A petition calling for constitutional amendments to make Russian the second official language in Latvia has been submitted to the Central Election Commission in Rīga.
The petition with 12,516 voter signatures was submitted Sept. 9, according to commission spokesperson Kristīne Bērziņa. The commission must now evaluate the petition, a process that could take up to four weeks because of the upcoming Sept. 17 parliamentary election.
The notarized signatures, on 4,405 pages, were submitted by the Russian-oriented “Dzimtā valoda” (Native Language) organization. The group has been gathering signatures for months.
The Latvian constitution recognizes Latvian as the sole state language.
Under Latvian law, amendments to the constitution can be initiated by at least 10,000 voters signing a petition within a one-year period. If the signatures are determined to be valid, the election commission must call for a 30-day period in which additional signatures would be gathered.
The proposed constitutional amendments would affect:
- Paragraph 4, which currently makes Latvian the only state language.
- Paragraph 18, which stipulates the oath made by members of parliament. Under current language, they promise to strengthen Latvian as the only state language.
- Paragraph 21, which states that Latvian is the language of the Saeima.
- Paragraph 101, which states that the official language of local governments is Latvian.
- Paragraph 104, which guarantees people the right to address government bodies and to receive an answer in Latvian.
If at least 10 percent of the number of eligible voters in the last parliamentary election sign on to the initiative, then the Saeima will have to consider the amendments. Because the Sept. 17 election will be the most recent, that means 154,270 signatures will need to be gathered—including those already submitted on the petition.
If the signature drive is successful and the Saeima either amends or rejects the proposed constitutional amendments, then the question would be put to a national referendum. To pass, at least half of all eligible voters would have to cast ballots in favor of the amendments.
In June, an effort to amend the constitution to make Latvian the only language of instruction in public schools fell short of the required number of signatures to force a referendum.
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