Latvians head to the polls for parliamentary election

Latvians head to the polls for parliamentary election

Voters made their way to the polls in Latvia Saturday to choose a new parliament for a four-year term, DPA reported.

Around 1.5 million of the Baltic country's 2.2 million people are eligible to vote. More than 1,000 polling stations have been set up countrywide.

Polls opened at 0500 GMT on and are due to close at 1700 GMT, with preliminary results expected in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The Central Election Commission said 1.5 per cent of voters had cast their ballots during the first hour.

Officials hoped turnout would exceed the 61 per cent of registered voters who took part in the 2006 parliamentary elections.

President Valdis Zatlers, who is not up for election, urged Latvians to vote even if the political choices offered to them were "not ideal."

"On this day our fate is in our own hands," Zatlers said.

Opinion polls predicted a close race between incumbent Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis' Vienotiba bloc and the opposition Saskanas Centrs party with each attracting around 30 per cent of the vote.

Smaller parties were likely to hold the balance of power. Parties need to at least 5 per cent of the vote in order to win representation in the 100-seat unicameral parliament.

Key issues include the Latvian economy, which contracted 18 per cent in 2009, and how to handle the country's 7.5-billion-euro (10-billion-dollar) international bailout loan.

Polling stations in central Riga were doing brisk business by mid-morning.

"I have come all the way from the US to cast my vote for Vienotiba. I don't know if I can make a big difference but it is important to try," said a voter named Sarmite told the German Press Agency dpa as she emerged from the polling station.

Another voter, Anna, said the fear of a pro-Russian government provided motivation. "This is only the second time I have voted but there are so many Russians now it is important for all Latvians to vote," she said. The two women declined to give their full names.

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