Sixteen political parties and party alliances have been registered with Latvia’s Central Election Commission for upcoming elections to the four-year term of the 100-member Latvian parliament or Saeima which will take place on October 6, 2018. This is the largest number of lists since 2006, when 19 were filed. From 2010 to 2014 (there was an extraordinary election in 2011 after the Saeima was dismissed by then President Valdis Zatlers) the number of lists was steady at 13.
This overview of the parties participating in the next Saeima elections examines them based on current representation in the parliament and on the most recent (late July) opinion polls, that is, on the likelihood of the party getting more than the 5% threshold to get the seat.
(Sociāldemokrātiskā Partija “Saskaņa” ) is a result of the merger in 2010 of several parties that could be described as center to left-leaning and “pro-Russian” because of their appeal mainly to Russian-speaking voters and “pro-Kremlin” due to its stance on the issues of Crimea’s annexation and the following international sanctions on Russia. Among the parties which formed joint force is the Socialist Party of Latvia, which was led until 2015 by the former hard-line Soviet-era Communist Alfreds Rubiks (who served a prison sentence for his part in the coup against Soviet leader Mikhael Gorbachev in 1991 and emerged unrepentant). The Socialists have quietly disappeared from their association with Harmony. In 2018, Harmony has also broken its cooperation agreement with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia, an agreement which was regularly quoted as a barrier for joining government and making it more difficult to rebrand party as Western socialdemocrats to join S&D group in European parliament.
Harmony is led by the mayor of the capital, Riga, Nils Ušakovs. His management of the Latvian capital can be seen as a showing how the political party would run the country as a whole – both in a positive and negative way.
The Riga City Council under Ušakovs (in a coalition with the municipal party An Honor to Serve Riga) has upgraded various schools, playgrounds, historic buildings and other public areas, but at the cost of increasing the municipality’s debt (and no clear picture of what the final bill for this window-dressing will be). Ušakovs has also been accused by Re:Baltica of spending some EUR 8 millions of public funds on self-promotion on social media and of manipulating social media “support” for Harmony with fake and misleading accounts and even “hijacking” a neutral Facebook account about Riga by renaming it Saskaņa Online (FB closed it down after the complaints).
The party’s PM candidate is Vjačeslavs Dombrovskis. Not only he is one of Ušakovs best friends, but also former minister of economy and education from the once-leading centrist/liberal Vienotība where he represented Reforms’ party, an off-spring of the dismissal of the previous parliament by president Valdis Zatlers (which he subsequently led. Dombrovskis was also director of research for the recently-founded Certus economic and political think tank, extensively funded by the now defunct ABLV Bank, which is accused of a large scale money laundering by US authorities.
Harmony is the largest political force in the current Saeima, but sits in opposition.
Re:Baltica has also reported tha t Harmony has hired Christian Ferry, a top US political consultant (who worked for two US Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham) to assist with strategy and formulating political messages in the Saeim a election campaign.
In an apparent effort to attract more ethnic Latvian votes Ušakovs also persuaded Pēteris Sproģis, a 45-year old former bishop of the Latvian Baptist Union to be Harmony’s candidate for president of Latvia. Less than 10 days after his nomination was announced, Sproģis withdrew his candidacy, apparently influenced by what Harmony officials called an “unprecedented hate campaign” against the ethnic Latvian clergyman, calling him names for associating with a party that some Latvians believe leans toward the Kremlin and denies that Latvia was forcibly occupied by the Soviet Union.
Harmony. July opinion poll support – 21.4%, number of seats in the current Saeima – 24.
(Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība, ZZS) was formed in 2002 as an alliance between the Farmers’ Union (Zemnieku savienība) and the Green Party and has been in every government since then. The head of the current government, Māris Kučinskis, and President Raimonds Vējonis (who will name someone to form a government after the election and is facing re-election during the next parliamentary term) both represent this alliance. Ideologically, the party is moderately nationalist.
ZZS is basing its election campaign on what it considers its achievements in government hitherto – tax reforms, ongoing efforts to reform chronically underfunded health care (although the e-health system was a disaster at its start but seems to work now) and in its short-version election program, promising to do good things in all areas without setting specific or quantifiable targets.
The party alliance, however, is vulnerable, to some extent, because of its close ties with the port city of Ventspils politician and oligarch Aivars Lembergs, who faces charges for economic crimes (in a seemingly endless trial before a Latvian court). Lembergs played a key role in the so-called “oligarch conversations” clandestinely taped by Latvian security services as part of ongoing criminal investigation and leaked to the weekly magazine IR in which he and others plot to influence the media and plan actions amounting to state capture. Lembergs has been ZZS PM candidate in the past, but the party alliance is seeking to re-elect Kučinskis who is riding on his conflict averse personality, the wave of growing economy and his ability to do little, but to project stability. The Green Party’s head of its Riga division, Valentīns Jeremejevs, caused an uproar among sister European Greens by demanding that last June’s Baltic Pride march be banned (it was not). The Latvian Greens simply said that this was the party members’ personal opinion, stepping back from a direct condemnation of Jeremejev’s anti-LGBT views.
The question in the minds of many political analysts and voters is whether the Union of Greens and Farmers will join with Harmony to form a majority government coalition.
Despite media campaigns criticizing its backers, the Union of Greens and Farmers seems to enjoy steady electoral backing, mainly from older ethnic Latvians.
Union of Greens and Farmers. July voter poll support 12.4%, number of seats in the current Saeima – 21.
(Kam Pieder Valsts/KPV LV) was founded in May 2016 by former actor and Saeima deputy Artuss Kaimiņš (elected from the Latvian Regional Alliance/LRA but broke with the party over its dealings with coalition member Unity) and came in third with 7% voter support in a July poll following the dramatic detention of Kaimiņš by anti-corruption agency (KNAB) agents in the Saeima building on June 20, 2018. KNAB questioned Kaimiņš, a member of his party management board, and a Latvian businessman on allegations of illegal party financing.
KPV LV initially based its ideology on the idea that government was the servant of taxpayers and citizens and should be run as efficiently and corruption-free as possible. However, its current election campaign, headed by the party’s PM candidate, attorney Aldis Gobzems, has been strident and largely negative, portraying the existing political elite as venal, elitist and interested only in staying in power while keeping the vast majority of the population in poverty and desperation (something far from fully supported by economic data). Gobzems makes daily videos on Facebook, claiming that both the authorities and the media are ignoring or covering up huge scandals in the area of insolvency administration (this has been a major subject of investigation by the independent magazine IR, but not the specific claims made by Gobzems against a lawyer in the “insolvency business” who was killed by unknown gunmen at the end of May).
Meanwhile, Kaimiņš, who cut a colorful figure in the Saeima both while an LRA parliamentarian and as an “unaffiliated” deputy by filming Saeima committee and plenary meetings with a small video camera and often streaming them live, has been attacking media figures as out-of-touch, trying to emanate the rhetorics employed by Donald Trump in his election campaign. Gobzems, who is party’s PM candidate, has publicly threatened to “personally fire” the journalist from public broadcaster over what he sees wasting taxpayer money by being “mockingly superior” rather than neutral and objective in his reporting.
KPV LV. July voter poll support – 7%, number of seats in the current Saeima – none or one if Kaimiņš, an “unaffiliated” deputy, is counted.
(Nacionāla apvienība/NA) was formed in 2010 as an electoral alliance between the youth-oriented All For Latvia! (Visu Latvijai! ) and For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (Tēvzemei un Brīvībai/LNNK-Latvijas Nacionāla neatkarības kustība) and is a right-of-center nationalist party. It strongly supports the interests of ethnic Latvians and the primacy of the Latvian language in education and public life. The party has been in government since the extraordinary Saeima elections in 2011, when it took 14 seats.
NA is socially conservative, skeptical of LGBT, opposed to partnership laws and favoring traditional marriage and advocating liberal spending on benefits for families with children (the “demography” issue – low ethnic Latvian birth rates – has been a major issue for the party). In foreign affairs, the party is pro-NATO, pro-Ukraine. It favors a permanent NATO forces presence in Latvia. It appears ready to take administrative measures (cutting off broadcast licenses) to prevent the spread of alleged Russian propaganda and disinformation on Kremlin TV channels that are available on broadcast and cable-TV services in Latvia. It has declared that it will never support or join a government that involves Harmony.
NA also opposes the resettlement of refugees from other EU countries in Latvia and is highly skeptical of migration as such.
NA has been linked to the so-called “insolvency administration mafia” (a somewhat hyped term used by some media) that allegedly allowed insolvency administrators to earn huge fees, payout insufficient amounts to creditors, and, in some cases, to instigate baseless insolvency proceedings.
National Alliance. July voter poll support – 6.8%, number of seats in the current Saeima – 17.
(Attīstībai/Par!) is an electoral alliance formed on April 26, 2018, by three political movements – the liberal For! (Par! ), For Latvia’s Development (Latvijas attīstībai ) and Growth (Izaugsme ). For Development was founded in 2013 and ran unsuccessfully in the 2014 elections. Among its founders was former Bank of Latvia governor, Prime Minister and Finance Minister Einars Repše who is no longer active in politics.
The party alliance says it is economically and socially liberal, advocating an inclusive society (including civil partnership and, by implication, LGBT equality and rights) bringing new and young players into Latvian politics and accelerating the country’s economic development. At the same time, its short-version program sets goals of doubling nurses’ salaries, raising the minimum wage to EUR 500 and doubling pensions in ten years.
Despite the claims that it will bring young people and new faces into politics, For Development/For! has put forward Artis Pabriks, a member of the European Parliament and a former Foreign Minister and Minister of Defense from Unity, as their PM candidate. Another veteran of politics, though relatively young (born 1976) is Daniels Pavļuts, one of the founders of For! and a former Minister of Economics under then Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis. He joined the now defunct Reform Party (founded by former President Valdis Zatlers in the wake of dismissing the Saeima) in 2014 in time for the party fall apart and see defections to Unity in the Saeima elections. For Development/For! board member is also Juris Pūce, a former state secretary in the Ministry of Economics (2010 -2013). Both he and Pavļuts have been blamed for granting licenses to electricity suppliers entitled to collect the “green energy” surcharge, some of which later turned out to be fraudulent operations. Another leading figure is Mārtiņš Bondars, ex-banker and political figure who has changed several political parties during his political career (more below).
For Development/For! July voter poll support – 4.4%, number of seats in the current Saeima – none.
(Jaunā Konservatīvā partija, JKP) was founded in May 2014 as a centrist party and failed to gain any seats in the 2014 Saeima elections (it is currently represented in Riga City Council, in opposition). It gained a boost in 2017 when former anti-corruption agency KNAB high rank officials Juta Strīķe and Juris Jurašs joined the party, which was headed by former Minister of Justice (2012-2014) Jānis Bordāns. As minister, he was a member of the NA. Strīķe is famous for being repeatedly fired and disciplined as deputy head of KNAB by her boss at the time, Jaroslavs Streļčenoks, and regaining her job in a lawsuit. The conflict between the two gained the status of a black comedy soap-opera in Latvia, but efficiently rendered anti-corruption watchdog useless.
JKP’s short version program proposes reducing the number of government ministries to eight, merging KNAB, the Security Police and the Bureau for the Protection of the Constitution into a single national security agency aimed at combating corruption and other threats to national security and civil peace. The party, which gained nine seats in the Riga City Council in the 2017 municipal elections, also favors closing all gambling halls in the country with the exception of casinos in high class hotels. It wants to ban advertising of “payday loans”. The party favors raising the minimum wage to EUR 500 per month and increasing child benefit and paying doctors a net salary of EUR 1700.
New Conservative Party. July voter poll support – 3.9%, number of seats in the current Saeima – none.
(Jaunā Vienotība) is an alliance of six parties – five regional parties plus Unity – formed in April. It is an attempt to save Unity after a string of defections by key members (too long a soap-opera drama to outline here) and a bungled attempt in late 2015 by then party leader Solvita Āboltiņa to unseat Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma, the party’s Prime Minister at the time. The result of her intrigues was Straujuma’s resignation and losing the ball to to ZZS, who patched together a government with Māris Kučinskis at the helm. From then on, it was downhill in voter ratings for Unity, once the centrist-liberal core of the Latvian governments since 2010. Āboltiņa’s and the party’s ratings were not helped when the colorful, red-headed politician hooted at a small group of pensioners picketing the Saeima, creating a viral video copied from Latvian TV’s spot on the incident that was later edited together with clips of bleating goats.
Bringing in former European Union Commissioner (for Energy and later Development) Andris Piebalgs to lead the party did little to stop the disintegration of the party, now headed by Minister of Economics Arvils Ašeradens and as New Unity by euro-MP Krišjānis Kariņš. When New Unity submitted its candidate list, Kariņš, once considered the party alliance’s candidate for Prime Minister, did not appear on the list. The political movement, for all practical purposes, appears to be out of parliamentary politics with its July rating at 2.9% and 4.6% adjusting for a proportional distribution of undecided votes. Unity is still formally a partner in the current government coalition.
New Unity. July voter poll support – 2.9%, number of seats in the current Saeima – 23 by 2014 election results, but 19 or so after defections.
(No Sirds Latvijai) was a small opposition party self-described as “conservative” and open to all nationalities. It was founded by former State Auditor Ingūna Sudraba in 2014 and participated in that year’s Saeima elections, gaining seven seats. However, the From the Heart for Latvia Saeima faction was dissolved earlier in 2018 when defections of three of its members reduced the number below the minimum five required by the legislature’s rules. However, despite losing several founding members of her party, Sudraba has managed to file a list of candidates for the fall elections. One of the more controversial proposals in From the Heart for Latvia’s short version program is to reduce the Saeima to 60 members from the current 100.
Sudraba has been accused in some media of having ties to “shady” persons from Russia and has been denied a security clearance for access to certain state secrets, something she has said she will try to challenge in court.
From the Heart for Latvia. July voter poll support – 1.7%, number of seats in the current Saeima – 7 by 2014 election results, but the faction was dissolved after defections.
(Latvijas Reģionu apvienība) calls itself a centrist political alliance of several small and regional parties and the Regional Alliance. It was founded in 2014 and headed at the time by Mārtiņš Bondars, a Latvian-born and US educated (including graduate school at Harvard University) politician, former chief of staff for President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga and chairman of the board of the now bankrupt Latvijas Krājbanka which was owned by dubious Russian banker Alexander Antonov. The party gained seven seats in the 2014 Saeima elections, including one for the occasionally outrageous Artuss Kaimiņš, seen by many political analysts as the “locomotive” that pulled them into the Saeima to begin with. Kaimiņš then left the party after disagreements about its support for Solvita Āboltiņa. Bondars left the Saeima to successfully run for a position on the Riga City Council on a joint ticket from LRA and For Latvia’s Development in the 2017 municipal elections. Last December he quit the LRA to join For Latvia’s Development in March of this year.
LRA filed a list of candidates for the upcoming election, including new faces such as the activist lawyer Ieva Brante and Edvards Smiltēns, a young (born 1984) politician who defected from Unity. The party alliance’s short program calls for balanced development of Latvia’s regions and access to public transportation in all regions.
The Latvian Alliance of Regions. July voter poll support – 1.1%, number of seats in the current Saeima – eight by 2014 election results, seven after Artuss Kaimiņš defection.
- Small, new and “extraparliamentary” parties listing candidates include the leftist Progressives (Progresīvie) which is topping all five regional lists with female candidates. It calls for moving Latvia toward a “Nordic social democratic” model of governance and social welfare. The Progressives scored 1.1% in the July voter poll.
- Also launching a bid is the Latvian Russian Union (Latvijas Krievu savienība) with its list headed by Tatjana Ždanoka, who resigned her mandate at the European Parliament to run for the Saeima. A pro-Russian (and pro-Soviet during the breakup of the USSR) activist and PhD in mathematics, Ždanoka was seen as attempting to take conservative Russian-speaker votes from Harmony but only gained 0.7% voter support in the July poll. This indicates that the party, even with its list headed by Ždanoka and including another Europarliamentarian, Andrejs Mamikins (elected from Harmony but defecting to the Latvian Russian Union ) will have a hard time to be a spoiler for Harmony. The party’s short-version program includes defending the interests of Russian-speakers and other ethnic minorities, preserving Russian-language public education and some “curious” points like privatizing Latvia’s public service television and radio and abolishing the broadcasting regulator for electronic media.
- Other interesting program points by small parties include the Latvian Nationalists (Latvijas nacionālisti) proposal to make the 110th article of the Latvian Constitution, which specifies that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman non-amendable.
- The Action Party (Rīcības partija) declares it is against the LGBT Baltic Pride 2018 march (which has already taken place) and against ratifying the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. It also proposes lowering the excise tax on motor fuel, alcoholic beverages and tobacco.
- Against same sex marriage and for Latvia leaving NATO (against military blocs) and for renewing the Latvian lat and leaving the eurozone is the Latvian Center Party.
- The party For an Alternative (Par alternatīvu) proposes restoring the death penalty (also for “economic crimes”), reinstating the lat, abolishing all taxes on agriculture and, if needed, holding a referendum on leaving the EU.
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