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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation


Figures indicated that Latvias center-right had won a comfortable general election victory Sunday 2002.10.06 , though under new leaders, as the former Soviet state prepares to enter NATO and the European Union.

Former central banker Einars Repses liberal newcomer New Era party received 23.6 percent of votes in preliminary results from 976 of a total 979 polling stations.

"We can now almost certainly say that we are the winners," a beaming Repse said. "We will cooperate with other right-wing parties, but it is yet to be decided which ones."

New Era was followed by the only leftist party to make it into parliament, For Human Rights in a United Latvia, at 18.9 percent, while the conservative Peoples Party got 16.7 percent.

"My main worry was to see to it that lefties do not come to power, and I can be quite proud as I was betting on the winner," said Sanne, 22, a shop assistant.

Prime Minister Andris Berzins Latvias Way was the big loser in Saturdays election, with preliminary results showing the party had failed to get the 5 percent of votes required for entry to parliament.

"We have, it seems, completed our stage of the road and many want us to pass on the baton," said Latvias Ways Ivars Goedmanis, the countrys first prime minister after independence.

Recent infighting in the center-right bloc could make coalition talks difficult, although most parties seemed willing to let Repse take the lead in the bargaining.

"All parties have agreed that Repse should form a government," said Zaneta Ozolina, a politics professor and commentator.

A broad center-right coalition will ensure Western market reforms are kept firmly on course in the small Baltic state, which regained independence in 1991.

Many voters were dissatisfied after a decade of exhausting reforms and voted Saturday for new leaders to wrap up the last stage of Latvias "return to Europe."

Repse has lashed out at friends and foes alike for what he sees as an inefficient and corrupt state system drowning in red tape. In his campaign he stressed the need for lean government and tax cuts to keep Latvia moving forward.

Opposing the center-right bloc in parliament will be the leftist For Human Rights in a United Latvia, which often speaks on behalf of the sizeable Russian minority.

Another successful newcomer to Latvian politics was the Christian Latvias First Party, with 9.6 percent support.

The last two parties to get above the 5 percent threshold were the centrist alliance of Farmers and Greens, with 9.5 percent of the vote, and the right-wing For Fatherland and Freedom, part of the current coalition, at 5.3 percent.

Latvia has been a minefield for party politics since its first free elections in 1993, with a short life expectancy for those at the helm. Three elections have produced nine governments.

But they have all been center-right and provided the stability necessary for a country in rapid transition.

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga has urged stability above all as Latvia, which has a buoyant economy, makes its final preparations before joining NATO and the EU.

Latvia, along with Baltic neighbors Estonia and Lithuania, expects to join the EU in 2004 and to get an invitation to enter NATO at a Prague summit next month after a decade of reforms.

By Erik Brynhildsbakken

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