Referendum on boosting pensions set Aug. 23

Just three weeks after voters get to decide if they should have the constitutional right to call for the dismissal of Latvia’s parliament, they will be sent back to the polls to decide whether state pensions should be higher.

The Central Election Commission has announced that a referendum on boosting state pensions will take place Aug. 23. The July 4 decision came after the Saeima rejected a citizen initiative calling for the higher pensions. The parliament on July 3 defeated Bill 751 on a 44-6 vote—but 46 lawmakers abstained.

The bill was submitted by President Valdis Zatlers on June 6 after a citizen initiative gathered more than 177,000 signatures in support of amending the state law on pensions. (Of those, 378 signatures were gathered abroad, according to the election commission. The honorary consulate in Adelaide, Australia, accounted for 100 signatures—the highest number in any location outside Latvia.) Because the Saeima rejected the bill, under Latvia’s law on initiative and referendum the legislation must now be put to a vote of the people.

The amendment would boost state pensions to no less than three times the state welfare payment, which would bring the retirement benefit to at least LVL 135 per month. The minimum state pension now is LVL 49.50 per month. Latvia’s living wage stood at LVL 159.55 in May, according to the Central Statistical Bureau.

Although the Saeima rejected the proposed amendment, it already on June 19 acted to boost pension payments. Beginning in 2009, pensions will increase at least 70 santīms for every year worked up to Dec. 31, 1995. In addition, starting October 2009 pensions will be indexed on an annual basis, according to the Ministry of Welfare.

With Latvia’s slowing economy, government officials have expressed concern about where they would the find money in the state budget if voters approve the referendum and pensions suddenly more than double.

The Aug. 23 referendum on the pension law will follow the Aug. 2 referendum on a constitutional amendment to allow citizens to initiate a recall of the Saeima. The constitutional amendment also was proposed by a citizen initiative and, as with the pension law amendment, was rejected by parliament.

For the pension law referendum to count, at least 453,730 voters—half the number who participated in the last Saeima election—must cast ballots on Aug. 23. A majority of those must vote in favor of the amendment for the new pension level to take effect.

Details on where and how to vote in Latvia and abroad will be available on the Web site of the Central Election Commission,

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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