Politics of Latvia

Politics of Latvia

Latvia is a democratic republican country. President is the head of state, but he holds few real powers. The main power is vested in the unicameral parliament Saeima (100 members), which also elects the Latvian government.

Administratively, Latvia is divided into 110 municipalities (that cover town and rural areas) and 9 republican cities. The municipalities range from 1 300 to 40 000 in population, while the republican cities range from 25 000 to 650 000. Each of the administrative units has its own elected council but since Latvia is a unitary country (non-federal) their powers are limited to local affairs.

Political parties in Latvia

Latvian political life is largely divided among the “Latvian” and “Russian” party blocks. While a person may often change his vote among the parties within the block, few people of Latvia would switch between these blocks.

Latvian parties greatly value the local Latvian traditions and history. Their primary goal is to safeguard them. Often, alignment to the West is seen as the main mean of ensuring this goal as Russian invasions and occupations have typically been the most destructive to the Latvians and their culture so far. The most pro-Latvian party is the National Alliance, while the somewhat more popular Greens/Farmers and (even more so) Unity are more prone for compromises. Their inspirations include Latvian nationalism, free market economy, modern Western values.

On the contrary, Russian parties prefer alignment to Russia. They often campaign for an increased role of the Russian language. They regard the Soviet occupation positively or neutrally. Typically, the Russian parties are also more leftist economically than their Latvian counterparts. Their inspirations include Russian Nationalism, Socialism.

Such difference is rooted in the different experience of the party supporters. While the Latvians (who vote for the Latvian parties) suffered a genocide under the leftist Soviet occupational regime, the Russians enjoyed a privileged status which elevated their minority language and culture above that of the majority Latvian. In fact, it was the Soviet policies that encouraged Russophone voters to move into Latvia in the first place. Understandably, such a minority-rule situation could not be expected to return democratically, so the Russian parties typically campaign for some smaller “concessions” instead, effectively turning Latvia from a Latvian state into a “multiethnic” state.

Historically, pan-Latvian coalitions preclude Russian parties from entering governing coalitions. However, while the Russian share in Latvia has been declining after the independence, the share of citizens did not decline as the generation of Russians who spoke no Latvian and thus failed to get citizenship is replaced by a new generation of born-in-Latvia Russians who are citizens. This meant that the influence of the Russian parties grew somewhat, even gaining the rule in Riga.

In a sense, “conservatism” is applicable both to the Latvian and Russian parties. However, these are different conservatisms: while the Latvian parties seek to continue and restore the pre-occupation (pre-1940s) culture, Russian parties seek to continue the 1940s-1990s situation.