Proponents of making Russian the second state language in Latvia have apparently succeeded in getting enough signatures to bring proposed constitutional amendments before the Saeima and to force a national referendum, according to provisional results compiled by the Central Election Commission in Rīga.
A total of 183,046 eligible voters—almost 30,000 more than required—added their signatures to the citizen initiative during November, according to the election commission. Of those, 1,050 did so abroad at Latvian embassies and consulates.
That means legislation proposing changes to five paragraphs in Latvia’s constitution will be submitted in a few weeks. If media reports and political observers are correct, the Saeima is more than likely to reject the legislation, which would then lead to a national referendum on the language issue sometime in early 2012.
However, even if the Saeima approves the amendments, a national referendum is inescapable. One of the amendments would change Paragraph 4, which according to the constitution may only be changed through a referendum. Paragraph 4 stipulates that Latvian is the state language and that the national flag is red with a white stripe.
A pro-Russian group, “Dzimtā valoda,” gathered signatures earlier this year and in September submitted a petition with 12,533 names supporting the initiative. At least 10,000 were needed to trigger the month-long signature campaign.
According to Latvian law, at least 10 percent of eligible voters in the last parliamentary election—a total of 154,379—had to support the initiative to bring the legislation to the Saeima.
The Central Election Commission must now review the signatures, a process that could take three to four weeks, according to spokesperson Kristīne Bērziņa.
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