Latvia election puts pro-Russia Harmony party on top

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North Atlantic Treaty Organisation now has more than 1,000 troops deployed in the Baltic country of 2 million and even the potential of a minor shift in allegiance in Latvia will worry both Brussels and Washington.

The Harmony party is the country's largest with 24 seats but it has been shunned by Latvian parties over suspicions of being too cozy with Moscow, despite its pro-EU stance.

The party, whose main support comes from Latvia's ethnic Russian minority, won most seats at the last election but was sidelined from power when mainstream parties refused to include it in any deal due to its ties with the Kremlin.

But the New Conservative Party leader, Janis Bordans, ruled out any cooperation with Harmony, saying this was "our red line before and after the election".

The country's Russian minority is a major political force as it accounts about 25 per cent of Latvia's almost 2 million people, a legacy of almost 50 years of Soviet occupation that ended in 1991.

"Voters want new faces: the current ministers can not offer anything entertaining", political scientist Filips Rajevskis told AFP.

Casting his ballot in the eastern town of Rezekne, Aigars Karklins said the prospect of Harmony teaming up with populists was realistic.

"Therefore there's the possibility of a Russia-oriented coalition after the election".

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"I am going to make my choice for Latvia as part of the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and I hope most of us will do, otherwise this election will be remembered as the Red October", he told AFP.

Party (12.04%), the National Independence Movement (11.03%) and the Union of Greens and Farmers (9.96%), which now leads Latvia's ruling coalition, and the New Unity party (6.67%).

More than 1,400 candidates from 16 parties are vying for seats in the country's 100-seat Saeima assembly.

The left-leaning Harmony secured 19.9 percent support in Saturday's vote, but would likely have trouble forming a ruling coalition.

Other parties have previously formed coalitions to keep Harmony out of government.

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.

Dissatisfaction with Latvian politicians, widely seen as corrupt and inefficient, has seen the parties in Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis' coalition lose voters to KPV LV, a party that has promised a fresh and more efficient government. "They can form a coalition among themselves", he told Reuters. Polling stations open at 5: 00 GMT and close at 1700 GMT.

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