By Johan Ahlander and Gederts Gelzis
RIGA (Reuters) - Latvia's pro-European parties looked to have done well in an election on Saturday, but the pro-Russian Harmony party was set to be the biggest single group in parliament, according to an exit poll by state broadcaster LTV.
If the result stands, it would allay fears of Harmony being part of any coalition government and possibly shifting the European Union and NATO member's foreign policy closer to Putin's Russia.
The pollster said that fewer voters than usual responded to its questions, however, and that the result was uncertain.
"Previous experience shows that the result of the more radical forces might do better than the exit poll shows," Arnis Kaktinš, head of polling company SKDS, told Reuters.
The current majority government of the Union of Greens and Farmers, the National Alliance and the Unity party only mustered support from 29.2 percent of voters, according to the poll.
Populist newcomer KPV LV, which dominated pre-election debates and was seen by some as a possible coalition partner for Harmony, was the fifth-biggest party with 11.5 percent support.
Other parties did better than previous polls had suggested. The liberal Development/For party got 13.4 percent support, conservative National Alliance got 12.6 percent and anti-corruption party the New Conservatives got 12.4 percent. All three have strongly pro-European stances.
Dissatisfaction with Latvian politicians, widely seen as corrupt and inefficient, has seen the parties in Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis' coalition lose voters to KPV LV, a party that has promised a fresh and more efficient government.
KPV leader, Artuss Kaimins, whose popularity has soared as he railed against corrupt politicians, has sent mixed messages on whether he would rule out a deal with Harmony, set to be the biggest party due to its support base among the Russian-speaking minority.
"I will be one of those good people who elect bad politicians," said Raivis, a man in his late thirties, before casting his vote for Harmony in a Riga suburb earlier on Saturday.
"I try not to think about it because it's been so complicated that it's hard to understand who's playing the chess board."
Latvia, a member of the European Union and NATO, shares a 276-kilometre (167 miles) border with Russia which makes it a frontline state in the increasingly hostile relationship between the West and President Vladimir Putin.
NATO currently has more than 1,000 troops deployed in the Baltic country of 2 million and even the potential of a minor shift in allegiance in Latvia will worry both Brussels and Washington.
Harmony wants to remain in the EU and NATO but have closer economic ties with Russia and only cancelled a cooperation agreement with Putin's United Russia party last year.
With Russian speakers making up a quarter of the population, Harmony looks to remain the biggest party, according to the polls, followed by the Union of Greens and Farmers and KPV LV.
Polling stations close at 1700 GMT with a preliminary official result expected around 0100 GMT Sunday morning.
(Reporting by Johan Ahlander and Gederts Gelzis; Editing by Ros Russell and Hugh Lawson)
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Updated Date: Oct 07, 2018 01:05 AM