Politic earthquake in Latvia: In the parliamentary elections that ended on Saturday, the party of Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš almost tripled its share of the vote from 2018 to 18.9 percent. The Harmony party, which is mainly based on the large Russian minority and has been the strongest party in the country since 2011, only achieved a quarter of its last result and thus apparently just missed the five percent hurdle. This means that Prime Minister Kariņš from the Jauna Vienotiba (Young Unity) party, which like the CDU/CSU belongs to the “family” of the European People’s Party, can continue to govern. Although his party received only 6.7 percent of the vote in 2018, it formed a centre-right coalition with four partners. The polling stations were traditionally open all week.
Born in 1964 in Delaware, USA, Kariņš, like many important politicians in the Baltic States, comes from a family of emigrants and moved to Latvia after his homeland regained independence in 1991. The philologist, later businessman and current politician is the first head of government in Latvia since 1991 to hold office for a full legislative period.
The big loser of the election is the social-democratic “Harmonie”, long thought to be the “Putin-understanders” party. It dropped from 19.8 to 4.8 percent. So far, it has been particularly successful with the Russian speakers in the country, who today make up around a third of the population due to immigration during the Soviet occupation (until 1991). After the war began in February, the party condemned Russia’s war of aggression, but abstained on several other votes affecting Russia. Former Russian-born mayor of the capital Riga, MEP Nils Ušakovs, commented on the poor election result that part of their 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 primarily associated with the suspected 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 For a Humane Latvia (PCL) and is under 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 likely to be largely due to Russia’s aggressive policy. One of the main tasks of the future government will be to get the consequences of the energy crisis under control. In the EU, the euro country Latvia suffers from the second highest inflation rate (after Estonia). In August it was 21.4 percent. The central bank in Riga currently still estimates economic growth this year at three percent “thanks to the solid growth at the beginning of the year”, for 2023 it expects a recession of minus 0.2 percent.