Latvia to remain Russia’s critic as prime minister wins election

RIGA (Reuters) – Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karenz’s centre-right New Unity party won an election on Saturday, according to preliminary results with 19 percent of the vote, putting him in a position to head another coalition government.

The results – with 96% of districts counting – mean that Latvia must remain a leading voice alongside its Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Estonia in pushing the EU to take a decisive stand against Russia.

Once again the Karenz party was the party that got the most support after the election. Members of the current coalition were on course for 42 seats in the 100-seat parliament, so Karenz needs to craft additional allies to remain as prime minister.

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Up to nine parties can win enough votes to secure seats in Parliament.

After a campaign dominated by security concerns in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Karenz told Reuters he would work to forge a coalition of like-minded parties.

“I am convinced that we will be able to find such a solution,” he said early Sunday.

“First of all in everyone’s mind is how we get through the winter, not only in Latvia but throughout the European Union, that we all remain united behind Ukraine, and do not concede in the face of the difficulties before us.”

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Karenz, the first Latvian head of government to serve during a full four-year term and a 57-year-old dual citizen of the United States and Latvia, took advantage of his Moscow policy, which included restricting entry for Russian citizens traveling from Russia and Belarus.

“I see no chance that any government in Latvia will stop supporting Ukraine – this is not the view of a small group of politicians, this is the view of our society,” Karenz said.

But his victory could widen the rift between the country’s Latvian majority and the Russian-speaking minority over their place in society.

Decreased support for the facilitators of Russia

Election results show declining support for Latvian minority Russian-speaking popular parties, which make up about a quarter of the country’s population of 1.9 million.

The left-leaning Harmony party saw its support drop to 5% after taking the largest share of the vote in the 2018 election, with observers citing the alienation of ethnic Latvian voters and disillusionment among Russian speakers over the party leadership’s criticism of the Kremlin over Ukraine. .

“Russian voters are migrating across the national line and voting (for parties) in Latvia. This is positive,” said analyst Philips Rajivskis.

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The opposition Greens and Farmers Union, a coalition of closely knit conservative groups around Ivars Limbergs, the long-time mayor of Ventspils who was placed on the US sanctions list over corruption allegations in 2019, ranked second with 13%.

Released on €100,000 bail since February while appealing his corruption conviction in 2021, Limbergs, 69, said in 2014, the NATO deployment in Latvia was an occupation.

But party leader Armand Cruz told Reuters early on Sunday that his party would support Karenz’s hard line against Russia, saying “we believe our current foreign policy is very correct”.

Krause said Limbergs’ words were stunned by opponents.

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(Press reporting by Andrios Setas and Janis Lazance Editing) by Kirsten Donovan and Frances Kerry

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