Russian minority party wins Latvia's election

The ruling coalition loses its majority, populists surge

Photo: Xinhua The leader of Harmony party Nils Usakovs (2nd R) shakes hands with his supporter in Riga .

A small opposition party, the left-wing Harmony, favoured by Latvia's ethnic Russian minority, won the parliamentary elections in the Baltic country with 19.8 %, according to the final results. Voters in Latvia, a member of the EU and NATO, had to choose on Saturday from more than 1,400 candidates and 16 parties to fill the country's 100-seat parliament. Harmony is expected to face difficulties in forming a ruling coalition after the vote that saw new populist parties surge and government parties falter.

A total of seven parties exceeded the five percent threshold for getting seats in parliament. Voter turnout was 54.6%, the lowest since Latvia regained independence in 1991, the Baltic News Service reported.

Harmony is led by Nils Usakovs, the mayor of the capital Riga since 2009. But it has been shunned by other Latvian parties and kept out of the Cabinet over suspicions that it's too cozy with Moscow, despite the party's pro-EU stance. Sunday's result would give the party 23 seats at the Saeima legislature, one less it has now.

Voters, however, dealt a severe blow to Latvia's current three-party ruling coalition led by PM Maris Kucinskis. His centrist Union of Greens and Farmers came in sixth place with only 9.9% support, while the government's junior partners, the conservative National Alliance and the liberal New Unity, were fifth and seventh with 11% and 6.7% of the vote.

Two new smaller parties running on a strong anti-establishment, anti-corruption agenda moved into the forefront of Latvia's complex political landscape. The populist KPV party, abbreviation for "Who Owns the State?, led by the actor-turned-lawmaker Artuss Kaimins and the anti-corruption New Conservative Party took second and third place, with 14.3% and 13.6% of the votes respectively. The liberal For Development/For! party also made a good run and got 12% support.

The result means difficult weeks ahead trying to form a broad government coalition that has at least 51 seats in parliament. Only KPV has so far indicated it is open for talks with Harmony, the possible kingmaker. But Harmony's pro-Russian stance is still an issue. Earlier this year Harmony cut its cooperation deal with Putin's United Russia party, a pact that was a major source of irritation to other Latvian parties. Latvia’s ethnic Russian minority makes up about a quarter of the country’s 1.9-million population.

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