The 14th Parliament (Saeima) Elections will take place on October 1, 2022, and the latest survey data show voter sympathies are very widely distributed among the 19 political parties and associations. Forecasts show that there are 7 to 12 lists with a chance of entering the Saeima, but the prime minister’s party – “New Unity” is in first place. In second place is also the ruling party – “National Alliance”. The third and fourth are the opposition parties “Union of Greens and Farmers” and “Harmony”. More and more people are taking part in the elections, however public participation is predicted to be low, which is “dangerous” in the current circumstances. It is also difficult to predict whether the demolition of the Soviet monument in Victory Park could affect the pre-election debates and the outcome of the elections, according to observers of political developments.
The Latvian Parliamentary (Saeima) elections will be held on October 1, Saturday. In total, 19 lists of candidates were registered for the 14th Saeima elections, in which a total of 1832 candidates were initially applied for 100 seats in the parliament. The period of pre-election campaigning has not yet reached its climax and part of the population still has not made a choice for whom to vote or whether to go to vote at all. In this Latvia Political Briefing, we will present the latest population survey data and preliminary election results, examine the reasons why voter turnout could remain low and how the world-famous demolition of the Soviet monument could affect the election results.
I Current Survey Results
If the 14th Parliamentary elections were held tomorrow, the largest part of the population would vote for the current Prime Minister’s party „New Unity”, followed by the ruling party „National Alliance”. The opposition Party „Union of Greens and Farmers” („ZZS”) has moved up ot he 3rd place. The reason for this may be the candidate for prime minister from the ZZS party – long-time politician and businessman Aivars Lembergs, whose popularity remains high. The fourth would be the opposition Social Democratic Party „Harmony”. If the information obtained as a result of the survey were compared ot he outcome of the elections, then 7 parties would enter the Saeima (Figure 1).
Source: Created by the Author using Research Centre “SKDS” data
There is less than a month left until the elections, so the public, for the most part, has found out which party they intend to vote for. In addition, the pollsters believe that the current fluctuations in the ratings are too small. Thus, if the voters vote as they have noted in the survey, then the first seven lists – „New Unity”, “National Alliance”, “ZZS”, „Harmony”, „Progressives”, „Development/For!” and “United List” – have a guaranteed place in the 14th Saeima. ot he other hand, five more lists have a chance to enter – „For Stability”,”Conservatives”, “Latvian Russian Union”, „Latvia First!”, as well as „For Each and Every One”.
II Participation in the Election
When asked whether the citizen plans to participate in the 14th Saeima elections, 35% answered that they will participate – this is an increase of 5% during the month, compared ot he survey conducted in July. The proportion of respondents „more likely to participate” remained unchanged – 34%. The number of those who say that they are more likely not to participate and will not participate has decreased slightly. But what has decreased the most (by 4%) is what is “difficult to say”. These are and remain low activity rates.
Kristine Berzina, the chairwoman of the Central Election Commission, commented that the activity will be either at the level of the last Saeima elections, or slightly lower. This forecast is also supported by research conducted before the previous Saeima elections. At that time, 45% said that they would participate, 31% said that they would rather participate, but the actual voter turnout in the 13th Saeima elections was 55%. It was concluded that the undecided part at the last moment rather decides not to vote.
Researchers are trying to understand why there are so many non-voters in Latvia, for example compared to Estonia, where the electoral system is similar, but the turnout is higher. In the previous parliamentary elections, 64% voted in Estonia, and 55% in Latvia. The power in Latvia, including due to ethnic divisions, has not changed for a long time according ot he principle that the position is replaced by the opposition. Thus, voters do not see the point of casting their vote, because they strongly believe that their vote does not matter.
However, under the guise of geopolitical tension and energy resource crisis, the highest possible voter turnout must be achieved. Former President Vaira Vike-Freiberga told that it can be „seriously dangerous” for Latvians not to participate in the upcoming 14th Saeima elections. The ex-president expresses her concern that the Latvian people have been told that it is not worth going to vote in the elections, because „the vote will not change anything”. If Latvians do not participate in these elections and do not express their opinion, then others will do it for them.
III The Soviet Monument
The question of the demolition of Soviet monuments became especially relevant after the war started by Russia against Ukraine. A decision was immediately made to dismantle the largest Soviet monument in the Baltic States in Riga, Pārdaugava. On August 25, after several hours of forging, the 79-meter-high obelisk was brought down, the fall of which was televised in a 6-hour-long breaking news translation and documented by the world’s most important news portals – Politico, Bloomberg, DW, The Guardian and others.
This summer, the research centre SKDS found out in surveys that about 40% of Latvian residents who speak Russian in their families condemn the brutal war waged by Russia in Ukraine. Most respondents – around 60% – did not support the demolition of the monument in Victory Park. Now the monument has been toppled and a big question arises – how will this event affect the results of the elections, and will it cause discontent among Latvian Russian speakers?
It must be assumed that the part of society that stood for the preservation of the monument in Riga will accept its dismantling. However, it is difficult to assess the impact this process could have on the elections as almost a fifth of Russian-speaking respondents avoided a specific answer. Since cyber-attacks and other risks did not increase after the monument was demolished, it must be assumed that this issue will lose its relevance very quickly.
Currently, it can be clearly concluded that “New Unity”, “National Alliance” and “ZZS” will have earned a seat in the 14th Saeima convocation. “Progressives”, “Development/For!”, Social Democratic Party “Harmony” and “United List” have a comparable potential to enter the Saeima. The party ratings so far show that the populist “Latvia First” and “For Each and Every One” will not be able to reach the 5% entry barrier, however, with their aggressive campaigns in the last month, it is possible to entice voters from one of the parties. Voter turnout is expected to be as low as in previous years, possibly even lower, given the entrenched public perception that their vote will mean nothing. However, under the guise of the tense geopolitical situation, not giving your vote is even more risky than before, so every Latvian with his beliefs has an obligation to go and participate in the elections. Politicians must also become more competent and responsive to society, because democracy cannot be operated by silence. However, the biggest problem under the guise of elections is the division of society into Latvian-speaking and Russian-speaking. It is unlikely that the issue of the monument will be relevant for the rest of the time until the Saeima elections, however, the parties’ position on how to solve the division of society will prevail. Consequently, the average Latvian voter could be undecided between two different parties whose program satisfies their national and social interests. However, the campaigning period has not yet reached its climax and in the last days before the elections, the population’s composure may change depending on the variety of external and internal factors.
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Original article on the China-CEE Institute website – https://china-cee.eu/2022/09/12/latvia-political-briefing-parliamentary-elections-coming-soon-how-ready-are-latvian-voters/