Opposition parties do best in Latvia’s local elections

Opposition parties allied with the Greens and Farmers Union (ZZS), and Latvia’s Regional Alliance (LRA) did the best out of municipal elections held across most of Latvia June 5, though provisional results show no single party really dominated the poll.

According to early results from the Central Elections Commission (CVK), of 40 disctricts up for grabs (Rīga, Rēzekne and Varakļāni districts did not hold elections) ZZS topped the poll results in five places: South Kurzeme district, Ludza, Alūksne, Jūrmala city and Jelgava city. 

However, the situation is complicated by the fact that in different regions, different parties traditionally allied under the ZZS umbrella participated in the elections (sometimes even in the same district) with the Latvian Green Party (LZP), Latvian Farmers’ Union (LZA) and ZZS itself all on ballot papers in different districts. The LZA topped the poll in four districts and the LZP in one district.

According to LSM’s Latvian-language service, ZZS may get to control as many as 15 of the new municipalities.

ZZS on its own won 12.5% ​​of the seats. Exactly the same percentage of seats was won by the LRA, which experienced something of a comeback. LRA started in 31 districts and also won outright in five places: Tukums, Mārupe, Ādaži, Saulkrasti and Limbaži.

“If you only invest in social media, you will not reach a lot of voters,” said the National Coalition Party’s (NCP) national municipal election manager Antti Ahonen. “Basically, social media is used by almost everyone, but not regularly. Because of the algorithms, election ads often go to those who are already active. It also feels sometimes like social media blocks certain adverts.”

Parties also report struggling to stand out among the noise of social media advertising. According to Juha Hiltunen, chair of the Left Alliance in the Häme region, social media is the only option for several candidates, as street or newspaper advertising costs significantly more.

“Ads are good for people who are not sure who to vote for. But this also depends a lot on the size of the municipality. For example Riihimäki is such a small area that I don’t see the benefit of an individual candidate running an [outdoor] advert, meaning I wouldn’t put my small budget into it,” Hiltunen said.

Election advertising law has “ambiguities”

The placement of election advertising is governed by law, and compliance with the rules is monitored by regional economic development agencies, known as ELY Centres. For example, election advertisements must not endanger traffic or be placed too close to a polling station.

However, there are some ambiguities in the law.

“The law does not specify what the polling station’s ‘immediate proximity’ actually means. One candidate had an advertisement in the window of their own shop, which was hundreds of metres away from the polling station. Yet it could still be seen from there, and this was pointed out,” Ahonen said.

In addition to obeying the law, candidates must also take public opinion into account. Annoying adverts are sometimes removed to ensure that they do not turn voters against the candidate.

“The choice of election advertising locations requires a keen eye. Personally, for example, I wouldn’t put it along an outdoor trail. I think people going for a run would find it annoying,” said Marko Mikkola, the Finns Party’s election manager in the municipality of Hollola.

The vandalising of election advertisements has been a recurring issue during this municipal election campaign, as posters have been defaced or destroyed all over Finland. In the town of Akaa, for example, the SDP municipal organisation has filed criminal reports over the destruction of posters showing Prime Minister Sanna Marin.

“Fortunately, all the parties have condemned this behaviour. Vandalism is an insult to democracy,” emphasised Ahonen of the NCP.

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