A national referendum on dissolution of the Latvian parliament is set July 23, the Central Election Commission in Rīga has announced.
The date was approved May 30 after President Valdis Zatlers on May 28 used his constitutional power to initiate dismissal of the Saeima—the first time any Latvian head of state has done so.
In a nationally broadcast speech, the president reacted to the May 26 failure by the Saeima to back the prosecutor general’s request to allow a search of residences controlled by oligarch and MP Ainārs Šlesers. Zatlers said the decision revealed a split between the legislative and judicial branches of Latvia’s government.
Šlesers, according to Latvian media reports, is among oligarchs and public officials implicated in a serious criminal investigation recently undertaken by the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (Korupcijas novēršanas un apkarošanas birojs).
Šlesers, speaking on Latvian Independent Television, said Zatlers is engaging in a power grab similar to what President Kārlis Ulmanis did in 1934. The only difference, Šlesers said, is that Zatlers is pursuing it via democratic measures, unlike the coup-d’état of Ulmanis.
The election commission chose the latest possible date for the referendum, according to a press release. This will allow the commission to organize mail balloting for Latvian citizens abroad, as well as allow the commission to better prepare for the referendum.
Under the Latvian constitution, if voters approve the referendum, then the Saeima will be considered dissolved and new parliamentary elections will be scheduled. However, if the referendum fails, then the president must step down.
Zatlers’s four-year term in office expires in July. The parliament is moving ahead with plans to elect the next president on June 2. Zatlers has declared himself a candidate for a second term, but admitted in his May 28 speech that he may have ruined his chances by calling for the parliament to be dissolved. The only other declared candidate for president is MP Andris Bērziņš, a member of the Union of Greens and Farmers (Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība) and former president of Unibanka.
On July 23, polls will be open in Latvia and abroad from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time, according to the election commission. Voters will need to have a Latvian passport, in which notation will be made that the citizen has voted in the referendum.
Locations of polls abroad are not yet known. The American Latvian Association (Amerikas latviešu apvienība) has asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to guarantee that the greatest possible number of polling stations operate in the United States. During the Saeima election in October, 15 polling stations were open in the U.S. Around the world, a total of 63 polling were open on Oct. 2.
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