Election Resources on the Internet:
Elections to the Latvian Saeima (Parliament)
by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera

Latvia, which held a general election on Saturday, September 17, 2011, after voters in the Baltic republic approved the dissolution of the Saeima - Latvia's unicameral parliament - in a July 23, 2011 referendum, returned to the polls on Saturday, February 18, 2012, to hold a constitutional referendum on the adoption of Russian as a second official language. An overview of the proportional representation system used to choose members of the Saeima is presented here.

With 100% of the vote tallied, the Russian language adoption proposal was rejected by 821,722 votes (74.8%) against it to 273,347 (24.9%) in favor, while 3,524 voters (0.3%) cast invalid ballots. The Central Election Commission of Latvia (CVK) has detailed results in Latvian of the 2012 referendum - which had a 71.1% voter turnout rate - as well as 11th Saeima election and 2011 referendum results (also in Latvian). Nationwide- and constituency-level results are available here (and also in CSV format) for the following Saeima elections:

      September 17, 2011      
      October 2, 2010      
      October 7, 2006      
      October 5, 2002      
      October 3, 1998      

The election statistics presented in this space come from reports published by the Central Election Commission of Latvia (CVK).


General Aspects of the Electoral System

The Parliament of the Republic of Latvia, the Saeima, is composed of 100 members directly elected by universal adult suffrage for a four-year term of office.

Members of the Saeima are elected by the pure Sainte-Laguë method of proportional representation (PR) in five multi-member constituencies. Voters cast a ballot for a constituency party list, and may indicate a preference (with a plus sign) for a candidate within a list, or reject a candidate therein by crossing his or her name out; the number of votes cast for a candidate equals the number of votes polled by the list in which he or she appears, minus the number of ballot papers in which his or her name has been crossed out, plus the number of ballot papers in which a preference has been indicated in his or her favor. In order to participate in the distribution of Saeima seats, party lists must obtain at least five percent of all valid votes cast at the national level, including blank ballots.

The Political Parties

Since regaining its independence in 1991, after fifty-one years of annexation by the Soviet Union, Latvia has developed a highly fragmented and volatile party system, with at least one new major party emerging in the four elections to the Saeima held between 1995 and 2006. No single party has ever won an absolute parliamentary majority, or even as much as one-quarter of the popular vote in the last four parliamentary elections, and the Baltic nation has experienced considerable cabinet instability, with coalition governments lasting on average less than two years in office.

In the 2002 Saeima election, Einars Repše's center-right New Era came out of nowhere to emerge as the largest party, followed by For Human Rights in a United Latvia, a coalition of left-wing parties strongly supported by voters from Latvia's sizable Russian-speaking minority. The right-of-center People's Party - which had won a plurality of votes and seats in the 1998 Saeima election - arrived in a strong third place, followed by two new center-right groups, the Union of Greens and Farmers and the First Party of Latvia. The election was also notable for the collapse of the right-of-center Latvia's Way: even though it had been previously one of the country's major parties (and a coalition partner in every government since 1993), it fell short of the five percent threshold and lost all its seats in the Saeima.

Repše subsequently formed a four-party coalition government, but he did not last long in office. In March 2004, Indulis Emsis of the Union of Greens and Farmers replaced Repše as head of government, but the following December Emsis was in turn replaced by Aigars Kalvitis of the People's Party. Prime Minister Kalvitis' center-right minority administration ruled Latvia until the 2006 Saeima election, in which the People's Party topped the poll, ahead of the Union of Greens and Farmers, while New Era slipped to third place. Meanwhile, the new Harmony Center polled strongly and finished in fourth place, eclipsing For Human Rights in a United Latvia, from which it had broken away.

After the election, Kalvitis formed a four-party, majority coalition cabinet composed of the People's Party, the Union of Greens and Farmers, First Party of Latvia and Latvia's Way, plus the right-wing For Fatherland and Freedom. Although Kalvitis was forced to step down in December 2007, following mass protests over his attempt to dismiss the head of the country's Anti-Corruption Bureau, the four-party coalition government continued in office, headed by Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis. However, the global financial crisis - which caused a severe contraction of Latvia's economy - brought about the government's collapse in February 2009, despite having survived a parliamentary vote of confidence earlier that month. Valdis Dombrovskis, a former Finance Minister and a Member of the European Parliament for New Era since 2004, subsequently formed a five-party coalition government - composed of New Era, the People's Party, the Union of Greens and Farmers, For Fatherland and Freedom and the new, center-right Civic Union - which won a vote of confidence in the Saeima the following March.

The People's Party left the coalition government in March 2010, but Prime Minister Dombrovskis continued in office as head of a minority cabinet until the following November, when he formed a majority coalition government composed of his new Unity coalition - which won the largest number of seats in an early Saeima election held in October 2010 - and the Union of Greens and Farmers.

However, on May 28, 2011, then-President Valdis Zatlers used his constitutional power to dissolve Parliament, following the latter's refusal to allow prosecutors to search the residence of Ainars Šlesers, a wealthy businessman and member of the Saeima who has been accused of graft. The dissolution was subsequently ratified by voters in a referendum held the following July 23: on a 44.7% voter turnout rate, there were 650,518 votes (94.3%) in favor to 37,829 against (5.5%); 1,476 voters (0.2%) cast invalid ballots. In the early parliamentary election, which took place the following September 17, Unity slipped to third place - behind Harmony Center, which topped the poll, and former President Zatlers' new Reform Party, which came in second; nonetheless, Dombrovskis remained in power as head of a coalition government of Unity, Zatlers' Reform Party and the right-wing National Alliance.

Online Resources


Copyright © 2009-2012 Manuel Álvarez-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.
Last update: February 19, 2012.