Latvian local elections: voter apathy and the re-election of a criminal

Riga, Jun 6 (EFE).- Latvia’s first local government elections Saturday since a major regional reform saw historically low voter participation, few political surprises and the re-election of Aivars Lembergs, a convicted criminal serving prison time, to the city council in the port city of Ventspils.

Just over 34% of the 964,339 people eligible to vote in 41 local government units, most of them recently redrawn, headed to the polls, the lowest since Latvia regained its independence in 1991, according to the Baltic country’s Central Election Commission.

In Ventspils, the “For Latvia and Ventspils” party of Lembergs took 54.3% of the vote despite the politician currently serving a five-year prison sentence for corruption and money laundering as well as facing the confiscation of real estate and assets worth perhaps hundreds of millions of euros.

While local elections are only an approximate indication of how voters may behave in national parliamentary elections the following year, both opposition and government parties scored gains in the new local government races. No elections were held in the capital, Riga, where the scandal-ridden city council was replaced in an extraordinary vote last year.

The opposition Greens and Farmers’ Alliance (ZZS) won in several new local units where the party had been dominant in previous elections. The Latvian Regional Alliance (LRA), which failed to get any seats in the national parliament in 2018, also won in several of the new districts.

The self-proclaimed social democratic Harmony party (S) performed well in eastern Latvia and took the city of Rezekne.

Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins’ centrist New Unity (JV) party took seats in 25 of the new electoral units and won a dominant 45% of the vote in the country town of Cesis.

In many municipalities and new districts, the new city and regional councilors will face “rainbow coalitions” of national and local parties.

Political analysts said the municipal votes hinged on local issues such as jobs, roads and transport and local amenities.

They attributed the low voter participation to campaign activity restrictions due to the pandemic.

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