Amid Low Turnout, Exit Polls Suggest Pro-West Latvian Party Fended Off Left-Wing Challenger
In neighboring Latvia, the European Parliament election took place already on Saturday. With some parallels with the election in Estonia - a newly menacing eastern neighbour and the recent successes of a left-leaning party with ties to Putin's party - observers are looking to see whether the coalition party fends off a challenge.
One exit poll by Latvijas Fakti projected a handy victory for the government party Unity with 31 percent, and Harmony Center - a party often described as pro-Russian - a distant second at 13 percent. The election result is seen as a possible preview of Latvia's October general election.
Harmony Center maintains that it is a party of reconciliation and its leader Nil Ushakov, the mayor of Riga, warned a day before the vote against picking "anti-Russian forces," which he said would result in economic setback for Latvia.
It's unclear whether such calls - or conversely, the chance for nationalist-leaning Latvians to vote against pro-Russian candidates such as incumbent MEP Tatyana Zhdanoka and Alfreds Rubiks - was sufficient incentive for Latvians. Turnout was far lower than the 53 percent 2009, when local elections were held concurrently. In fact it is possible that turnout could be under 30 percent, say observers. Factors in the low turnout also included the hot weather and the fact that there was no one single issue that appealed to voters, aside from, arguably, the larger geopolitical trends.
These elections are also are a dry run for a number of new parties, such as the Einars Repše-led For the Good of Latvian Development.