A fish inspector from Rīga became the first person to vote in Latvia’s municipal elections March 11, according to the Rīga City Elections Commission. Ilmārs Pētersons was at a polling place set up at the 3rd Rīga High School on Grēcinieku Street by 8 a.m., earning him the title of “First Voter of the Third Millenium.”
Photo opportunity aside, the man’s apparent eagerness to vote may be an indication of how other disgruntled Latvians reportedly were going to take in municipal elections around the nation. Pre-election predictions said that the Latvian Socialdemocratic Labour Party (LSDSP) and other leftwing parties were sure to sweep up control of eastern Latvia, particularly in rural areas and other communities where voters have grown tired of slow economic reform, corruption and other problems.
These were the third municipal elections in Latvia. Turnout was expected to be high (the last elections, in 1997, saw 56.8 percent of eligible voters cast ballots). By 4 p.m., nearly 50 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots, either in person or by mail. A study last year by the Central Elections Commission found that 58 percent of eligible voters definitely planned to partipate in this year’s election, while another 24.6 percent said they were likely to participate.
Throughout Latvia, hundreds of candidates were running for seats on various local government councils. The election for Jelgava City Council, according to media reports, saw the most competition with more than 200 candidates for 15 seats. In the capital city of Rīga, 17 different parties fielded candidates for 60 seats. Rīga’s incumbent Mayor Andris Ārgalis was expected to be returned to office.
The run-up to the election, as well as the election itself, has not been without some scandal, although the amount of trouble has appeared minimal. A few weeks before the election, Diena reported that an independent television production company preparing material on the campaign had asked up to LVL 200 from mayoral candidates to participate in televized discussions. On election day, according to the LETA news agency, reports of vote-buying were recorded in Rezekne.
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