Newcomers winners in Latvian election, tough coalition talks ahead

Harmony a centre-left social democrat party also runs on conservative social policies

Harmony a centre-left social democrat party also runs on conservative social policies

A political party catering to the ethnic Russian minority is expected to win the most votes in Saturday's parliamentary election in Latvia - a Baltic member of the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation - but it remains unclear if it can forge a coalition to take power.

The outgoing coalition of the centre-right has managed to revive the national economy after the 2009 crisis, but the electorate, exhausted by the effort, is in search of new faces.

Party and the New Conservative Party secured support of 14.06% and 13.60%, respectively. Latvia is home to 1.9 mln people, and almost 1.5 mln of citizens are eligible to vote.

Latvians, fed up with corruption and weak democracy in the Baltic country of 2 million, punished the ruling three-party coalition, which lost nearly half of its votes, mostly to two newcomers.

According to the Central Election Commission's data from 1,057 out of 1,078 polling stations, the Harmony party, which advocates the interests of Latvia's Russian-speaking citizens, is winning 19.91% of the vote.

"No coalition combination is possible without Harmony that would appear able and stable", party leader and Riga Mayor Nils Ushakovs said.

Latvia, a nation of 2 million that borders Russia, has a sizable ethnic-Russian minority of around 25 per cent - more if you count other Russian-speakers such as Belarussians and Ukrainians.

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His Union of Greens and Farmers won only 9.9 percent of the vote, while the National Alliance took 11 percent and the Unity party 6.7 percent of the vote.

After casting his ballot, President Raimonds Vejonis called on fellow Latvians to come to the polls, pointing to the Brexit vote as an example of what might happen if they didn't.

We expect change and need more patience of the government with 16 competing parties.

Voters in Latvia, a member of the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, chose Saturday from more than 1,400 candidates and 16 parties to fill the country's 100-seat parliament.

According to the latest poll, the Greens and Peasants, at the head of the outgoing government, would not receive Saturday as fifteen seats in a parliament that in cent account. Relations have been frayed by Russia's annexation of the Crimea peninsula in 2014 from Ukraine and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

For Alexandra, a 56-year-old retiree who also would not give her last name, picking a party was easy.

Harmony party, the pro-Kremlin center-left, "promises to reduce defense spending to 1% of GDP", notes political analyst Marcis Bendiks. "But I have lived in Riga my whole life and so have five generations of my ancestors", she told the AP.

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