MOSCOW — The Baltic state of Latvia, governed since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union by political forces inclined toward Europe and wary of Russia, on Sunday became the latest country whiplashed by rising populism with the announcement of election results that showed strong support for pro-Russia and anti-establishment parties.
The results delivered a serious blow to mainstream politicians and opened the way for coalition talks that, for the first time, could lead to a government that includes Harmony Center, a Moscow-friendly party that until this year had a cooperation agreement with Russia’s ruling party, United Russia.
Not only did Harmony win nearly 20 percent of the vote, the most in the parliamentary election held Saturday, but it was followed in second place by a new anti-establishment party. The party, KPV LV — Who Owns the State — is led by Artuss Kaimins, a flamboyant former actor turned unruly politician whose critics in Latvia deride him as “our Donald Trump.”
Public discontent with Latvia’s traditional parties has been fed in recent months by a series of scandals that have left the governor of the central bank under investigation for corruption and led to the collapse of ABLV, the country’s largest locally owned bank. The United States Treasury issued a report in February describing the bank as a sprawling, money-laundering enterprise.
Mr. Kaimins’s party won 14.1 percent of the vote, and another new group, the anti-corruption New Conservative Party, won 13.6 percent, meaning that Harmony could find coalition partners that would allow it to form a government. This goal that has eluded the party in the past; although it has won the most in a parliamentary election before, mainstream parties have refused to include it in any deal because of its ties with Moscow.
Nils Usakovs, an ethnic Russian who is mayor of Riga, the capital, and chairman of Harmony, hailed the result and said it opened the door to government for his party. “No coalition combination is possible without Harmony that would appear able and stable,” he told the news agency LETA.
The alternative, Mr. Usakovs said, is “a coalition of xenophobes and gay rights supporters” that he predicted would only survive “two or three weeks.”
But getting a role in government will still be an uphill struggle for Mr. Usakovs. Centrist and right-wing parties, while deeply divided by personality and rival ambitions, are generally united in their hostility toward Harmony and could patch together a coalition that would again block it from entering government.
The departing prime minister, Maris Kucinskis, whose party finished sixth, warned that an alliance between populists and Harmony would be “very dangerous” because it would mean “a rather radical change of Latvia’s position toward the European Union and toward our security matters.”
The Who Owns the State leader, Mr. Kaimins, who formed his party just two years ago while sitting in Parliament as an independent, has scandalized the country’s political elite. He has filmed parliamentary committee meetings and broadcast them live, denounced the European Union and fellow lawmakers as corrupt, and vowed to “personally fire” broadcasters who upset him.
Harmony, a party that has traditionally drawn its support from Latvia’s large Russian-speaking minority, has worked hard of late to shed its image as a tool of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, trying to rebrand itself as a Western-style social democratic party. It has rejected calls from radical pro-Russia groups for Latvia to leave NATO and the European Union but has called for the lifting of sanctions against Moscow.
Around a quarter of Latvia’s population of two million speaks Russian and gets most of its information from Russian media outlets, which regularly feature reports claiming that ethnic Latvians persecute their Russian-speaking compatriots. Recent research found that 82 percent of Russian-speaking Latvians watch Russian television channels controlled by the Kremlin.