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Latvians vote in crucial general election

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-10-02

Latvians are casting their ballots in what could be a very closely contended election race. The outcome will impact on the country's faltering economy and its place within the Euro zone.

AFP - Latvians went to the polls Saturday, as the Baltic nation emerges from a savage economic slump but remains locked in a biting austerity drive.

Polls showed the centre-right could retain power despite the Moscow-tied left-wing opposition being poised for big gains.
“Opinion polls suggest that the ruling coalition parties could win a majority,” Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis told reporters after casting his ballot.
The ballot is a crucial test for Dombrovskis — at 39, Europe’s youngest government head — defending his stewardship amid deep spending cuts and tax hikes under an international bailout.
“The crisis is by no means over, and we still have intense work ahead of us,” he added.
The European Union nation of 2.2 million, whose double-digit growth of the past decade seems a lifetime ago, has inched into recovery this year.
Dombrovsksis’ minority coalition, in office since March 2009 after a previous centre-right administration collapsed, is targeting a majority in Latvia’s 100-seat parliament.
Pre-election polls indicated that his Unity movement and its junior governing allies could obtain 60 seats. They currently have 47.
“I voted for Unity,” a woman named Daina, 65, told AFP in a working-class district of the capital Riga. She declined to give her last name.
“Dombrovskis works well,” she added, noting she was still holding down a job despite passing retirement age.
Grocery store assistant Inga, 45, said she backs the premier, albeit grudgingly.
“I’m not happy with them, but I don’t see an alternative,” she said.
Major gains were nonetheless expected by the left-wing opposition Harmony Centre, forecast to win 30 seats, up from its current 18.
Its core is the Russian-speaking minority — 27 percent of the population, many of whom came to Latvia in the five decades before independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Harmony Centre won Riga city hall last year and mayor Nils Usakovs, 34, is the darling of its electorate.
“I voted for Harmony Centre. Because Usakovs has helped my mother at the school where she works,” said Anna Truhanova, 28 and pregnant with her second child.
She said her husband, who lost his construction industry job, went to work in neighbouring Belarus and comes home every two weeks.
The Latvian public is weary, in stark contrast with the upbeat mood in the 2006 election, two years after EU and NATO entry and amid an economic boom.
The economy, fed by easy credit, went off the rails in 2008.
At 15 percent, trust in lawmakers is now at a post-independence low, surveys show.
Agnese Margevica, a 34-year-old journalist, was among those skipping the election, saying: “I don’t want to vote for the status quo and there’s no other alternative”.
Dombrovskis’s government is Latvia’s 15th since independence.
He is trying to plug state coffers, under a 7.5-billion-euro (10.1-billion-dollar) deal agreed with the IMF and EU in November 2008 and paid in tranches provided Latvia respects it.
Harmony Centre says it wants to redraw the bailout, arguing that measures such as double-digit pay cuts have been too harsh for ordinary people.
Analysts dismiss that as electioneering, saying there is little option but to bite the bullet.
Its message has hit home amid a crisis in which the economy shrank by almost 25 percent over 2008-2009 — the deepest recession in the world, according to IMF research — and unemployment more than tripled to 20 percent.
Harmony Centre mixes social democrats and former Soviet era communists. In 2009, it signed a cooperation deal with the United Russia party of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
While Latvia’s other parties may not have such deals, some, even on the right, have pushed for better ties with Moscow, the country’s main energy supplier.
If Harmony Centre were to enter government, it would be a post-independence first for a party catering to the Russian-speaking minority. The crisis has pushed enduring ethnic rivalries down the agenda.



Date created : 2010-10-02