Think 13 candidate lists is too much? Saeima election in 1925 had 141!

Thirteen political parties or coalitions are competing in the Sept. 17 parliamentary election in Latvia. While that may seem like a lot of interest for the 100 seats in the Saeima, it is worth recalling how things used to be.

The Central Statistical Bureau in Rīga recently posted numbers to remind its readers about elections past. The most notable factoid: In the 1925 election for the 2nd Saeima, a record number of candidate lists—141—was put before voters!

For those unfamiliar with Latvia’s voting system, political parties put forth lists of candidates. On election day, a voter chooses one list to support and may promote or demote specific candidates.

In the election for the 1st Saeima there were 88 candidate lists. The 3rd Saeima election featured 120 lists and the 4th Saeima, 103. The highest number of candidate lists in the post-Soviet era was 23 in the 1993 election for the 5th Saeima.

The number of candidate lists in 1925—many of which were created with dubious motivations—reminds me of the forbidden novel Karjera by A. Lanka (Andrejs Lankovskis, 1881-1944). In the story, first published in 1929 but banned by the Ministry of Education, a fellow by the name of Penteris travels from the countryside to Rīga to make his career. Realizing that other means of making a name for himself will be difficult, he and his newfound acquaintance Slenderis decide to form a political party and campaign for the upcoming Saeima election. (Karjera, by the way, was reprinted in 1991 by the publishing house LGBS Ltd. in Rīga.)

The 1925 election ran for two days and had nearly 75 percent turnout, according to the Saeima website, Of the 141 candidate lists, 48 saw candidates elected to the parliament. No wonder then that the daily newspaper Jaunākās Ziņas two days after the election carried an editorial cartoon poking fun at the 2,613 candidates who did not get into the Saeima and could only dream of the prize they did not win.

Editorial cartoon from Jaunākas Ziņas

An October 1925 editorial cartoon from Jaunākās Ziņas, a Rīga daily newspaper, poked fun at the 2,613 candidates who did not get elected to the 2nd Saeima and were left dreaming of what could have been.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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