At the start of the 20th Century Latvia had been part of the Russian empire but in 1920, after the Russian revolution, it was recognised by Russia as an independent state. In 1940 the country was taken over by the Russians, occupied by the Germans in 1941 and then retaken by the Soviets in 1944. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union Latvia declared independence in 1991 and was recognised as such by the Russians in September of the same year.
Upon independence Latvia restored its 1922 constitution and confirmed the Republic as a parliamentary democracy with a unicameral chamber, the Saeima.
The first prime minister of the newly independent republic was Ivars Godmanis.
When the first democratic elections of the new era were held in 1993 more than 20 parties participated with Latvian Way, a centre right party, taking 36 of the 100 seats in the Saeima.
As well as pushing for a free market economy, the government had to deal with the continuing presence of Soviet troops in the country, the question of citizenship, with a large Russian population, reprivatisation of land and property as well as the ‘de-sovietisation’ of the country.
In 1995 nine parties won seats to the parliament with the centre left Democratic Party Saimnieks being the largest party with 18 of the 100 seats in parliament. After seven weeks of negotiations a broad coalition of six of the nine parties was formed under Prime Minister Andris Šķēle a businessman turned politician.
By 1998 six parties were in the parliament, the largest of which was the People’s Party, recently formed by Andris Šķēle, with 24 seats. The election was a victory for the centre right and although a coalition was formed, political turmoil led to three governments with three different prime ministers before they stumbled their way through to the 2002 general election.
In 2002, the New Era Party triumphed with 26 seats; it had been formed just a few months before by Einars Repse a former head of the Central Bank. It took weeks to form the government and just two years later, on 5th February 2004, the government collapsed and a new prime minister from the Greens, Indulis Emsis, was appointed.
On 1st May 2004 Latvia became a member of the European Union. On 2nd December 2004 Aigars Kalvītis of the People’s Party became the new prime minister; Indulis Emsis had been in power for just ten months.
Kalvītis has the rare honour of winning the 2006 general election and for the first time since independence the government was re-elected. However, in 2007 Kalvītis resigned and was replaced by Valdis Dombrovskis of the New Era Party.
In 2010 the Unity alliance, which embraced Dombrovskis’ New Era Party, won with 33 seats in the 100 seat Saeima.
By 2011 President Valdis Zatlers was unhappy with the way the parliament refused to allow the Corruption Prevention Bureau to investigate the business dealings of an opposition MP and called a referendum for 23rd July to dissolve parliament. Of those who voted, 94% wanted fresh parliamentary elections which were called for 17th September 2011.
Valdis Zatlers paid the price for crossing the parliament and in an indirect election on 2nd June 2011 Zatlers was not re-elected to the post of President and Andris Bērziņš was elected President in a second round vote.
Zatlers promptly set up his own centre-right party, Zatlers’ Reform Party (subsequently known as the Reform Party) and said that it would not cooperate with the three ‘oligarch’ parties – the Union of Greens and Farmers, Latvia’s First Party/Latvian Way and the People’s Party.
Zatlers’ Reform Party did well in the 2011 election, coming second with 22 seats. But it was the left-wing pro-Russia Harmony Centre which emerged as the largest party with 31 seats.
Harmony Centre was unable to form a coalition government and after some considerable period the eventual coalition included the centre-right Unity (Vienotība), Zatlers’ Reform Party (in 2014 the Reform Party was absorbed into Unity) and the right-wing National Alliance to give the new government 56 of the 100 seats in the Saeima.
In 2014 the parliamentary cycle was back on track and fresh elections were called for 4th October. The pro-Russian Harmony Centre emerged the largest party again with 24 seats and again was forced into opposition. Unity’s Laimdota Straujuma had replaced Valdis Dombrovskis (he took a European Commissioner job) as Prime Minister in January 2014 and she went on to form the new government which included the National Alliance and Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) to give the new coalition 61 seats in the 100 seat parliament.
The President is elected by Parliament for a four year term.
Latvia has a unicameral Parliament with 100 members elected for four year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Latvia at joint 44th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 57 (where 100 is least corrupt).