Reacting to concerns that the upcoming referendum on Russian as a second official language was worded unclearly, Latvia’s Central Election Commission has approved a new version that offers greater explanation.
Citizens on Feb. 18 will now be asked to vote par (for) or pret (against) a referendum question that reads, “Vai jūs esat par likumprojekta ‘Grozījumi Latvijas Republikas Satversmē’ pieņemšanu, kas paredz krievu valodai noteikt otras valsts valodas statusu?” (“Are you for adopting the proposed legislation ‘Amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia’ that would grant Russian the status of the second state language?”).
Previously, the question merely asked if voters were for or against amending the constitution, with no mention of the underlying issue.
The Central Election Commission, meeting in Rīga, voted unanimously Jan. 10 to make the change, according to spokeswoman Kristīna Bērziņa.
The commission’s decision came after the six independent MPs in the Latvian parliament asked for the referendum question to be clearer. They said that as originally worded, the referendum question could lead to citizens becoming confused and voting differently than they intended.
The hot-button language issue has come before voters as a result of an initiative that gathered more than 183,000 signatures from citizens seeking to make Russian a second state language.
Under current wording of the constitution, Latvian is the only official language. The proposed amendments would change five paragraphs, allowing for Russian to also be used. Paragraph 4, which establishes the official language, may only be changed by national referendum.
The election commission also approved creation of two informative posters that will be displayed in voting booths, as well as two television public service announcements, one about the referendum question and one about voting at home for those citizens who for health reasons are unable to make it a polling station.
At least half of all eligible voters, or about 772,000 citizens, would need to vote in favor of the referendum for the amendments to be approved. Political observers have said the referendum most likely will fail. However, a growing number of commentators are arguing that citizens should still participate in the referendum, voting pret to show support for a basic value of the Latvian state.
Voters abroad who want to participate in the referendum through absentee ballots will have until Feb. 4 to submit applications, the election commission announced Jan. 10.
A total of 21 embassies and honorary consulates around the world will accept the applications, including offices in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. A complete list is available for download from the Central Election Commission’s website web.cvk.lv.
An application form and the voter’s current Latvian passport must be submitted to receive an absentee ballot.
On Feb. 18, voters also will be able to vote at a number of polling stations abroad. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time. The full list of polling stations will become available Jan. 20, according to the election commission.
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