Pro-Russian Party Wins Latvia’s Election

Posted September 17th, 2011 at 10:30 pm (UTC-5)
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A pro-Russian party won Latvia's early election Saturday but fell short of the absolute majority needed to take power in the Baltic state.

With most of the votes counted early Sunday, the Harmony Center captured about 30 percent of the vote.

Since 1991, when Latvia regained its independence after the break-up of the Soviet Union, no pro-Russian party had either won an election or been included in a ruling coalition.

The new Zatlers Reform Party, led by former president Valdis Zatlers, ranked second with about 20 percent. Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis' Unity party looked set to finish third. These two parties have indicated they may form a coalition.

Latvia's parliament has 100-seats.

Official results were expected later Sunday.

Fighting corruption and the Latvian-Russian ethnic divide were key issues in Saturday's election.

Newly elected President Andris Berzins has said he will launch talks on the formation of a new government on September 28.

The Harmony Center is the second largest party in the outgoing parliament. It draws support from Latvia's Russian minority, which accounts for more than 27 percent of the country's 2.2 million population.

It also appeared to have gained popularity for pushing for a revision of the terms of a bailout agreed in December 2008 with the European Union and International Monetary Fund. The rescue package required a biting austerity drive which slashed public sector wages and pensions.

Saturday's early ballot comes after a July referendum in which more than 90 percent of voters backed a move by then president Zatlers to dissolve parliament over corruption allegations in so-called “oligarch parties.”