, including Belarusians and Ukrainians.

In the 2018 election, Harmony received almost 20 per cent of the vote, the most of any single party, but was excluded by other parties from entering the government.

However, Harmony’s immediate and staunch opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused many voters who still back Russian president Vladimir Putin to desert it.

Those opposed to the war, meanwhile, have tended to move toward Latvia’s mainstream parties, all of which also took positions against the invasion.

Harmony is now trailing in fifth place with 5.1 per cent support, according to a recent poll by Latvian public broadcaster LSM. – Associated Press