Symbolic signatures support referendum drive

A total of 125 Latvians living abroad in 14 countries have signed a symbolic petition in support of members of the Latvian intelligentsia who have publicly expressed their agreement with efforts to call a national referendum on controversial amendments to two national security laws.

The signatures are being gathered by the Chicago-based Web site, edited by Artis Inka. The goal, he said in an e-mail, is to encourage friends and relatives in Latvia to sign the petitions. Latvian citizens have until May 2 to sign the petitions.

“It is almost impossible for Latvian citizens abroad to participate in this process,” Inka told Latvians Online. “For example, in Australia, Argentina (and) Brazil no opportunity exists.”

The process of collecting signatures began April 3 following President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga’s March 10 decision to suspend implementation of the amendments. Even though the parliament rescinded the amendments after her decision, the petition drive had to continue. A number of observers have noted that the potential referendum is not so much about the amendments, but about expressing lack of confidence in the Saeima (the Latvian parliament) and the coalition government headed by Prime Minister Aigars Kalvītis.

It was Kalvītis and the Cabinet of Ministers who pushed through the amendments in January by emergency decree while the Saeima was in recess. The amendments gave the government more oversight of national security institutions, a move some critics claimed allowed politicians too much power over potentially sensitive information and investigations. The Saeima subsequently approved the amendments, but Vīķe-Freiberga vetoed them. After the Saeima overrode the veto, the president used her constitutional right to suspend implementation of the amendments, which automatically raised the possibility of a national referendum. Before the petition drive could start, however, the Saeima on March 29 rescinded the amendments.

Led by former foreign minister Sandra Kalniete (now a member of the Jaunais laiks, or New Era, party), a number of Latvian political, social and cultural leaders on April 12 issued a public appeal to citizens to sign the petition.

The petition hosted by is purely symbolic. Those who have signed it, the Web site said in a press release, are warning the current and future governments that Latvians do not accept attempts by small groups of people to grab political power.

Inka said those who signed the symbolic petition are invited to suggest what further should be done with it.

More than 600 stations around Latvia have been open to gather signatures on the referendum petitions, while 32 Latvian embassies and consulates have been open to gather signatures from citizens living abroad. In the United States, the only station is the Embassy of Latvia in Washington, D.C.

As of April 25, more than 110,000 signatures had been gathered in favor of the referendum. At least 149,064 signatures are needed, representing 10 percent of the number of voters in the last parliamentary election.

A provisional total is expected to be announced May 3 by the Central Election Commission in Rīga.

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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