A populist, Russia-friendly coalition is leading the pack in Latvia’s parliamentary elections, with near-final results showing the Harmony party gaining the most votes in a crowded field.
Harmony, which gets much of its support from the Baltic country’s Russian-speaking minority, has about 20 percent of the vote with 90 percent of the ballots counted, the election commission said early on October 7.
"Harmony was, is, and will become Latvia's most important party," said Vjaceslavs Dombrovskis, the party's prime ministerial candidate.
The populist KPV LV and the New Conservative Party, seen as potential Harmon partners, each received about 14 percent of votes. The liberal pro-EU and pro-NATO Development/For! party got about 12 percent, the commission reported.
Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis' Union of Greens and Farmers had 10 percent. The ruling party's coalition partners -- the right-wing National Alliance and the center-right Unity party -- trailed.
Turnout was 54.6 percent of the 1.9 eligible voters, election officials said.
Seven parties and alliances will join the parliament, called the Saeima, amd coalition talks could be long and tense. In the past, parties have refused to enter into coalition with Harmony.
But many observers say they expect KPV LV and the New Conservatives to attempt to form a coalition with the Kremlin-friendly party.
"No coalition combination is possible without Harmony that would appear able and stable," Harmony Chairman and Riga mayor Nils Ushakovs told the LETA agency.
"Otherwise, you could have a coalition of xenophobes and gay rights supporters, and such a government would stick together for two or three weeks," he added.
Latvia, a member of the European Union and NATO, shares a 270-kilometer border with Russia.
It has a sizable ethnic-Russian minority of around 25 percent, a legacy of nearly 50 years of Soviet occupation that ended in 1991, when the nation regained its independence.
Latvia's mainstream parties have kept pro-Russia politicians from power as they sought ever closer ties with the West.
At the last election, Harmony won the most seats but was excluded from power when the other parties refused to include it in any deal due to its ties with Russia.
The populist KPV LV party and its leader, Artuss Kaimins, whose popularity has soared as he railed against corrupt politicians, has sent mixed messages on whether he would also rule out such a deal.
A KPV-Harmony ruling alliance would represent "a rather radical change of Latvia's position towards the European Union and towards our security matters which, I think, is very dangerous," Prime Minister Kucinskis said.