Extraordinary elections bring power change in Latvia’s capital

The Latvian capital Riga will be governed by a coalition of several parties built around a liberal-left alliance that gained just over 26 percent of the vote in the August 29 extraordinary elections to the 60-member city council.

The election, with a record low participation of 40.6 percent of eligible voters in the city. formally ended more than 10 years of scandal-ridden rule by the allegedly pro-Russian, self-declared social democratic Harmony (S) party and its allies, who were dismissed when the city council was dissolved earlier this year.

Political analysts say the new mayor of Riga, to be elected by the council, will be Mārtiņš Staķis from the alliance of the liberal For Development/For (A/Par) and the social democratic Progressives (Pro) that gained the most votes. Staķis is expected to be supported by several other parties that passed the 5 percent threshold for getting seated in the municipal council. He resigned a seat in the Latvian parliament or Saeima, where he represented A/Par to run in the Riga election

Mārtinš Staķis, likely to be Riga's new mayor (elected by the new city council) addressed his follower from the For Development/For and Progressives electoral alliance soon after exit polls showed his list leading in the vote. (Photo: Juris Kaža)

S came in second with 16.9 percent of the vote, followed by New Unity (JV), the centrist party of Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš with 15.2 percent and a joint electoral list of the nationalist National Alliance (NA) and the Latvian Regional Alliance (LRA) with 9.6 percent. Also seen as likely backing the new coalition in Riga is the New Conservative Party (JKP) with 6.4 percent of the vote.

For S, the vote was a shattering defeat compared to 2017, when it got 50.8 percent of the vote and 32 seats in the City Council. One could say its rating among voters has dropped sharply and steadily since then.

Soon after exit polls indicated a victory for his list Saturday night, Staķis told an assembly of his supporters at a Riga restaurant that he was asking all potential coalition parties to meet on August 31 and discuss the future governance of the city.

Political observers see possible tension between council members elected on Staķis list and the NA/LRA faction on such issues as LGBT rights. The nationalists launched their campaign saying they were opposed to Riga as a “rainbow” city where LGBT pride marches could be held. Meanwhile the JKP favors banning all gambling establishments in the city except for high end casinos in some hotels and has accused Staķis A/Par party of having the support of gambling enterprises. Currently, gambling storefronts with slot machines and other forms of gaming can operate across the Latvian capital. These businesses say they exclude known gambling addicts.

Left in opposition to the new coalition, in addition to S, are its former partner An Honor to Serve Riga (GKR) with 7.7 percent and the Latvian Union of Russians (LKS) with 6.5 percent. The previous city administration, headed by mayor Nils Usakovs of S, was marred by scandals that saw Ušakovs fired by the government in 2019 following investigations of bribery in the EUR 270 million procurement of new vehicles for the Riga public transport enterprise.

According to local media, some 40 criminal cases were launched against officials and other persons linked to the previous Riga city government. Ušakovs and his deputy Andris Ameriks (GKR), who resigned during the scandals disclosed in 2019 were both elected to the European Parliament last year.

A freelance journalist based in Riga, Latvia who has covered the country and region for 20 years. Speak native Latvian and English, fluent Swedish and German.

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