Quick! If you are one of the more than 3,200 Latvian citizens who plan to cast absentee ballots in the European Parliament election, you only have a few days left to make up your mind about which party to support. In Latvia, voters will go to the polls on June 12, but your absentee ballot has to reach Rīga by then as well. Sixteen political organizations from the left to the right have fielded a total of 245 candidates for the nine seats Latvia will have in the European Parliament. But where to look for election information?
Voters will have to choose which one of the 16 tickets to vote for. On the ballot, voters will be able to indicate their preferences for individual candidates from the political organization they chose. Each party could have up to 18 candidates.
Those political organizations that don’t receive at least 5 percent of the votes won’t see any of their candidates get a seat in the European Parliament. Those political organizations that get more than five percent will be in contention for the nine seats.
According to a May survey by EOS Gallup Europe, 25 percent of people who said they will vote in Latvia’s European Parliament election would support the conservative party Jaunais laiks (New Era). Another 19 percent said they would vote for the conservative Tautas partija (People’s Party). Seventeen percent said they would support the heavily ethnic Russian party Par cilvēka tiesībam vienotā Latvijā (For Human Rights in United Latvia).
The same Gallup survey suggested that a number of political organizations would not get past the 5 percent barrier, include Latvijas Sociāldemokrātiskā strādnieku partija (Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party, or LSDSP), the conservative Latvijas Pirmā partija (First Party of Latvia), the leftist Tautas saskaņas partija (National Harmony Party), Konservatīva party (Conservative Party) and Eiroskeptiķi (the political movement of Euroskeptics).
Gallup also found that 51 percent of eligible voters plan to participate in the Europarliament election in Latvia.
Unless you subscribe to a Latvian newspaper, chances are the Internet will be the place you search for background about candidates and party programs or platforms. Of the 16 political organizations, 11 have official Web sites but of those only a handful have bothered to address the European Parliament election in detail.
For an overview of the candidates and brief information on what each political organizations plans to do if elected to the parliament, perhaps there’s no better Web site than that of the Central Elections Commission (Centrālā vēlēšanu komisija). The commission explains the voting procedure both domestically and abroad, as well as offers lists of the candidates from each organization.
For details, however, it’s perhaps best to turn to the political organizations themselves—and this is where the Web-surfing voter runs into problems.
Here’s a quick guide to what is available.
Jaunais laiks is fielding 18 candidates, including three current members of parliament—Valdis Dombrovskis, Ainars Latkovskis and Liene Liepiņa—and Latvia’s ambassador to Finland, Valdis Skrastiņš. The party’s Web site devotes an entire section to the European Parliament election, including its program for the EU and information on how to vote in Latvia and abroad.
Kristīgi demokrātiskā savienība
The Christian Democrats offer a slate of 18 candidates, headed by Brigita Tamane, a member of the Rīga City Council’s Audit Committee. The party’s Web site provides its Europarliament program and a list of—but no background about—its candidates.
The once-powerful liberal party Latvijas Ceļš (Latvia’s Way) is still around, but fields only nine candidates in the election. At the head of the ticket is George Andrejevs, former foreign minister and now Latvia’s ambassador to the European Council. Perhaps more than any other party, Latvijas Ceļš is using its Web site to promote its candidates and platform for the Europarliament. Among the other candidates is Andris Bērziņš, former Rīga mayor and former prime minister. He is one of two people with the same name—and the same No. 2 position on their respective party’s ticket—among all the candidates. The other is Andris Berziņš, a member of parliament representing Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība.
Latvijas Pirmā partija
The conservative First Party of Latvia draws 10 of its 18 candidates from the ranks of the Saeima, including No. 1 on the ticket, Oskars Kastēns. Also on the ticket is Education and Science Minister Juris Radzevičs, as well as American-born Nils Muižnieks, the minister for special assignments for society integration affairs. The party’s Web site includes a section devoted to the Europarliament election.
Latvijas Sociāldemokrātiskā strādnieku partija
On its Web site, the Latvian Socialdemocratic Workers Party (LSDSP) offers little information about its 18 candidates or its platform for the European Parliament. Among the candidates are party leader Juris Bojārs, journalist and Rīga City Council member Dainis Īvāns, and the controversial former member of parliament Jānis Ādamsons.
Par cilvēka tiesībām vienotā Latvijā
Although it has a Web site, the party For Human Rights in United Latvia (PCTVL) apparently expects voters to read Russian if they want to learn anything about its program or candidates. A promised link to a Latvian section (and, for that matter, an English section) doesn’t work. However, PCTVL does offer a special section on the Europarliament election in Russian. With just 10 candidates in the election, PCTVL’s ticket is headed by the controversial Tatjana Ždanoka, co-chair of the party.
Sociāldemokrātu savienība (Socialdemocrat Union) broke away from the Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (LSDSP) in 2002, largely over disappointment with the leadership of LSDSP leader Juris Bojārs. The party’s Web site provides basic information about its Europarliament program and its 13 candidates, among whom are Pēteris Salkazanovs, chair of the party.
With consistently one of the best Web sites among Latvia’s political parties, Tautas partija (People’s Party) has set up a separate page presenting its candidates and program. Among the 17 candidates are Foreign Minister Rihards Pīks, Justice Minister Vineta Muižniece, Culture Minister Helēna Demakova and Vaira Paegle, a repatriated Latvian exile who served in the 7th Saeima and now is a member of the board of directors of the Occupation Museum of Latvia.
Tautas saskaņas partija
The Web site of Tautas saskaņas partija (National Harmony Party) has information on its Europarliament candidates as well as practical and somewhat humorous instructions for voting. If you don’t live at your registered address, but with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the party suggests planning a June 12 visit to your parents. Not only will they be happy to see you, but you’ll be able to vote in your correct precinct. The party’s full slate of candidates includes several members of the Saeima.
Tēvzemei un Brīvībai/LNNK
With a full slate of candidates, Tēvzemei un Brīvībai/LNNK (a conservative coalition of the For Fatherland and Freedom Party and the Latvian National Independence Movement, or LNNK) includes on its Web site several news items about the election, a section titled “Apvienībā un Saeima” (The Union and Parliament) with more news, but nothing specific devoted to the Europarliament vote. The party’s candidates include several current or former members of parliament, among them former Prime Minister Guntars Krasts and former Defense Minister Ģirts Valdis Kristovksis.
Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība
The party of current Prime Minister Indulis Emsis, the Greens and Farmers Union (ZZS) has a Web site that only points to the Web sites of its two halves, Latvijas Zaļā partija (Green Party of Latvia) and Latvijas Zemnieku savienība (Latvia’s Agrarian Union). Both of those sites have information on the union’s Europarliament candidates. The party has 18 candidates, including Environment Minister Raimonds Vējonis.
Of those hoping to get elected, five political organizations don’t appear to have Web sites.
Apvienotā sociāldemokrātiskā labklājības partija (United Socialdemocratic Welfare Party) is among those. Its program declares that the party foresees only negative results from Latvia’s membership in the EU. The party’s ticket of 18 candidates is head by Viktors Kalnbērzs, a professor of orthopaedics at the Rīga Stradiņš University.
The Eiroskeptiķi (Euroskeptics), despite their doubts about the EU, are fielding 18 candidates. At the head of the ticket is Normunds Grostiņš of Kustība par neatkarību (Independence Movement), an anti-EU effort. While the Euroskeptics don’t have their distinct Web site, information about the candidates can be found on the Independence Movement’s www.eirorealists.lv.
Konservatīvā partija (Conservative Party) has just seven candidates in the election, the lowest number of any ticket. At the head of the ticket is Modris Lujāns, a second-year student at the Baltic Russian Institute (Baltijas Krievu institūts) in Rīga and member of the political organization’s board of directors.
Latgales gaisma (Light of Latgale) has 17 candidates in the election, all from the eastern province of Latgale. At the head of the ticket is Rihards Eigims, a member of the Daugavpils City Council and a former mayor.
The Socialist Party of Latvia (Latvijas Sociālistiskā partija, LSP) has 10 candidates, including two members of parliament, Martijans Bekasovs and Oļegs Deņisovs. Apollo, Politka.lv and a few other independent sites provide background on the LSP’s candidates and platform, which includes ridding Europe of the NATO defense alliance. The party used to have a Web site, but apparently no longer.
By the numbers
The 245 candidates for the Europarliament are predominantly male, middle-aged and from Rīga, according to statistics compiled by the Central Elections Commission and posted on its Web site.
A total of 71.4 percent of the candidates are men, while slightly more than a third are between the ages of 41 and 50. The youngest candidate is 21-year-old Jūlija Volkoviča of the Latgales gaisma party, while the oldest is 87-year-old Atis Antons Homka of the Kristīgi demokrātiskā savienība.
More than 85 percent of the candidates have post-secondary degrees.
Sixty-two percent of the candidates live in Rīga, while another 3.3 percent live in the Rīga region and 4.5 percent live in nearby Jūrmala.
In all, 3,215 Latvian citizens have requested absentee ballots, according to data compiled by the Central Elections Commission. Of those, 2,310 live abroad; the rest expect to be abroad during the June 12 election.
The 10 countries with the largest total number of absentee ballot requests are the United States (958), Australia (513), Canada (467), the United Kingdom (208), Germany (179), Brazil (107), Belgium (106), Sweden (104), Venezuela (77) and Russia (50).
A total of 42 nations are represented among the absentee ballot requests, including places such as China, Egypt and Lebanon.
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