Political earthquake in Latvia: In the parliamentary elections that ended on Saturday, Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš’s party nearly tripled its share of the 2018 vote to 18.9%. The Harmony party, which is mainly based on the large Russian minority and has been the country’s strongest party since 2011, has only achieved a quarter of its latest result and thus apparently missed the five percent barrier. This means that Prime Minister Kariņš of the Jauna Vienotiba (Youth Unity) party, which like the CDU/CSU belongs to the “family” of the European People’s Party, can continue to govern. Although his party only received 6.7% of the vote in 2018, it formed a center-right coalition with four partners. Polling stations were traditionally open throughout the week.
Political correspondent for Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania based in Warsaw.
Born in 1964 in Delaware, USA, Kariņš, like many leading politicians in the Baltic States, comes from an emigrant family and moved to Latvia after his homeland regained independence in 1991. The philologist, later businessman and current politician , is Latvia’s first head of government since 1991 to hold the post for a full legislative term.
The big loser in the election is the social democrat “Harmonie”, long considered the party of “Putin understandings”. It dropped from 19.8 to 4.8%. So far, it has been particularly successful with Russian speakers in the country, who today represent about a third of the population due to immigration during the Soviet occupation (until 1991). After the war broke out in February, the party condemned Russia’s war of aggression but abstained from several other votes that affected Russia. The former Russian mayor of the capital Riga, MEP Nils Ušakovs, commented on the poor electoral result that part of his electorate punished the party for its loyal stance and condemnation of the war.
The strongest opposition party is likely to be the Union of Farmers and Greens (ZZL), with 12.7 percent. She is mainly associated with the suspicious corrupt machinations “oligarchs” Aivars Lembergs. Prime Minister Kariņš has announced that, as before, he will not form a coalition with her. A populist party founded by actor Artuss Kaimiņš, which became the second strongest force in 2018 with 14.3 percent, has since renamed itself Human Latvia (PCL) and is down one percent.
Overall, the election result shows a stabilization of the political situation and a consolidation in favor of the executive with a relatively high turnout, which is probably largely due to Russia’s aggressive policy. One of the main tasks of the future government will be to control the consequences of the energy crisis. In the EU, Latvia, the euro country, suffers from the second highest rate of inflation (after Estonia). In August it was 21.4%. Riga’s central bank currently still estimates economic growth this year at three percent “thanks to solid growth at the start of the year”, for 2023 it expects a recession of minus 0.2 percent.