Low turnout looks likely again in Latgale for European Parliament elections

On June 8 the European Parliament (EP) elections will take place in Latvia. In the previous elections five years ago, the lowest turnout of the population in the whole of Latvia was in the Dagda district, where only 17.5% of the population went to the polls; in some parishes in the district, the number of voters did not exceed a few dozen people, reports Latvian Radio.

As a result of local administration reforms, Dagda is now part of the Krāslava district. In the parishes with the lowest voter turnout, how are the residents feeling this year, and what could encourage them to participate in the elections?

Vladislavs is a pensioner from Asūne parish. Turning the tractor back into his yard, after mowing his neighbor's field, he says that people here think more about spring work than politics. When the sowing work is over, there will be time to participate in the EP elections.

"We will have to go. We will definitely have to go. We just have to vote. There are plenty candidates for the European Parliament," says Vladislavs.

Going to vote is an obligation, Vladislavs believes, and the financing of European Union (EU) projects is felt in Asūne. "In terms of projects, yes. There are a lot of projects both in the parish and in general. Farmers work with projects. Otherwise, they have no movement whatsoever. (...) We have enough security here."

It is only a few kilometers from Asūne to the border with Belarus. How the external border of Latvia and the entire EU is being strengthened is felt by the locals, as well as the presence of border guards. But otherwise Asūne is said to be quite empty.

"People live in a kind of depression, because there are no prospects. 50-year-olds are almost the youngest in the parishes," says Žanna Aišpure, head of the Asūne parish administration, admitting that young people do not stay here, even after getting an education and starting a family, only a few return to their native homes.

"There are very few children. There used to be a school, but now we take them to Dagda. A 19-seater bus and it's half empty."

Asūne parish has fewer than 300 eligible voters or declared adult residents. Fewer people live here everyday. In the previous elections, just 40 people came to vote. There is little hope that there will be more this time, says Asūne parish election commission chairman Olga Džerina-Vilgerta.

"Nothing has been done for Latgale. You can see for yourself what the roads are like," says Viktors Kuznetsovs, the head of the municipal utilities of Asūne parish. "People don't go because they don't believe in anything. What's the point? It doesn't make any sense. It's just that people don't believe in it."

Konstantinova parish is a neighbor of Asūne. Here, the results of the previous European Parliament elections were similar – out of almost 360 eligible citizens, only 43 went to the polls. "Where are we, where is Europe..." said an unnamed local.

"I personally am not going to vote myself. I don't want to. And of the candidates that are there, there are none that I would like to see and that could influence me. I am not talking about all of Latvia as a whole, but about our region," said the unnamed contributor.

In the center of Konstantinova there is a parish hall, an administration building, a library and two shops. A few years ago, the school was closed, and last year also the kindergarten.

"Our parish is dying," says parish employee Ināra Raginska. "On the street where I live, I'm the only one. All the houses stand empty next to each other. I have a job, that's why I live here. The others? They have a house, they have property, but they are not there."

Ināra Raginska, both five years ago and this year again, will also work in the parish election commission. She believes that people are sufficiently informed about the elections, but still do not go to them.

"Yes, I think they know. There is television, radio. They listen and know what's happening. But the attitude is - ah, well, what's the difference? No one will hear me anyway."

Neither in Konstantinova nor Asūne does anyone recall election candidates coming to their villages.

However, in Konstantinova, Latvian Radio also managed to meet several residents who plan to go to the ballot boxes.

"I participate any time when there are elections. Now I work here in the parish. I will come and vote," said one.

"I think so. We send these MEPs to Brussels to take care of us. People who are inactive among us don't even come to local events," said another.

People are inactive and do not attend elections for various reasons - some do not have citizenship, others only go to municipal elections if they have received an invitation to do so, for others rural work cannot be put off, and for others it is difficult to get to the polling station. Daugavpils University lecturer and political observer Dmitrijs Olehnovičs also mentions logistics and long distances from the place of residence to the polling station as an argument why voter turnout is lower in remote rural areas.

"This is also something that needs to be talked about and talked about a lot more – so that ordinary rural residents can reach the polling stations. Often, in our regions, logistical issues are very often under criticism."

He is also not optimistic about voter turnout in the upcoming European Parliament elections. On the contrary, in many places in Latgale, the activity could be even lower, often due to the lack of information and advertising.

"Of course there should be advertising, but advertising in the broad sense of the word. Not just 'vote for me', but also to explain why you should vote for me."

Olehnovičs emphasizes that it is still not clear to many people what the members of the European Parliament do. This, as well as the advantages of membership and contributions of the EU to Latvia, should be regularly reminded, moreover, paying special attention to the information space in Latgale, because it is wrong to hope that those who live in the Russian information space on a daily basis will go to the polls.



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