The battle for Riga begins

  • 2009-05-27
  • By Kira Savchenko
The European Parliament election, scheduled for June 6 is likely to receive scant attention in Latvia, with local municipal elections, due to take place on the same day, set to grab more interest from both politicians and the electorate.
 "The battle for Riga is going to be hard and bloody. It is the richest municipality in Latvia and the only place where the budget cuts have not been too tough. It still has some money left and politicians are eager to get it," Aigars Freimanis, Head of public opinion research center Latvian Facts (Latvijas fakti) told The Baltic Times.

The main intrigue of the municipal elections is the name of the new Riga mayor. The entire city is covered with portraits of Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way charismatic leader Ainars Slesers, who is also the former Minister of Transport.
"At the moment I seem to be the only candidate, who realizes the potential of Riga and knows how to use it to get the country out of the crisis. That is why I am going to win. There is [Michael] Bloomberg in New York, [Yuri] Luzkov in Moscow and there is going to be Slesers in Riga," Slesers said.

"Unlike other political parties, Slesers has already started his electioneering a week ago and has made a huge difference in that time. He managed to grab people's attention and used his superior promotion campaign to get the edge over some of his rivals," Arnis Kaktins, the head of marketing and public opinion research center SKDS told TBT.

Despite the grand ambitions of Ainars Slesers, he might be far from achieving them.
According to the latest SKDS opinion poll, the most popular parties in Riga are Harmony Center (15.4 percent of voters are ready to cast their votes for this party) and New Era (12 percent). Slesers's party is on the fourth place (only 6.6 percent). Also, according to the Latvian facts, 21.3 percent of capital residents would like to see Nil Ushakov, the leader of Harmony Center as a new mayor. In his turn, Slesers has a rating 16.8 percent, which has doubled since April.

However, both SKDS and Latvian Facts note that almost half of the electorate has not made its choice yet, so there is a place for surprises.
The European Parliament elections are taken into account only because they are scheduled on the same day as municipal elections. Otherwise, it would have been extremely difficult to achieve the necessary attendance. According to an opinion poll carried by Eurobarometr, more than 80 percent of Latvians are not interested in this event.

"The only ones who are interested in the election, are the candidates themselves. Both political parties and voters do not see any benefits in MEP", said Arnis Kaktins.
An obvious lack of electioneering proves this point. Most political parties, also suffering from the economic crisis, preferred to spend all their money on getting in to the Riga City Council. Another possible reason could be the personalities of the candidates. Most of the tickets are headed by so-called "political corpses" or persons who are already well known in Latvia's elitist political circles.
For example, former prime-minister Ivars Godmanis (Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way) or communist Alfred Rubiks (Harmony center).

However, there is a big chance that municipal elections will pull the European parliament elections. "It is not a big deal for a voter to choose two tickets, instead of one", explained Aigars Freimanis.