Riga vote seen bringing change in power in Latvia’s capital

Latvians in the capital Riga will vote August 29 in closely contested extraordinary elections to elect a new 60-member city council replacing municipal lawmakers who were all dismissed earlier this year after a series of corruption scandals that also saw the mayor, Nils Ušakovs, fired by the government in 2019.

Former mayor Ušakovs and his deputy mayor Andris Ameriks from the local An Honor to Serve Riga (GKR) party were both elected last year to the European Parliament and moved to Brussels.

Ušakovs’ Harmony (S) party, who call themselves social democrats, are in voter polls some fractions of a percentage point ahead of an electoral alliance of the liberal For Development/For (APar) and the Progressives (Pro) who also are social democrats.

According to a poll published August 26 by SKDS, a social research company and ordered by Latvia’ s public service television LTV and the public broadcasting website Lsm.lv, S would get 15.8 percent of the vote and the APar/Pro alliance 15.5 percent — not enough for either to lead Riga without support from the other three parties and alliances seen as passing the 5 percent threshold needed to get any seats on the council.

“Restarting Riga” will need a coalition

APar/Pro is running under the slogan of “Restart Riga” — or a new start after what they say were 10 years of waste, corruption, cronyism and mismanagement. To unseat the “old guard” will require building a multiparty coalition, political analysts say.

Of the 15 candidate lists running for the City Council, the New Unity (JV) party of Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš, favored by 7.5 percent of voters polled, the joint ticket of the National Alliance (NA) and the Latvian Regional Alliance(LRA), with 7.4 percent, and GKR with 5.8 percent would get seats on the new city council. Two other parties, the Latvian Union of Russians (LKS) with 4.6 percent and the New Conservative Party (JKP) with 4.3 percent are seen as having a chance at breaking the 5 percent barrier. The NA and JKP are currently members of the national government.

Some 422 681 Riga residents are eligible to vote for the 15 lists of candidates from political parties and party alliances. According the SKDS poll, almost 20 percent of voters were undecided as to who they favored. Aivars Ozoliņš, a political commentator for the independent weekly magazine IR wrote that past voter polls had sometime been totally wrong compared with actual election results.

Fresh young faces in the Latvian capital?

Speaking on August 27 at a campaign tent in the center of Riga, Vilnis Ķirsis. the JV candidate for mayor said: “I have a strong feeling that the four government parties will get a majority and form a coalition and get to work.” The chairman of the city council or mayor is elected by the council, not by a direct popular vote, but most of the tickets have named

“This will be a generational change for almost all of the parties. There will be fresh faces with specific ideas on how to improve things in Riga” said Baiba Rubesa, a Canadian-Latvian businesswoman who headed the pan-Baltic Rail Baltica project for three years until 2018.

She spoke on August 27 near a campaign stand for the A/Par Pro and said “I hope that the alliance will take first place in the vote.”

A/Par Pro has featured young candidates under age 30 in its campaign ads on TV and the internet. Ķirsis of the JV just turned 40, and Linda Ozola, the mayoral candidate of JKP, should they get seats, was born in 1979.

August 27 was the last day of public campaigning. The following day, Friday was by law a “silent day” with all political activity banned ahead of the official polling day Saturday. The polls will close at ten PM local time with results likely announced during Sunday, August 30. As of midday August 28, 10.5 percent of eligible votes in Riga had cast early votes since early voting started two days earlier.

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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