| JRL Home | JRL Simple/Mobile | RSS | Newswire | Archives | JRL Newsletter | Support | About
Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Russian experts see hopeful signals in Latvia's parliamentary election

Latvian Independence Monument
[Original of image copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc.
Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/
Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W.
Washington DC 20036]
Election to the Saeima, Latvia's national parliament produced a sensation last Saturday, although a predicted one.

For the first time in Latvia's history after 1991 when it re-acquired independence, a political association oriented at the country's populous Russian-speaking community has taken the second position on the list of election winners, being less than 5% behind the main winning party.

Experts believe that the Harmony Center's success will exert an encouraging effect on relations between Latvia and Russia.

The right-off-center Unity bloc led by Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis turned out victorious. It is likely to have almost 60 mandates in the 100-seat Saeima together with its partners in the ruling coalition - the Greens/Farmers Union and the nationalistic association For Fatherland and Freedom.

The Harmony Center that got 26% votes in the election emerged as the second-largest political force in parliament. It based its campaign on a sharp criticism of the government's anti-crisis policies. Specifically, it described Latvia's agreements with the IMF as a "financial occupation" of the country.

Nils Muizniks, a political expert at the University of Latvia told Bloomberg news agency that the pro-Russian party, which unites people of the Russian, Belarussian and Ukrainian ethnic identity, decided to make emphasis on the criticism of the ruling parties' economic reforms rather than on various aspects of inter-ethnic relation.

This prompted many Latvians, who are discontent with the Dombrovskis coalition's taxation policies, to support the Harmony Center, Muizniks told Bloomberg.

The Harmony Center positioned itself as a party of all the Latvian population, unlike another political force representing the Russian-speaking community - 'For the Rights of Man in United Latvia', which defends the rights of the ethnic Russian minority. It failed to get over the mandatory 5% qualification barrier.

Along with this, about 400,000 people living in Latvia, a country whose population stands at 2.2 million people, are deprived of the right to vote in elections at all. These are the so-called non-citizens and most of them are ethnic Russians.

Still, the solid fact is that the pro-Russian forces have secured an electoral support as large as this one for the first time since 1991 when Latvia declared itself independent from the former USSR.

All through this period of time, the country has been steered by conservative political forces, which have persistently pressed forward with a pro-Western course and maintained chilly relations with Russia.

Pre-election polls indicated that the Harmony Center was heading for no less than 30%, while in reality it got 4 percent less than that. Yet given the results of the election one can conclude they were not at all a failure for the pro-Russian forces, Yuri Dolinski, a political scientist from neighboring Lithuania told the Vilnius-based Express-Nedelya weekly.

"But let's bring more clarity into terms," Dolinski said. "These are not pro-Russian forces. They simply speak in favor of better neighborly relations with the Russian Federation and for the observance of rights the non-natives should be entitled to."

"In this sense, these people are the soberly-thinking Latvian patriots," he said.

The ongoing global economic and financial crisis did affect the voters' moods, too, Dolinski said. "It's simply stupid to engage in conflicts with Russia, a major trading partner, at a time when Latvia narrowly escaped the slide into a default."

"Gradually, the upkeep of the country's ethno-political character - and that's something that the Harmony Center objects to - becomes less and less important for the entire population of Latvia," the Moscow-based Komsomolskaya Pravda daily quotes Russian political analyst Sergei Markov as saying.

"They perceive the very threat of disappearance of the Latvian ethos as a distant one," he goes on saying. "The fear of assimilation, which forms the groundwork of Latvian nationalism, is gradually waning away, and increasingly more Latvians are developing the understanding of the importance of friendship with Russia."

Latvian President Valdis Zalters is expected to begin consultations on shaping up a new cabinet of ministers shortly. In most likelihood, he will trust the formation of the cabinet to the Unity Party, all the more so that even a victory would have scarcely made it possible for the Harmony Center to pool together a ruling coalition.

Prime Minister Domborvskis said Sunday he would hold consultations with all the political forces including the Harmony Center, as the authorities do not have an objective to isolate them.

Experts feel doubtful, however, over the prospects for opposition members to get posts in the ruling coalition, as Unity may form a majority cabinet by simply inviting the Greens/Farmers Union to join forces, all the more so that "prevention of the Russian parties from getting into the agencies of power" was one of the key electoral demands the rightwing.

Analysts indicate that Dombrovskis may try to start building partnership with the Harmony Center along the principles of a "situational coalition".

One way or another, the presence of a pro-Russian party in the Saeima will harmonize the government, Nils Muizniks believes. The right-wingers will ease up the state economic austerity measures regime, while ethnic discords may also recede into the background.

Mikhail Alexandrov, the chief of the Baltic region department at the CIS Institute, says in an interview with the GZT.RU news portal that the pro-Russian forces in Latvia could possibly score greater successes than a mere increase of influence in parliament.

"They may get the parliamentary majority if Janis Urbanovic, the Harmony Center leader, manages to eliminate disputes with Ainas Slesers, the leader of the For Better Latvia movement, as well as with the leaders of the movement For the Rights of Man in United Latvia," Alexandrov believes. "A course of events like this one has a high degree of probability and the main thing now is to cut one's individuals ambitions down to size."

He believes the Harmony Center's victory in election will have a good effect on Latvian-Russian relations, as "there'll be much more rational cooperation in the relationship between the two countries."

"The Latvian government's decisions won't be dictated by Russophobia any longer and I also expect a decision to integrate Latvia more deeply with CIS countries," Alexandrov said.

Analysts of the Novye Izvestia daily say the Harmony Center, the winner of "silver" in the election, will scarcely be able to affect Latvia' s state policies, and yet the chances for the emergence of ministers of Russian ethnic origin in the Latvian government are quite big now.

Keyword Tags:

Russia, Baltics, Johnson's Russia List, Russia News, Russia

Bookmark and Share - Back to the Top -        


Bookmark and Share

- Back to the Top -        

  Follow Johnson's Russia List on Twitter Tweet