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Originally published September 17, 2011 at 2:44 PM | Page modified September 17, 2011 at 9:13 PM

Pro-Russian minority on top in Latvian election

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 Associated Press

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RIGA, Latvia — A left-wing, pro-Russia party captured the most votes in Latvia's parliamentary elections, marking a milestone for the tiny Baltic nation where parties distrustful of Russia have dominated all national elections since independence 20 years ago.

With some 95 percent of ballots counted early Sunday, Harmony Center, a party catering to the country's ethnic Russian minority, had 29.2 percent of the vote.

Since 1991, when Latvia regained its independence after the breakup of the Soviet Union, no such party had either won an election or been included in a coalition government, a streak that Harmony hopes to change after Saturday's election. But other parties were already maneuvering to shut Harmony out of any coalition government.

About one-third of Latvia's 2.2 million people are minorities whose native language is Russian. Many of them are "noncitizens" who lack the right to vote. Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union for a half-century after World War II.

An upstart party formed by former President Valdis Zatlers was in second place with 20.5 percent, while Unity, the senior partner in the current ruling center-right coalition, was third with 18.2 percent, a sharp decrease from the 31.2 percent it amassed one year ago in its election victory.

Leaders of these two parties — which could together pull in about 42 seats in the 100-member Parliament — have suggested they would begin coalition talks immediately in order to seize the initiative from Harmony in forming the next government.

Analysts believe the two parties are likely to leave Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis in his position, which would be a key signal to international lenders and investors who want assurances that Latvia will stick to its commitments to cut its budget deficit and keep on track to adopting the euro in 2014.

The snap election takes place after the previous legislature was dissolved in a nationwide referendum in July.

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