In a nationally broadcast message to the Latvian people, President Valdis Zatlers on May 28 called for the dismissal of the Saeima. (Photo by Toms Kalniņš, Chancery of the President of Latvia)
Just days before Latvia’s parliament is due to vote on who the country’s next head of state should be, President Valdis Zatlers has called for the dismissal of the Saeima.
Zatlers described the decision as radical and one that likely will ruin his chances for re-election.
In a nationally broadcast, 10-minute address the evening of May 28, Zatlers said from Rīga that a May 26 decision by the Saeima not to approve a search of businessman and MP Ainārs Šlesers’s homes “is like an alarm that points to a split between the legislative and judicial branches of government.”
Under the constitution, when the president calls for dismissal of the Saeima, a national referendum must be held on the issue. If voters support the president, parliament is dismissed and new elections are scheduled. If the voters fail to approve the referendum, the president must step down.
The Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (Korupcijas novēršanas un apkarošanas birojs, or KNAB) announced May 20 that it had begun criminal proceedings against a number of public officials alleging they have engaged in “laundering of criminally acquired assets, providing false statements in the declaration of public official, misuse of the position, receiving and giving of bribes, illegal participation in property transactions and violation of restrictions imposed on public officials,” according to a press release.
Although the KNAB did not name who the proceedings target, media reports revealed them to be Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs; businessman, Saeima member and People’s Party (Tautas partija) Chairman Andris Šķele; and businessman, Saeima member and For a Good Latvia! (Par labu Latviju!) head Šlesers.
The KNAB announcement pointed to a currently elected member of the Saeima who is involved in the transport sector, especially the Freeport of Rīga Authority. Šlesers was formerly minister of transport and before election to the Saeima was chairman of the Freeport’s board of directors.
In an extraordinary meeting May 26, the Saeima rejected a request by the KNAB and the prosecutor general to search Šlesers’s homes. The measure was defeated with 7 votes against, 35 votes for and with 37 abstentions. Sixteen MPs were not present for the vote.
Zatlers, fresh from a brief trip to Poland where he and other Eastern and Central European leaders visited with U.S. President Barack Obama, met earlier on May 28 with both Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and Saeima Speaker Solvita Āboltiņa, according to Latvian media reports.
Zatlers’s four-year term in office expires in July. He has declared his candidacy for a second term, but his re-election by the 100-member has been far from assured. MP Andris Bērziņš, a member of the Union of Greens and Farmers (Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība) and former head of Unibanka, announced his candidacy for the position on May 23.
The 10th Saeima was elected in October.
Diaspora leaders support president
Juris Mežinskis, chairman of the American Latvian Association (Amerikas latviešu apvienība, or ALA), told Latvians Online in an email that he personally supports the president’s initiative to dismiss the Saeima. The ALA during its annual congress earlier this month accepted a resolution backing the re-election of Zatlers.
The ALA has already contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and will also contact the Central Election Commission in Rīga to ask that polling stations for the referendum be set up in as many locations in the United States as possible, Mežinskis said. During the October parliamentary elections, 15 polling stations operated in the U.S.
The World Federation of Free Latvians (Pasaules brīvo latviešu biedrība, or PBLA) also supports the re-election of Zatlers. The organization’s chairman, Mārtiņs Sausiņš, said in an email that he personally backs the president’s call to dismiss the Saeima. Sausiņš said he congratulates Zatlers for being a courageous statesman.
Alberts Upeslācis, chair of the council of the Latvian National Association in Canada (Latviešu nacionālā apvienība Kanādā), also applauded Zatlers. The president’s decision to stand up against Latvia’s oligarchs is comparable to the lone Chinese man who stood against tanks in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Upeslācis said in an email, referring to a famous image from the 1989 pro-democracy protest.
“It could turn out that it is Zatlers who begins the change in Latvia,” Upeslācis said, “because no serious politician has clearly and directly spoken out against the increasing influence of the oligarchs.” The people will vote for dissolution of the parliament, he added, but it is not possible to predict the outcome.
(Updated 29 May 2011)
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