Latvia election puts pro-Russia Harmony party on top

Relations with Russia have long been a dominating topic in Latvia's national politics

The Harmony party, which draws most of its support from the country's sizeable ethnic Russian minority, won the most votes - 20 per cent - in the general election and is expected to enter talks to form a coalition government with two populist parties.

Voters in Latvia, which is a member of the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, are choosing from more than 1,400 candidates and 16 parties to fill the small Baltic country's 100-seat parliament, or Saeima.

The victor at the polls was the Harmony party on 19%, followed by a cluster of five other parties on 10%-14% with New Unity the only other party to scrape past the 5% threshold required to win seats in Saeima.

But Latvia's ethnic Russian minority makes up about a quarter of the country's 1.9 million population.

Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Latvia is now a member of the eurozone and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, having joined the military alliance in 2004.

Along with fellow Baltic states Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia declared independence in 1918 after the Tsarist Russian empire collapsed. Also, the right-wing party "New Unity" passed into the parliament with the result of 6.6%.

"The messages that the voters have tried to send is that we're going to have some new faces in politics", Janis Ikstens, political scientist at Latvia University, told the Reuters news agency.

Harmony wants to remain in the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation but have closer economic ties with Russia and only cancelled a cooperation agreement with Putin's United Russia party a year ago.

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"Now. voters want new faces: the current ministers can not offer anything entertaining".

The National Alliance is expected to win 13.

"No coalition combination is possible without Harmony that would appear able and stable", party leader and Riga Mayor Nils Ushakovs said.

This potential partner, the party KPV LV, led by former actor Artuss Kaimins, would come second according to some polls that the credit of a dozen seats.

With 100 seats in total, any coalition model would need to control 51 seats to assure a simple majority in parliament.

"KPV LV is a "shadow branch" of Harmony, which is not alone in its power quest any more", said political analyst Marcis Bendiks.

A corruption scandal has undermined voters' confidence in the government. "We don't have any red lines regarding any other political force", lawyer Aldis Gobzems, KPV LV's candidate for prime minister, said in a recent TV debate. But on the eve of the election, a quarter of voters remain undecided, according to independent polling firm SKDS. Polling stations open at 5: 00 GMT and close at 1700 GMT.

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