Rezekne re-election results vary drastically

  • 2005-08-24
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - Months after a vote-buying scandal led to a nullified election in the eastern city of Rezekne, a new ballot held on Aug. 17 's 19 ended with significantly different results and perhaps no less controversy.

New Center, the upstart party that had won the original election in March, failed to secure even one place this time, racking up less than 5 percent of the vote. In the previous run the party mustered over 30 percent of the vote.

But it was New Center that was widely accused of buying votes in the spring election.

Provisional data showed that the National Harmony Party took the largest share of votes, with nearly 14 percent 's which will likely amount to two seats on the City Council 's followed by New Era, which garnered around 13 percent and two mandates.

The neophyte party Rezeknes New Farmers' Party, which did not contest the last election, earned almost 12 percent and a single place.

Other parties that gained a seat were For Human Rights in a United Latvia, the hybrid party Homeland/Socialists, People's Party, For Our Latvia, and Latvia's First Party, the Social Democrats, Heart of Latgale, and For Fatherland and Freedom - all with a single seat.

National Harmony and New Center recently collaborated to form a new party with the name Harmony Center.

Voter turnout was meager, with little more than 40 percent of residents showing up 's a decline of some 20 percent from the previous vote.

However, Arnis Cimdars, head of the Latvian Central Election Commission, said turnover was "regular." He cited past numbers for comparison.

Rezekne, in eastern Latvia, is predominately populated by ethnic minorities.

Despite the fact that police maintained a thorough watch over the re-election, there were still cases of vote-buying. Before the election, officials established a phone number for people to report bribe offers. Although most of the calls have been determined ungrounded, at least three cases are being pursued.

Local police said they captured at least one fraud attempt on video, and some voters complained that they were offered money to support certain political parties, although officials immediately dismissed some of the charges.

Arnis Kaktins, head of the SKDS pollster, said the accusations were overblown. "Someone may offer money, but no one is looking over the voter's shoulder in the booth," he said.

Other party leaders said that efforts to combat voter-fraud went too far. Juris Bojars, a leader of the Latvian Social Democrats, told the Baltic News Service that an ad placed in a Rezekne newspaper unfairly damaged that party's chances in the election. The ad asked voters who were offered money by the Social Democrats to report the information to law enforcement.

"I am quite confident that these issues played a role in the vote, as did the low turnout," Kaktins said.

The prosecutor's office singled out Rezekne Mayor Juris Zacests of the Social Democratic Party with charges of vote-buying in the March election. Zacests was re-elected as the only representative of his party this election.

After contesting parties turned to the judicial system for redress, a court order was passed to overturn Rezekne's electoral results.

Jurmala, a resort town outside the capital, was also charged with voter fraud. Several arrests were made, and the election results were nullified.