Saeima allows citizens to initiate its recall

Latvia’s parliament has approved a pair of constitutional amendments that will allow citizens to initiate a recall of the Saeima.

The April 8 action by the Saeima fulfills one of the demands President Valdis Zatlers laid out in a Jan. 14 ultimatum to the parliament and the government. He had promised to dissolve the Saeima if his demands to reform the political system and strengthen the country’s economy were not taken, but on his self-imposed deadline of March 31 announced that most of them had been met.

Members of the Saeima voted 85-3 to approve on their third reading the amendments to articles 14 and 49 of the constitution, according to the parliament’s Web site.

Under the amendments, which will take effect with the election of the 10th Saeima, voters will have the right to initiate a recall of the parliament. At least 10 percent of eligible voters must petition for the recall. A national referendum would then be held. If two-thirds the number of voters in the previous parliamentary election participate in the referendum and if the referendum passes, then the Saeima is dissolved and new elections are ordered.

Under the current language of the constitution, only the president can initiate dismissal of the parliament. However, the president also takes a risk in doing so. After the president calls for dismissing the Saeima, a national referendum is ordered. If the referendum succeeds, the parliament is dissolved and new elections are held. But if the referendum fails, the president must step down and the Saeima picks a new head of state.

The amendments approved April 8 limit exactly when a popular recall is allowed.

It cannot be initiated sooner than a year after convening of a new parliament, nor less than a year before the Saeima’s time in office comes to a close. Since the Saeima is elected for a four-year term, that means the popular recall could take place during the second or third years.

The amendments also do not allow a popular recall within six months of the end of the president’s term in office, nor no sooner than six months since the last attempt at a popular recall.

Under the amendments, new elections must be held between one and three months after parliament is dissolved.

As before, voters are not allowed to recall individual members of the Saeima.

Zatlers had called for passage of the the constitutional amendments after a large anti-government demonstration on Jan. 13 that had demanded he dissolve the Saeima.

In August, a national referendum to force the Saeima to adopt similar amendments failed to attract enough voters to count.

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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