09/10/2006 - Results
Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis's People's Party (TP), won the general elections that took place on 7th October in Latvia, the first since the country's entry into the EU on 1st May 2004. The party won 19.49% of the vote ie 2.81 points more than during the last election on 5th October 2002 along with 23 seats (+3). Aigars Kalvitis is the first Head of Government to be re-elected to his post by ballot since the country's independence on 21st August 1991. The second part of the government coalition, the Farmers' Union and the Greens (ZZS) led by Augusts Brigmanis, took second position winning 16.69% of the vote a sharp rise in comparison with 2002 (+7.22 points), and 18 seats (+6). The People's Party came out ahead in the electoral district of Vidzeme whilst the Farmers' Union and the Greens won in the districts of Kurzeme and Zemgale that lie in the west of the country. The third government party, the First Party of Latvia led by Ainars Slesers witnessed a decline. It won 8.59% of the vote (-0.98 points) and 10 seats. Its conservative (and anti-homosexual) stances along with its electoral alliance with Latvia's Way (LC) did not convince the electorate. In all the outgoing government coalition won 44.77% of the vote and 51 of the 100 seats in the Saeima ie the absolute majority.
New Era (JL) the People's Party's rival and former government party, although situated centre right on the political scale, left the government in April; it took third place with 16.38% of the vote and heralding a regression of 7.60 points in comparison with the last general election – it won 18 seats (-8 ).
The true surprise in this election lies in the rise of the Harmony Centre (SC) which won 14.42% of the vote (17 seats), ie around 8 points more in comparison with the pre-electoral opinion polls. Led by former journalist of the First Baltic Channel, Nils Usakovs, the Harmony Centre is a Russian speaking party. It defends the diversity of the population and is in favour of the free choice of language for children's education; the party appears to be more moderate than its main competitor, For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PVTCL). " Harmony Centre's result might well be the sign of the decline of radicalism and polarisation," analyses Nils Muiznieks, former Integration Minister and professor political science at the University of Latvia. Again a recently created party (the Harmony Centre was founded in 2005) was the source of surprise in the general elections in Latvia. The Harmony Centre's excellent result led to the fall of For Human Rights in a United Latvia, led jointly by MEP Tatjana Zdanoka and Jakovs Pliners. With 6.02% of the vote and 6 seats, the party recorded a regression of 13.07 points and 19 seats in comparison with 2002. Together both Russian speaking parties won 20.44% of the vote ie slightly more than For Human Rights in a United Latvia four years ago (+1.35 points). Both Russian speaking parties achieved their best results in the districts of Riga and Latgale (33.49% and 35.66% respectively).
Finally a seventh party succeeded in crossing the 5% threshold of votes cast in order to be represented in the Saeima, the only Chamber in Parliament: the Union for the Fatherland and Freedom (TB/LNNK) led by Janis Straume that won 6.95% and 8 seats (+1), ie 1.56 points more than four years ago.
The participation rate rose to 62.20%; this is a sharp drop in comparison with the rate recorded during the last general elections on 5th October 2002 (-9.2 points). According to the director of the pollster Latvijas Fakti, Aigars Freimanis, this decline is "the result of immigration." The President of the Republic Vaira Vike-Freiberga, did in fact make a speech on TV on 5th October to encourage her fellow countrymen to go to vote. "If you do not vote you cannot complain about what is happening in the country," she declared. On the day of the vote she repeated what she had said as she went to vote maintaining, "if a citizen does not choose now someone will do it for him."
"Voters support the present government," declared Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis when the results were announced, qualifying his victory as "historic". "I am ready to continue to lead the government. It is not easy to say how much time it will take to form a new coalition but we have to be ready in a month before the NATO summit," he added. Latvia is hosting the summit of heads of state and government members of NATO at the end of November.
"We never made any promises that we could not keep. We have succeeded in showing that we are pragmatic, patriotic and efficient. We have proved that we can be trusted," maintained Foreign Minister, Artis Pabriks, when explaining why his party had won.
Forty year-old Aigars Kalvitis is a graduate in agriculture from the University of Latvia. Secretary General of the milk manufacturers' federation from 1994 to 1998; his political career started in 1997 when he took part in founding the People's Party. Elected MP during the general elections on 3rd October 1998 he then became Agriculture Minister in the government led by Andris Skele (TP) in 1999; he was then Economy Minister from 2000-2002 in the government led by Andris Berzins (LC). He was re-elected MP during the general elections on 5th October 2002 becoming the head of the parliamentary group of the People's Party before being appointed Prime Minister on 2nd December 2004 at the head of the outgoing coalition that rallied his own party, the Farmers' Union and the Greens, New Era and Latvia's First Party.
Aigars Kalvitis will have to call on another partner to provide support for his parliamentary majority. He might well turn to New Era, but also to the Russian speaking Harmony Centre which would be an all time first in the country. "I doubt whether the People's Party will try to co-operate with New Era. There are too many problems between individuals. But the Harmony Centre might be invited to take part in the government. Ideologically it is a party that lies in the centre rather than to the left," reflects political analyst Ivars Idans. The Russian speaking party that seems to have rallied the electorate beyond the Russian minority has over the last few months supported several projects undertaken by the minority government coalition led by Aigars Kalvitis. Finally some of its members have sound political experience which might encourage the People's Party to associate with it.
"It would be logical for the government to comprise parties that won the greatest number of votes," declared former Prime Minister and New Era leader, Einars Repse on TV. "Our aim is to lead the next government coalition or to take part in it," maintained the former Economy Minister, Krisjanis Karins (JL). A number of political analysts believe however that New Era has been the source of too many conflicts for Aigars Kalvitis to again run the risk of forming an alliance with Einars Repse's party.
"There is no doubt that the next government coalition will be formed by centre right parties and that it will be very similar if not identical to the one in place today. Everything points to the fact that the Latvian political arena will mostly remain unchanged," said the director of the pollster Latvijas Fakti, Aigars Freimanis. Political analyst Ivars Indans is also of this opinion: "We shall have a centre right government, similar to the one we have today."
The President of the Republic Vaira Vike-Freiberga said that she was confident that the Prime Minister and the government would be appointed quickly and approved by Parliament unlike events which followed the general elections on 5th October 2002 when this process took six weeks to be accomplished. "I think that it will be easier because the leaders of the political parties have said they want to work together," she said. "It is obvious that Aigars Kalvitis will be the next Prime Minister," stressed political analyst of the University Latvia, Daunis Auers. "I find it hard to see someone else being appointed to this post," said political analyst Karlis Streips.
Latvia, which was politically unstable for a long time (12 different government coalitions in 15 years), is the EU member country with the highest economic growth rate at present (10% last year and 12% in the first semester of 2006); it has always followed a liberal economic policy. Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis has promised to continue his policy of drawing closer to the various EU countries and to work towards Latvia adopting the Euro within the shortest possible period of time. "Support for the EU is high within the Latvian population. When I meet people I see that they are living better than some years ago," he declared.
General Election Results – 7th October 2006 in Latvia
Participation rate: 62.20%
Source Electoral Commission of Latvia