February 08, 2012
The hot-button language referendum scheduled Feb. 18 apparently has lots of voters abroad interested in letting their voice be heard, if figures from absentee ballot requests are any indication.
A total of 1,226 Latvian citizens have applied for mail ballots, according to figures compiled by the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and released Feb. 8 by the Central Election Commission in Rīga. That’s more than five times the number who applied for absentee ballots for last year’s referendum on dissolving the 10th Saeima.
Just 232 applications for mail ballots were received for last year’s referendum, commission spokesperson Kristīne Bērziņa told Latvians Online in an email.
The Feb. 18 referendum will decide whether the Latvian constitution should be amended to give Russian equal status as an official language.
Voters had until Feb. 4 to file applications at one of 21 Latvian embassies or consulates around the world. Mail ballots will be sent this week.
The United States, with 279 applications for mail ballots, leads the way, according to the data.
Germany, with 261 applications, is second, followed by the United Kingdom with 210.
Here’s the complete list of how many absentee ballot applications were received in the 21 embassies or consulates:
- United States, 279
- Germany, 261
- United Kingdom, 210
- Norway, 168
- Canada, 65
- Ireland, 54
- Sweden, 41
- Australia, 36
- Belgium, 31
- Poland, 27
- Brazil, 16
- Greece, 15
- Lithuania, 7
- Portugal, 6
- Denmark, 5
- China, 3
- Chile and Estonia, 1 each
- Israel, Russia and Uzbekistan received no applications
Political observers in Latvia have said the referendum has little chance of being approved. At least half of the more than 1.5 million eligible voters would have to vote for the amendments for them to become part of the constitution. However, the run-up to the referendum has sharpened discord between ethnic Latvians and Russian speakers in the country, according to various reports.
Voters abroad will be able to participate in the referendum on Feb. 18 at 85 polling stations in 41 countries. A full list of polling stations abroad is available from the Central Election Commission’s website, www.cvk.lv.
Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000-2012 he was editor of the website.