Referendum to allow Saeima’s recall set Aug. 2

A national referendum on amending the constitution to allow for the popular recall of Latvia’s parliament is scheduled Aug. 2, the Central Election Commission has announced in Rīga.

The June 6 announcement came after the parliament rejected proposed amendments submitted following a successful citizen initiative.

Led by the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia (Latvijas Brīvo arodbiedrību savienība), more than 217,000 voters from March 12 to April 10 signed on to the initiative calling for the constitution amendments. Strong support for the initiative stemmed from months of popular dissatisfaction with the government and parliament.

Under Latvia’s law on initiative and referendum, the Saeima can either accept or reject the proposed legislation. If parliament rejects the legislation, a referendum must be held.

Bill 695, which called for the constitutional amendments, was submitted April 28 by President Valdis Zatlers. The parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee on May 28 rejected the proposal, and the full Saeima followed on June 5, forcing the referendum.

The bill sought to amend Articles 78 and 79 of the constitution to allow voters to submit a draft resolution calling for the dismissal of parliament. Under the current language of the constitution, only the president can call for dissolving parliament. That leads to a national referendum. If the referendum succeeds, the Saeima is dissolved and new elections are held. But if the referendum fails, the president is forced to resign and a new one elected by parliament.

In announcing the Aug. 2 referendum date, the Central Elections Commission took into account that it might be difficult to form local election commissions while people are on summer vacation, spokeswoman Kristīne Bērziņa said in a press release. The August date also should allow voters abroad time to request mail ballots.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time in Latvia and at polling stations that will be established abroad.

At least 50 percent of eligible voters must participate in the referendum, and at least half have to support it for the proposal to become law. Last year’s national referendum on striking amendments to Latvia’s security laws failed because not enough voters participated, even though those who did were overwhelmingly in favor.

While the Central Election Commission prepares for the referendum, another bill resulting from citizen initiative has just started its way through the Saeima. Bill 751, calling for higher state pensions, was submitted June 6 by Zatlers and was to be reviewed June 9 by the parliament’s presidium.

Signatures in support of the initiative were gathered in April and May. The initiative, supported by the Pensioners and Seniors Party (Pensionaru un senioru partija) and by the Association for a Different Politics and a Judicial State (Sabiedriba citai politikai un tiesiskai valstij), seeks to raise the minimum monthly state pension to no less than three times the state welfare payment.

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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