With early figures showing Latvia's coalition retaining power with almost 60 per cent of the ballot, Prime Minister Valdis
Dombrovskis still faces tough challenges to rescue the country's economy.
AP - An exit poll showed Latvia’s centre-right government winning re-election in one of the world’s most recession-scarred economies with about 55 percent of the vote Saturday.
If the result stands it would likely mean that Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis stays in power at the helm of a coalition of centre-right parties that took office in March 2009 after the previous government collapsed amid political and economic turmoil.
The exit poll by the BNS news service and LTV television showed the main challenger - the pro-Russia Harmony Centre party - winning about 30 percent of the vote.
The exit poll included 3,377 voters. The margin of error was not announced.
A victory by the centre-left Harmony Centre would have thrown into question a financial bailout program for Latvia, whose economic output has plunged 25 percent over the past two years.
President Valdis Zatlers, who has the right to nominate the next prime minister has said that one of the criteria in his selection will be strict adherence to the €7.5 billion ($10.3 billion) emergency bailout package put together by the IMF and the EU in December 2008.
The bailout saved Latvia, where the economy had overinflated after four years of double-digit growth, from bankruptcy, but it also shackles any future government to harsh budget cuts and tax hikes _ something that will not sit well with a population that saw unemployment reach nearly 25 percent last year.
Leaders of Harmony Centre, which brands itself as the only social-democratic party in Latvia, have said in the past they would like to re-negotiate part of the IMF-led program.
Harmony Centre officials, who control the city council in the capital, Riga, also say they would like to pull Latvia’s troops from the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, a drastic foreign policy shift that the president said could not be tolerated.
The fault lines between ethnic Latvians and the Russian minority run deep in this small Baltic nation, and the idea of Russian influence evokes painful memories of 50 years of Soviet occupation. Ever since Latvia’s independence in 1991, politics here have been dominated by centre-right governments steering the country on a pro-Western course, culminating in NATO and European Union membership in 2004.
Russian-speakers, mostly ethnic Russians but also Ukrainians and Belorussians, represent one-third of Latvia’s 2.3 million population. But given that many traditional Latvian parties are blamed for the recession, some Latvians are willing to vote for the centre-left Harmony Centre. The party last year won a municipal election in Riga, the capital.
Analysts agree that the probable third-place winner, the populist Greens and Farmers Union, will be the kingmaker in any future coalition, because it will hold enough seats to give a majority to either Harmony Centre or Unity, a centrist bloc that controls the current government.
Unity had 33 percent in the exit poll while the Greens and Farmers Union got 15 percent and the third coalition partner, the right-wing For Fatherland and Freedom, had 7 percent.
The Central Election Commission said preliminary results showed voter turnout was 61 percent.
“I voted for Harmony Centre,” said Sergei Nosov, a Russian who moved to Latvia 25 years ago and passed the citizenship exam. “I’ve seen that something’s being done in Riga. They’re doing exactly what they promised before municipal elections.”
Raivis Lazdins, a Latvian, said Harmony Centre couldn’t be trusted. “They’re friends with the Kremlin party United Russia, which is led by (Russian Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin, so voting for them would be crazy,” said Lazdins, adding that he was going to cast his ballot for Unity.
Date created : 2010-10-02