With 89 per cent of Saturday's votes counted, the center-right coalition of Aigars Kalvitis, the prime minister, had 45 per cent, meaning it could be given a mandate by the president to stay in power.

If the result holds, it would mark the first time that a Latvian government has survived an election since the small Baltic country regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Kalvitis had celebrated earlier exit polls as a sign of victory following the close of voting at 22:00 (19:00 GMT).

"It shows that the people have supported the existing government," he said.

However, Kalvitis said it would not be clear until final results were published on Sunday whether the ruling coalition would need an additional partner to form a majority.

Economic liberalism

The ruling conservative People's Party came first with 19.68 per cent of the vote, in the first election since the Baltic country joined the EU two years ago, according to the central election commission.

With 93 per cent of the vote counted from Saturday's election, the People's Party's coalition ally Union of Greens and Farmers followed in second place with 16.79 per cent.

The centre-right New Era party, which had been part of the  government coalition until April, had just over 16 per cent.

The left-wing Harmony Centre party, which has strong support from Latvia's large Russian minority, leapt onto the political stage, gaining 14.02 per cent of votes cast.

Analysts said the results pointed to a continuity in Latvian  politics, which had always been grounded in the centre-right and economic liberalism since the country won its independence.

The country's consistent economic policies helped get the former Soviet republic into the  European Union, and fuel the most rapid economic growth of any EU nation.

"There is no doubt that the next coalition will be formed by centre-right parties and it will be very similar, if not the same, to what we have now," said Aigars Freimanis, director of research company Latvijas Fakti.