Centre-right parties in Latvia are beginning to put together a new governing coalition following the results of Saturday’s snap election in which the pro-Russian Harmony Centre received the most votes, but may still be excluded from the government.
Harmony Centre, led by Nils Ušakovs, is an alliance of socialists and social democrats that is believed to be closely associated with the Russian premier Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. It is supported mainly by Latvia’s large Russian minority, although it has campaigned on a platform that looks to transcend ethnic division whilst championing the benefits of closer cooperation with Russia. It received 31 seats in the 100 seat Saeima, an increase of two from the last election, which was held only in October last year.
Latvian 2011 Parliamentary Election preliminary results (100 total seats)
Harmony Centre, 31 seats (+2 from 2010)
Zatlers' Reform Party, 22 seats (+22)
Unity Party, 20 seats (-13)
National Alliance, 14 seats (+6)
Union of Greens and Farmers, 13 seats (-9)
The election was prompted by a referendum called by former president Valdis Zatlers last June, using a previously unused constitutional power in protest at the Saeima’s decision to block an investigation into the three most powerful oligarchs in Latvia – in particular, by retaining parliamentary privilege in respect of Ainars Šlesers of the For A Good Latvia party. Zatlers was in fact replaced as president with Andris Bērziņš by the parliament in scheduled elections before the referendum took place and in response formed the Zatlers Reform Party, which finished second with 22 seats and is now set to lead negotiations over the future composition of the government. The main partners in this coalition will be the Unity party, the party of the current prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis, which received 20 seats (a loss of 13 from last October). Dombrovskis governed in coalition with the Union of Greens and Farmers, which also lost seats and finished fifth, but will not be brought in again due to Zatlers’ refusal to work with any of the so-called “oligarch” parties. The nationalist National Alliance finished fourth with 14 seats and may yet feature in the agreement of a governing coalition. Zatlers has said that:
“Our talks will continue and will be intensive and I’m sure they will also be productive…Our focus is on maintaining stability – that is the main aim”
Bērziņš, who as president is responsible for nominating the prime minister, has said that he will not do so until he returns from the United States on 28th September. Progress on a governing coalition is already being made and the Zatlers Reform Party and the Unity party have so far reached an agreement on economic policy, with both Dombrovskis and Zatlers announcing their commitment to cutting the budget deficit to 2.5% of GDP and to adopting the Euro in 2014. Zatlers will also be meeting with Harmony Centre, likely to provide more difficult negotiations given the latter’s campaign for higher social spending. Usakovs has however stressed that a Harmony Centre-Zatlers Reform-Unity coalition would be best for Latvia and would provide enough parliamentary support to vote through constitutional changes for a directly elected president, which is a key ambition of Zatlers. If an agreement cannot be reached with Harmony Centre, Zatlers may turn to the National Alliance, on which they agree on many aspects of economic policy. Such a coalition would provide the government with a total of 56 seats, as opposed to the 73 offered by joining with Harmony Centre. In advanced of talks with Usakovs, Zatlers has said:
“Harmony Centre is for me at the moment a complete dark horse”