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Latvian voters to elect first new parliament since joining EU

Latvian voters to elect first new parliament since joining EU

Voters are set to elect a new parliament Saturday for the first time since the Baltic nation settled into a new era of stability by joining the European Union and NATO in 2004.
With few hot-button issues in the campaign, the election's main question is which of the largely similar right-wing parties will be given a mandate to lead Latvia's traditionally shaky coalition government.
The opposition New Era party is hoping to strengthen its position against the ruling People's Party, which leads in the polls, and stage a return to the government after pulling out of the ruling coalition last year.
However, the election could be marked by low turnout at the polls as analysts say a lack of hot-button issues during the campaign has created an aura of voter apathy in the former Soviet republic of 2.3 million people.
Gaining admission to the EU and NATO was the dominant goal after winning independence in 1991, and brought a sense of complacency to many Latvians. The country's economy is the fastest growing in Europe _ the gross domestic process soared 10.2 percent last year _ and next month's NATO summit in Riga is seen as a way to cement the country's place on the international arena.
In contrast to previous elections, there are no new parties or charismatic personalities that could help draw voters to the polling booths.
"This is another sign of stability," said Zaneta Ozolina, head of Latvia University's political science department. "There are no new messiahs this time."
In addition, analysts say, parties are starting to sound alike.
"The right-wing parties are on the same page," said Karlis Streips, a political commentator.
Ozolina predicted that voter turnout would fall to approximately the European average of 60 percent, a significant drop from the 71 percent of eligible voters who participated in the 2002 election.
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga expressed concern this week about low voter turnout and appealed to citizens to go and vote.
"If you don't vote then you have no right to complain about what takes place in the country," she said on national television Thursday.
Alexander, a 48-year-old auto repair worker who declined to give his last name, said he would likely vote for Ainars Slesers, the young millionaire leader of the joint Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way ticket, since he values politicians who "aren't puppets" and speak their own minds.
Historically, Latvia's electorate has been split along an ethnic divide, a rift that gets crystallized every election. Ethnic Latvians overwhelmingly support centrist and right-wing parties, while ethnic Russians and other minorities, who comprise approximately 35 percent of the population, vote for leftist parties.
That tendency has provided Latvian lawmakers with a long-standing dilemma of how to build a majority coalition in a 100-member Parliament where about a fourth of the seats are occupied by left-wing politicians who have been marginalized and often are unwilling to support other parties.
It has proven to be a challenge. During the current, eighth Saeima, there have been three governments. Two of them _ including the sitting one _ were minority governments.


Updated : 2021-05-09 16:40 GMT+08:00