Latvia will hold general elections for the Saeima, the 100-seat Parliament, on Saturday, and voters are expected based on national polling to maintain the status quo, supporting Prime Minister Laimdota Staujuma's current center-right coalition.
Staujuma took over the office after Valdis Dombrovskis resigned last November following a roof collapse of a shopping center in Riga, which killed 54 people and injured 41. It was the worst disaster in Latvia since 1950, when a steamer sank in Riga, killing 147 aboard. Poor construction and work safety violations have been blamed, and a criminal investigation is still ongoing.
Aleks Tapinsh, a journalist who has worked for Thomson Reuters and Agence France Press in Latvia, told ERR News that this is an election where there are no clear choices for change from the current governing coalition.
"It is very likely that Latvians on Saturday will cover their noses, avert their eyes and re-elect the current four-party coalition, in spite of their corruption scandals," Tapinsh said. "Even though many Latvians are unhappy with the current government, they may be willing to tolerate it. It’s largely because no party currently in the government would be willing to commit political suicide and form a coalition with the pro-Russian Harmony party."
Tapinsh said that the most recent poll by the Latvian public opinion research center SKDS showed that 17.7 percent have not decided for whom they will vote for in the election yet.
"As in the previous elections, it will be decided by the undecided voters," he said.
The SKDS poll indicated that a new party, For Latvia from the Heart, led by the former state auditor Inguna Sudraba, could grab votes of those undecided voters who disagree with the state of affairs in the country, or are disillusioned in their previous choices.
Nearly 9 percent of the voters said in September they would vote for the Sudraba party (in August, the support offered a mere 3.4 percent) while 18.4 percent said they would vote for the pro-Russian Harmony party (compared to 19 percent in August).
"The Latvian political peculiarity is that a party that barely can overcome the 5-percent barrier [to join the Saeima] can play a key role in formation of the government," Tapinsh said. "And if this poll was to be a harbinger of the election results, then it is theoretically possible - though unlikely - that the ruling party Unity, along with the right-wing (National Alliance) party may be in the opposition."
Tapinsh said the current Ukrainian-Russian conflict has mobilized voters from the predominantly ethnic Latvian parties, but that the issues driving this election are primarily local in nature.
"The dissatisfaction with how the country is run spans the ethnic barrier," he said. "After all, Latvia has been in NATO for a decade, and on Thursday US tanks rolled into military bases in the Baltics as a sign of assurance that the Baltic states will be defended. It would be very difficult to imagine any coalition government in Latvia which would question the country’s participation in NATO."
"With geopolitics aside, the issues that drive this elections are domestic - unemployment, mass migration, social security benefits, and taxes."