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Latvian premier’s party emerges on top in general election

HELSINKI (AP) — Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins’ ruling center-right party won the most votes in Latvia’s general election, centrist parties were runners-up and pro-Moscow parties crashed in a vote that was shaped by neighboring Russia’s war in Ukraine and divisions among the Baltic country’s sizable ethnic Russian minority.

With more than 97% of the votes counted, initial results showed on Sunday that Karins’ New Unity party had taken 18.9% of votes, while the opposition Greens and Farmers Union was second with 12.8% and the new centrist electoral alliance United List — made up of several regional parties — was third with 11%.

Only eight parties or electoral alliances passed the 5% barrier and secured representation at the 100-seat Saeima legislature. The center-right National Alliance and the centrist Development/For!, which are both members in Karins’ current minority coalition government, are among them.

None of the parties catering to Latvia’s ethnic Russian minority, which makes up more than 25% of the country’s 1.9 million population, managed to secure a seat at Parliament.

The election on Saturday was a blow particularly for Harmony, a Moscow-friendly party that traditionally served as an umbrella for most of Latvia’s Russian-speaking voters, including Belarusians and Ukrainians.

Harmony received a mere 4.8% of votes in comparison to the 2018 election, when it garnered almost 20% of the vote, the most of any single party, but was excluded by other parties from entering the government.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 had a substantial effect on voter attitudes, observers say, and resulted in a deep division between Russian-speakers opposing and those supporting the war. Latvia’s economic situation, including soaring energy prices, was the main election issue.

Initial voter turnout was 59%, the Central Election Committee said. It is an increase of around five percentage points from the 2018 election.

Latvia joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

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