The center-right New Era party appeared to have taken the lead in Latvia's parliamentary election Saturday. The pro-business party headed by a former central banker now faces the tough task of building a coalition government. With over 23 percent of the vote, the New Era party of Einars Repse led a field of 20 parties competing in the election.

Mr. Repse will now have to form a new coalition government.

The former banker is popular as the man who helped steer Latvia through the difficult transition from the Soviet past. He introduced the new, stable lat currency and campaigned on a strong, anti-corruption platform.

The big loser in the election was the Latvia's Way party of current prime minister Andris Berzins, which trailed far behind and may not even make it into the new parliament. Analysts say the ruling party made a mistake in focusing its campaign on foreign policy rather than bread-and-butter issues.

Voters were also apparently convinced by Mr. Repse's argument that corruption was widespread and needed to be dealt with.

The new government will oversee historic changes on the horizon for the small nation of 2.5 million people. Along with neighboring Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia is likely to enter the European Union in 2004, and hopes to join the NATO military alliance in the next few years.