Opinion digest: Media comments on Sunday’s Saeima election in Latvia

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Seven parties made it into the Saeima in Latvia’s parliamentary election on Sunday, with Riga Mayor Nils Ušakovs’ Saskaņa/Harmony scoring the biggest number of votes at still just 19%. This means that the largest group in the Saeima will only have 23 mandates, with a broad coalition to be negotiated.
Saskaņa is followed by the New Conservative Party with 16 seats, KPV LV with 16 seats, the National Alliance with 13 seats, For Development/For! with 13 seats, the Greens and Farmers Union with 11 seats and New Unity with eight seats. For a majority government, 51 out of the Saeima’s 100 mandates are needed, which likely makes any upcoming coalition negotiations difficult.

Päevaleht: Result “difficult even for Latvians”

Daily Eesti Päevaleht commented in its Monday editorial that Latvia’s Saeima election has produced a result “difficult even for the Latvians,” and that agreeing on a coalition will prove difficult for any of the possible combinations of the seven parties now holding mandates in the Latvian parliament.

The paper also pointed out that since the Baltic states regained their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia has mostly been governed by three-party coalitions, while the Latvians actually have experience with governments that included six or seven different parties. Also, Estonia’s current government is the 16th since 1991, while Latvia’s is the 20th. Latvia has had 13 prime ministers in the same time period, while Estonia has had nine.

But the outcome of Sunday’s election is a difficult one to sort out even for Latvian conditions, Päevaleht wrote. For the third time the Social Democratic Party “Harmony” (Saskaņa) got the most votes, though likely going from 24 to 23 seats in the 100-seat Saeima. The party’s leader and mayor of Riga, Nils Ušakovs, wasn’t a candidate in the elections, but would like to see Vjačeslavs Dombrovskis as Latvia’s next prime minister (not to be confused with former prime minister and current EU commissioner, Valdis Dombrovskis).

Saskaņa’s position in Latvia is somewhat similar to what Centre’s position used to be in Estonian politics. Ušakovs will have a hard time finding potential coalition partners, seeing as any government led by his party would need another 28 mandates for a majority in the Saeima.

Saskaņa used to have a cooperation agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party much like Estonia’s governing Centre Party still has it, but threw it out last year (ERR News reported: https://news.err.ee/635146/latvia-s-saskana-party-ditches-agreement-with-putin-s-united-russia). This didn’t break the other parties’ boycott of Saskaņa, which makes it unlikely that another prime ministerial candidate in Ušakovs’ place will, Päevaleht wrote.

Postimees: Difficult negotiations ahead

Daily Postimees wrote on Monday that for the parties in the Saeima, difficult negotiations are ahead, and that a coalition of more than three parties could prove to be unstable. The paper also wrote that an extraordinary election can’t be excluded as one possible scenario.

Compared to Finland and Sweden, Latvia’s “colourful” politics are harder to follow, but plenty of the social and political issues stirred up by the election are similar to those facing Estonia, Postimees wrote: “Considering the European Union and the broader international context, it is sensible for Estonia to coordinate with Latvia. With this in mind, the election results might appear to some to be worrying.”

Estonia’s interests are more or less covered in what Latvian President Raimonds Vējonis has said, namely a stable government rather than political gridlock, the continuation of Latvia’s current security and foreign policy course, and also that of its reforms, “where in matters like administrative reform and the question of Russian schools they are actually ahead of us,” Postimees said.

Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis’ government didn’t manage to get the needed number of votes to remain in power despite the country’s improved situation, rising living standard and high employment, Postimees wrote. In terms of what is next for Latvia, the paper doesn’t speculate, but follows the Latvian media, where eg. public broadcaster LSM sees Artis Pabriksis of For Development/For! as the potential next prime minister.

Postimees doesn’t believe Saskaņa will be part of the next government, but assume that it will once again be left out. The success of newcomer Who owns the state?, a populist group that wants to get rid of current officials, close ministries and reign in the country’s political elite, along with the lowest turnout since 1991 (at just 54.6%) points to a certain “bitterness” among Latvian voters, the paper suggested.

While low wages are driving plenty of people out of the country and emigration of Latvians eg. to Ireland and the United Kingdom remains high, there is fear of unchecked immigration into Latvia. Those people worried about too many foreigners getting in should be “understood rather than written off,” Postimees wrote, pointing out that anti-immigration populists have had a lot of support among voters living abroad.

Neither of the two papers went into any great detail regarding Russia, merely mentioning problems with social network Draugiem.lv as well as increased propaganda through established channels.

ERR: Situation tricky, but fact that oligarchs fail to gain influence reassuring

ERR’s head of news, Anvar Samost, and political editor Toomas Sildam discussed the Saeima election on their Sunday program, also finding that the result was both surprising and difficult to ponder. “The election result is at least in part unexpected, and it’s hard to say what sort of government they have coming,” Samost said.

The role of the biggest winner, Saskaņa, really hasn’t changed, he pointed out. Latvia’s Russian-speakers voted for them despite the fact that Ušakovs ditched the party’s agreement with United Russia. Samost also thinks it unlikely that they will be a part of the next government, seeing as nobody wants to work with them.

Both Samost and Sildam observed that the influence of the oligarchs seems to have shrunk. “In Latvia the oligarchs have played a much greater role than in Estonia. But Ušakovs’ ditching the cooperation agreement with United Russia hasn’t meant much success for them,” Sildam said.

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