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Latvians take part in historic election as pro-Russia party poised to win
RIGA, Latvia (AP) ' Voting opened Saturday in Latvia's snap parliamentary election that could see a pro-Russia party emerge the winner for the first time in 20 years since the Baltic state restored independence.
Polls indicate that the left-leaning Harmony Center representing Latvia's large ethnic Russian minority could muster up to one-third of the seats in the nation's legislature.
However, two center-right parties in second and third place in pre-election surveys are likely to join forces to prevent Harmony Center from gaining the upper hand in coalition negotiations.
Approximately one-third of Latvia's 2.2 million people are minorities whose native language is Russian. Many of them are so-called noncitizens who lack the right to vote.
Not once since the country gained independence in 1991 has a party catering to Russians been included in government. Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union for a half-century after World War II.
"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.
Polls have also indicated that there is a large number of undecided voters, who tend to be ethnic Latvians. How they vote will potentially tip the scales in favor of the center-right parties.
"I haven't decided yet. The candidate lists are more or less the same, and the situation is not much different from (the last election) a year ago. It's a kind of deja vu," said Ieva Astakovska, an art historian. She said she would vote for either Unity or Zatlers' Reform Party after studying the lists.
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.