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Exit polls show pro-Russia party winning most votes in Latvia's election
RIGA, Latvia (AP) ' A left-wing, pro-Russia party was poised to win a snap election in Latvia, according to two exit polls announced after voting stations closed late Saturday.
The victory would be a landmark for Latvia, where parties comprised of ethnic Latvians distrustful of Russia have won all national elections over the past 20 years.
Since 1991, when Latvia restored its independence from the Soviet Union, no party catering to the country's ethnic Russian minority has been included in government, a streak that ethnic Russians hope to change.
Two exit polls ' one by the Leta news agency and the other by the Baltic News Agency ' show the Harmony Center winning nearly 29 percent of votes.
By contrast, the ruling Unity party stands to gain approximately 19-20 percent, according to the two polls, while an upstart party and close Unity ally ' Zatlers' Reform Party ' also managed 19-20 percent.
The two parties are likely to form a bloc that would enable them to secure the upper hand over Harmony Center in coalition negotiations and keep Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis in his position.
Still, the two parties are unlikely to muster the 51 seats to control the 100-seat Parliament, forcing them to take on only three parties that are expected to break the 5 percent barrier.
Other than Harmony, there is the populist Greens and Farmers Union, which exit polls show won 11-12 percent of the vote, and the National Alliance.
Given the rise of pro-Russia Harmony, the nationalists are certain to pull off a strong performance. The Leta polls showed them winning 13.7 percent, while the BNS polls has the right-wing alliance gaining over 16 percent.
By 8 p.m. (1700 GMT; 1 p.m. EDT), two hours before precincts closed, over 55 percent of registered voters had cast their ballots.
"I voted for Harmony Center. They're down-to-earth and do more to take care of people," said Ilona Dmitrijova, a Russian who sells textiles.
The vote takes place after the previous legislature, elected last October, was dissolved in a nationwide referendum in July. Some 94 percent of voters supported dissolution.
The referendum was held after former President Valdis Zatlers proposed booting the legislature for lawmakers' interference in a major probe into high-level corruption.
Zatlers, who was not re-elected by Parliament in June, went on to create his own centrist party whose core aim is to crack down on the cozy relationship between business in government in the tiny Baltic state.