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Latvia: Exceptional Riga Local Election

On Saturday, 29 August, Latvian capital Riga will head to polls in a snap municipal election to choose a new Riga City Council—the parliament of the capital city. Riga has always had a significant role in Latvian politics, as almost a third part of all Latvian population lives in the capital. City’s electorate is split between approximately even Latvian-speaking and Russian-speaking halves. Those groups tend to vote for different parties. The alliance that has previously ruled in Riga—centre-left Harmony (Saskaņa, S-S&D) and localist Honour to Serve Riga! (Gods kalpot Rīgai!, GKR-S&D)—was mainly backed by Russian-speaking voters and overwhelmingly opposed by Latvian-speaking ones.

Since 2009, Riga’s mayorship has been held by the most prominent Harmony politician Nils Ušakovs. However, on 5 April 2019 the government removed Ušakovs from the office for legal offences, such as mismanagement in Riga’s public transport company. He then virtually ‘escaped’ from active Latvian politics by running and being elected to the European Parliament in 2019. The overthrow of Ušakovs eventually led to chaos in the Riga City Council and collapse of the S/GKR coalition that has ruled in Riga since 2013. These developments resulted in the national parliament’s extraordinary decision to dissolve Riga City Council on 13 February 2020. The snap election was originally scheduled for 25 April, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A joint list of liberal Development/For! (Attīstībai/Par!, AP!-RE) and centre-left Progressives (Progresīvie, PRO~S&D) occupies leading positions in the recent opinion polls, while Harmony is predicted to have a relatively weak result. Should Harmony fail to top the election, it would mean the end for the party’s control and domination of Riga’s politics. Europe Elects will be covering the snap municipal election in Riga throughout the election day on Twitter and Facebook.