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Cablegate: Latvia's Elections: Moderate Harmony Center Beats Hardline

VZCZCXRO5216
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHRA #0859 2930548
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 200548Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY RIGA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3459
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS RIGA 000859

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SOCI LG
SUBJECT: LATVIA'S ELECTIONS: MODERATE HARMONY CENTER BEATS HARDLINE
PCTVL IN THE RACE FOR THE RUSSIAN VOTE

REF: RIGA 00797

1. Summary. One of the major upsets in Latvia's October 7
parliamentary elections was the poor showing of hard-line For Human
Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL) list versus its main rivals in the
race for the votes of the Russian-speaking electorate, the moderate
Harmony Center (SC) ticket. Even though polls conducted before the
elections showed PCTVL comfortably in the lead, it barely squeaked
into parliament with just 6 seats while SC grabbed seventeen.
PCTVL's failure is largely attributed to a lackluster campaign, the
lack of charismatic leaders and the waning popularity of radicalism.
End summary.

2. The success of the four party bloc Harmony Center (SC) vis-a-vis
the seemingly clear favorites of Latvia's Russian-speaking
electorate For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL) was one of
the Latvian parliamentary election surprises. Just weeks before
election day, PCTVL was well ahead of SC in the polls, whereas the
latter was barely hovering above the five-percent threshold needed
to win seats in parliament. When the votes were counted, the final
tally in terms of seats was 17-6 in favor of Harmony Center.

3. Most pundits here attribute the redistribution of the ethnic
Russian vote in favor of the more moderate (at least in appearance)
Harmony Center to several factors. Firstly, SC ran a much better
campaign than PCTVL. The First Baltic Channel (PBK), a
Russian-language cable TV channel watched by a predominant majority
of local Russians here, fully supported SC's campaign (SC leader
Nils Usakovs had worked as a journalist on PBK). Also, SC candidates
actively campaigned in neighborhoods inhabited by their potential
voters while PCTVL had become complacent, hoping that the majority
of the Russian-speaking electorate would nevertheless vote for them.


4. Juris Sokolovskis, a PCTVL faction member in the Saeima
(parliament), told embrep privately that his party was resting on
its laurels thinking that their popular brand-name PCTVL alone would
win them votes. Sokolovskis also acknowledged that SC had more money
to spend on their campaign, and that they did it wisely. He remarked
that SC's campaign in the run-up to the elections became more
aggressive, and that SC had succeeded in persuading the Russian
voters that Harmony Center (rather than the current PCTVL) had
inherited the mantle of the highly-popular four-party PCTVL bloc
which in the 2002 elections won 25 out of the 100 Saeima seats.
PCTVL did have some media support as well, from the two
Russian-language dailies, Vesti and Chas. However, even these
papers' editors, who ran for the Saeima on the PCTVL ticket, failed
to get elected.

5. Harmony Center also benefited from more charismatic leaders that
PCTVL. SC's leader Nils Usakovs is young, energetic, and comes
across as a European-oriented Russian. Also, the leader of the
Socialist party and hard-line Communist chief in Soviet Latvia
Alfreds Rubiks, who remains popular among a certain segment of
elderly Russians, helped SC win a fair share of votes. The
confrontational policies and radicalism of PCTVL might have scared
away more moderate ethnic Russian voters as well.

6. Comment. In addition to the above noted reasons for SC's
electoral success, it has been asserted that a fair number of ethnic
Latvian voters cast their ballots for SC, thus contributing to the
party's success. While some ethnic Latvians did vote for SC (as some
ethnic Russians voted for the First Party), it is premature to
conclude that the paradigm of voting along ethnic lines in Latvia
has shifted. Moreover, the total number of seats the two
pro-Russian parties won in 2006 (23) even dropped by two seats
compared to the number won by the then grand PCTVL bloc in 2002.
Both Harmony Center and PCTVL mainly focused on issues that
concerned the local Russian-speaking residents, such as education,
language and citizenship (reftel). End Comment.

BAILEY

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