Last weekend voters went to the polls throughout Eastern Europe – from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Latvia and Romania. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, citizens elected a tripartite presidency and the representatives for both houses of the legislature on Sunday, October 7, in a highly contested race under the watchful eye of some 320 election observers from forty-three countries. In Romania, voters were asked to decide on the constitutional definition of marriage, which resulted in an overwhelming majority in favor of defining marriage specifically as a union between a man and a woman, and not between “spouses.” With a turnout of only 20.4 percent the widely covered referendum, which was held on October 6-7, did not reach the required 30% hurdle and is considered invalid. It was boycotted by opposition parties and civil society groups.
International media paid little attention to Latvia’s October 6 general elections, which in some ways were even more interesting and important than those in the other former Communist states. The elections resulted in a major defeat for the incumbent ruling coalition. The Union of Greens and Farmers led by Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis saw its twenty-one seats in the 100-member Saeima reduced to eleven. The center-right New Unity party had the worst outcome, however, going from nineteen MPs down to eight. The conservative National Alliance saw its current sixteen seats cut to thirteen. The new, overtly populist KPV LV party was the clear winner, finishing in second place with 14% of the vote and closely trailing the social democratic Harmony, which secured 19% of ballots. Drawing much of its support from Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority, Harmony is the ruling party in the capital Riga and managed to hold onto its twenty-four seats in parliament.
The increasing information war between Russia and its Baltic neighbors, which are all NATO members, sparked fears that Moscow would interfere in Latvia’s elections, in particular. These fears prompted the Re:Baltica – the Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism to monitor Russian-language media coverage of the elections. Their conclusion: Russia did not have to interfere in the contest, since many individuals in Latvia already adhere to a Russian perspective on political issues. A quarter of Latvia’s nearly two million inhabitants, for example, belong to the Russian-speaking minority. According to Re:Baltica, a whopping 82% of them watch Kremlin-controlled TV networks, which are freely available in the country. “The Internet is polluted by seemingly independent news websites in Russian which, as our investigation this year showed, not only get their daily list of what to write about from the Kremlin-owned propaganda conglomerate Rossiya Segodnya, but are themselves owned by it,” Re:Baltica concluded.
With its influence still strong, Russia is in the backdrop of elections across many post-Communist states, regardless of its efforts to directly influence electoral outcomes.