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Economic recovery at stake in Latvian elections

Latvia is just weeks away from its next general election. One of the key issues is the country's fledgling economic recovery. But the party that is leading in the opinion polls wants to forge closer ties with Russia.

The old town in Riga

There is heated debate about the future path of Latvia

Latvia is slowly emerging from recession with the help of money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union. The economic recovery is likely to play a central role in the parliamentary elections in October.

Latvians will effectively be voting either to continue the government's austerity program, or to refuse help from international donors, and instead increase the country's dependency on Russia.

October 2nd is decision time

Come election day, Latvians will choose between 10 parties, or alliances, running for the 100-seat parliament, or Saeima.

Latvian bank notes

The Latvian economy is recovering with help from the IMF and the EU

Recent opinion polls show that the pro-Kremlin "Harmony Centre" bloc is currently the most popular party. It was formed in April this year, and polls indicate that around 20 percent of people intend to vote for it.

Nellija Locmele is the editor of the weekly news and current affairs magazine "Ir." She is alarmed at the prospect of "Harmony Centre" winning the most seats in parliament:

"Harmony Centre is… not a stable party," Locmele said. "It's new and hasn't proved itself over the years, so we are not able to assess its policies and ideology in practice."

Locmele is concerned that there are politicians with very differing views on how to boost the economy within the party.

The country is at a crossroads

Latvia is at a crossroads in terms of its further economic and political development. In order to keep the economic recovery on track, Locmele feels the country needs to stick to its structural reforms.

But "Harmony Centre" wants Latvia to have closer economic and political ties with Russia. Political scientist Janis Ikstens says this is part of an increasing trend in Latvia, but he warns that this could be dangerous:

"What is striking is that this discourse has barely changed after one of the leaders of "Harmony Centre" openly threatened to stage bloodshed à la Bishkek in Riga if his political platform is not fulfilled. This is I think absolutely unacceptable in a democratic society."

Current government is struggling

Despite the fact that the present government managed to halt the economic recession under Prime Minister Valdia Dombrovskis, his pro-Western alliance "Unity" is falling behind in the polls.

Prime Minister Valdia Dombrovskis

The current Prime Minister is struggling in opinion polls

Liga Stafecka of Delna, the Latvian chapter of Transparency International, says that voters don't appreciate the gravity of the situation.

"People in Latvia are perplexed and confused because many political unions or blocs have been established," she said. "The voters find it very hard to distinguish one bloc from the other."

The latest figures show that around 20 per cent of voters in Latvia haven't still decided who they will vote for. And about one fifth intend to ignore the general election altogether. The politicians have just five weeks left to change this.

Author: Gederts Gelzis (ji)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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