Signature drive set to allow popular recall of Saeima

A signature drive that could lead to giving voters the right to dismiss the Latvian parliament will run from March 12 to April 11, the Central Election Commission has announced in Rīga.

If enough registered voters sign on, the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia (Latvijas Brīvo arodbiedrību savienība) will be able to submit proposed amendments to the constitution that could allow, in effect, a popular recall of the parliament. If the Latvian parliament rejects or changes the proposed amendments, a national referendum must be called.

Approval of the signature drive is the latest step in a year-long conflict between Latvian politicians on one side and, on the other side, the labor confederation and a number of civic groups and leaders calling for government reform. The conflict came to a head noticeably in the late October and early November “umbrella revolution”—two gatherings of thousands in Rīga’s Old City to protest recent government actions. Bowing to pressure and defections from his cabinet, Prime Minister Aigars Kalvītis stepped down in December.

The labor federation has proposed amending Articles 78 and 79 of the constitution to allow voters to submit a draft resolution calling for the dismissal of parliament, the Saeima. If the Saeima were to reject or amend a resolution calling for its dissolution, then a national referendum would be required. In case of a national referendum, more than half of legal voters would have to support the call for dissolving the legislative body.

“These amendments to the constitution will eradicate from the country politicians’ tradition of thinking about the people only once every four years before elections,” Pēteris Krīgers, chairman of the labor confederation, said in a press release. “And this will undoubtedly expand citizens’ chances of more tightly controlling members of parliament, thereby guaranteeing a stronger civic society.”

The constitution at present allows only the president to propose dissolving parliament, which then leads to a national referendum. If the national referendum succeeds, parliament is dissolved and new elections are scheduled. But if the referendum fails, the president has to step down and parliament chooses a new head of state.

Both former President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga and current President Valdis Zatlers in the past year expressed reluctance to dissolving parliament.

A total of 11,095 valid signatures were recorded on a preliminary petition submitted to the elections commission Feb. 1 by the labor confederation, a commission spokeswoman said in a Feb. 15 press release. The petition, which required a minimum of 10,000 valid signatures, asked the commission to organize the signature drive.

For the month-long signature drive to succeed, at least 10 percent of the number of voters in the last parliamentary election must sign on—or at least 149,064.

Just where Latvian citizens abroad will be able to sign on may not be known until next week, when the Saeima is expected to consider a final reading of amendments to the law on initiative and referendum, election commission spokeswoman Kristīne Bērziņa told Latvians Online in an e-mail. If the Saeima approves the amendments, then every embassy, general consulate or consulate will be open for citizens to sign the petition.

During last year’s signature drive for a referendum on controversial amendments to two national security laws, 32 locations abroad were available. However, many saw little or no activity.

Further information on locations will be announced on the Central Election Commission’s Web site,

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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