Zatlers backs off on threat to dismiss Saeima

Citing progress in reforming Latvia’s political system and shoring up its economy, President Valdis Zatlers has backed off a threat to dismiss the Saeima if it did not fulfill certain demands.

In a March 31 speech over state radio and television, Zatlers said the points he raised in a Jan. 14 ultimatum have been addressed. One of them, approval of a constitutional amendment that would allow for the popular recall of the parliament, is to be finalized April 8, the president said.

One day after a huge Jan. 13 anti-government demonstration in the Dome Square was followed by a small riot in the Old Town district of Rīga, Zatlers issued an ultimatum to the Saeima. By March 31, it had to approve the constitutional amendment, reform the country’s election law to get rid of the so-called “locomotive problem,” and create a board to oversee Latvia’s economic development plan and the EUR 7.5 billion in loans it is getting from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and others.

“If by today the Saeima and the government had not completed the jobs I outlined,” Zatlers told the broadcast audience, according to a transcript provided by his press office, “I would start the process of dissolving the Saeima so that, in accordance with the law, we would gain a new set of representatives who would be trusted by the voters.”

According to Latvia’s constitution, the president may call for the dismissal of the parliament. A national referendum is then held and, if successful, the Saeima is considered dissolved and new elections are scheduled. However, if the referendum fails, the president has to resign and the parliament chooses a replacement.

Under the constitutional amendment supported by Zatlers, the electorate also would have the ability to call for the Saeima’s dismissal. Zatlers told the broadcast audience that on March 31 he received assurances from leading political parties that the amendment would be approved April 8.

“I understand that my Jan. 14 announcement about the possibility of dismissing the Saeima, and the assignments for the parliament and the government, was an unexpected step,” the president told the broadcast audience, “but it was the only way to steer the political process into a constructive channel.”

Zatlers noted that in addition to the promised amendment, a new government is in place headed by Prime Minister Valdis Dombrosvkis, an economic stimulas plan has been developed, and a new head of the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (Korupcijas novēršanas un apkarošanas birojs) has been approved.

However, the president also said that a number of chores remain, including approval by the Saeima of a revised budget that conforms to demands from the IMF, easing of restrictions on business operators’ access to European Union funds, approval of a social security program and continued work on reforming Latvia’s political system.

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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