Referendum scheduled for July 7

A referendum on changes to two national security laws will take place July 7 in Latvia and at polling stations abroad, the Central Election Commission announced May 8 in Rīga. The announcement came after the commission certified that more than 214,900 citizens signed petitions demanding the referendum.

The referendum will consist of two questions about whether to revoke amendments approved March 1 by the Saeima, Latvia’s parliament, to the National Security Law and the State Law on Security Institutions.

Although the parliament already has rescinded the amendments, the referendum must still go forward. Some observers and politicians see the vote as a test of confidence in the parliament and the coalition government led by Prime Minister Aigars Kalvītis.

The amendments initially were pushed through in January by the Cabinet of Ministers while the Saeima was in recess. Government officials said the amendments allowed for greater oversight of state security operations, but opponents—including President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga—said the changes allowed politicians access to potentially sensitive information and caused concerns among NATO defense allies.

Ironically, the referendum is scheduled on Vīķe-Freiberga’s last day as president. She concludes her second term July 7.

The Saeima approved the amendments on Feb. 1, but Vīķe-Freiberga vetoed them. After the parliament overrode the veto on March 1, the president suspended implementation of the amended laws, which put in motion a petition drive for a referendum on the amendments.

At least 10 percent of the number of voters in the last parliamentary election, or 149,064 citizens, had to sign the petitions to call the referendum. According to the Central Election Commission, a total of 214,966 citizens signed the petition for a referendum on changes to the National Security Law, while 214,906 signed the petition for a referendum on changes to the State Law on Security Institutions. The final numbers reported May 8 were nearly 3,000 more than initially reported May 3, when the commission announced provisional results.

Thirty-two stations were set up to gather signatures in embassies and consulates abroad, in addition to more than 600 stations in Latvia.

For the referendum to count, at least half the number of voters in the last Saeima election, 453,730 citizens, must cast ballots July 7. For the amendments to be revoked, more than 50 percent of votes cast must be in favor of the referendum questions, the Central Election Commission explained in a press release.

The commission has not yet announced where polling stations will be established abroad.

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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