Latvia: no extremes

MOSCOW. (Alexander Vasilyev, a member of the RIA Novosti Expert Council) – Latvian analysts and political scientists waited for the results of the elections to the Saeima with impatience and alarm. Pre-election public opinion polls showed that few voters were going to show up at the polling stations. This could have led to the repetition of what happened during elections to the European Parliament in 2004, when the national and radical forces prevailed because only less than half of the voters came to cast their ballots. There was one more factor at work – the full moon. In the past two or three years this seemingly natural phenomenon has exerted an incredible influence on the actions of Latvians politicians.

The elections have been held. Unlike the political elite, Latvian voters were much less affected to external influences. Although only a little more than 62% of voters turned up at the ballot boxes (a drop of 10% as compared to 2002), they denied trust to extreme political movements. The 5% barrier proved to be an insurmountable obstacle to the Latvian Social Democrats, who promised to change the political system, the populists from Yuri Zhuravlev’s Dzimtene (homeland) list, led by V. Putin (the Russian president’s namesake), and numerous extreme radical and relatively small national fronts and associations.

The victory belonged to three parties, which had been in the minority prior to the elections: the People’s Party and two party coalitions – the Greens and the Farmers (ZZS), and the Right-Wing Party with the Latvian Way (Latvijas Cels). Now they have a one-seat majority seat in the Saeima. Their recent major rival – the Einars Repse-led Jaunais Laiks (New Era Party) lost its leading positions, many votes and former political ambitions. Now its members are not likely to play a major role in the formation of the cabinet of ministers.

There was only one sensation: two weeks before the elections the sociologists did not guarantee that the Harmony Center (Saskanas Centrs or SC) would overcome the 5% barrier. But the SC confidently occupied the honorable fourth place with 14.5%. It succeeded because it had a powerful election campaign, social-oriented program, and involved politicians who are popular among Russian-speakers (and not only them).

In general, voting in Latvia is still based on the national principle. In the past four years, the number of voters who supported “Russian-language parties” has increased by a mere 1.5-2%. Credit for this goes not so much to the involvement of Latvians, as to the gradual naturalization of non-voters.

The success of the Harmony Center cost dearly to the alliance For Human Rights in United Latvia (PCTVL). Once an influential political movement, which claimed the right to represent unilaterally the interests of all Russian speakers in Latvia, it had lost many popular politicians from the People’s Harmony Party (Tautas Saskanas Partija) and the Socialist Party, and eventually was denied confidence by a considerable part of its voters. They barely climbed over the 5% barrier, and now have a very modest representation in the Saeimas – a mere six seats. The PCTVL leaders explain their defeat by the intrigues of their political rivals and their massive campaign on the First Baltic Channel. But in so doing, they forget that they had a carte blanche in many major Russian-language Latvian papers. Their candidates included many prominent journalists of the Russian press in Latvia.
Alexander Vasilyev is the director of the Baltic Forum.-0-