Parliamentary elections in Latvia: victory but no majority

Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš’s liberal-centrist alliance becomes the strongest force. But a coalition needs partners.

Krišjānis Kariņš smiles and gestures

Krišjānis Kariņš has a good chance of continuing to govern Latvia Photo: Roman Koksarov/dpa

BERLIN taz | Latvia’s head of government Krišjānis Kariņš has a good chance of continuing his government work: In the parliamentary elections on Saturday, his liberal-centrist electoral alliance “Neue Einigkeit/Unity” (JV) received 18.9 percent of the votes. The second strongest force will be the Union of Greens and Farmers (12.6 percent), followed by the new electoral alliance “Vereinigte Liste” with 11 percent.

The national-conservative National Alliance landed at 9.3 percent. A left-wing force will also be represented in parliament: the progressives achieved six percent of the vote. The Eurosceptic Party For Stability (S!), which was only founded in 2021 and sees itself as representing the interests of the Russian minorities, immediately won 6.7 percent of the votes. The conservative group “Latvia First” (6.1 percent) and the liberal party “For Development/For!” (5.02 percent) also cleared the five percent hurdle and entered parliament.

A total of 19 parties or alliances had applied for 100 seats in the Saeima. At 59 percent, the turnout in the Baltic state with almost two million inhabitants – a quarter of whom is of Russian origin – was 5.4 percent higher than in 2018. “The Latvians associate Kariņš with stability and security,” commented the Political scientist Lelde Metla-Rozentāle told the Baltic news portal Delfi about the election victory in Latvia.

The big loser in this election is the pro-Russian social democratic party Harmony (SDPS). The party, which became the strongest force in the 2018 election with 19.9 percent and condemned Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine as illegal under international law, failed at the five percent hurdle with 4.8 percent.

War as a turning point

The poor performance of the SDPS is likely to have something to do with the Ukraine war – one of the key issues of this election campaign alongside the energy crisis and inflation of 21.5 percent. According to Martinscha Kapransa, a researcher at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the University of Latvia, the Ukraine war has become a turning point for the Russian-speaking electorate.

The war had fragmented rather than consolidated this group. “SDPS has always consolidated Russian-speaking Latvians. But this year, for the first time, we have seen this auditorium displaying different political behavior,” she told Delfi.

The Latvian political scientist Janis Ikstens believes that he is observing a radicalization within the Russian-speaking part of Latvian society. That is a serious problem. “Here an active integration policy would be necessary, but the current Minister of Culture is not in a position to do so,” he was quoted as saying by the news portal Delfi.

This radicalization may also have been promoted by the policies of Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš. Kariņš, who has Latvian and US citizenship, and his coalition partners are clearly positioning themselves on the side of Ukraine. Riga supports Kyiv with arms, supports the EU sanctions against Russia and has taken in over 40,000 Ukrainian refugees.

Conscription reinstated

The government has also increased spending on defense and reintroduced conscription from 2023. Thousands of Russians who have fled their homeland since the partial mobilization announced by President Vladimir Putin on September 21 have not received political asylum in Latvia. All Russian TV channels in Latvia have been blocked for several months.

A battle has also broken out over the culture of remembrance. In August, a Soviet monument ensemble with a 79 meter high obelisk was dismantled in Riga. The memorial was erected in 1985 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the USSR’s victory over Nazi Germany. Every year on May 9, the day of Victory in the Great Patriotic War, thousands of Russians gathered here for a commemoration event.

Krišjānis Kariņš had already made clear statements on election night. Kariņš said he ruled out any cooperation with pro-Russian parties. Experts assume that the three political forces JV, the National Alliance and the United List electoral alliance will form a coalition. However, a fourth partner is needed to achieve the necessary government majority. The negotiations are likely to be difficult, according to Riga.

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