New Era: more power to the people

  • 2005-08-10
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - At its council meeting on Aug. 5, New Era, the country's most popular right-wing party, cobbled together amendments to the country's constitution that would allow Latvian voters to dissolve Parliament and call for new elections.

If passed, the amendments would provide for conducting parliamentary elections if requested by 10 percent of eligible voters.

The proposal, which is unlikely to gain acceptance among New Era's coalition partners, was first floated after the New Era-led government collapsed in the beginning of 2004. The party's rating at the time had risen dramatically, but it lacked enough seats to continue governing once the centrist Latvia's First Party stepped out of the coalition. New Era leaders asked President Vaira Vike-Freiberga to call for new elections 's which she has the power to do 's and in some parts of the country signatures were even gathered in support of the measure.

The president ultimately declined the proposal and nominated Indulis Emsis of the Greens and Farmers Union to lead an unstable minority government. New Era, miffed at Vike-Freiberga, went into the opposition.

According to the constitution, if the president calls for new parliamentary elections the electorate automatically wins the option to remove the president from office. New Era's amendments would remove that caveat from the constitution and free the presidential office from any risk.

"These amendments would correct the political environment because politicians would be much more dependent on the nation. Parliamentarians are the nation's representatives, and the people must have the right to dissolve Parliament," New Era head Einars Repse said in a press release.

New Era is not the first party that has taken a crack at altering the constitution. The Social Democrats called for changes before the last parliamentary elections, and the Farmers' Union previously proposed making the presidential office elected by a popular vote, and not by Parliament.

Latvia, like many other countries with re-established democracies, has been bedeviled by a high rate of government turnover. The current coalition is the third in three years, and number 13 since independence. Yet analysts say the amendments, if accepted, would only increase the rate of government turnover.

"Parliament is one of the least trusted institutions in Latvia. It may prove fairly easy to get signatures from people who are dissatisfied with Parliament," political scientist Janis Ikstens said.

The addition to the constitution could increase instability, Ikstens added, saying it was possible that the amendments would increase populist measures by politicians to capture the attention of a fickle electorate.

New Era has said that the amendments are being formulated with the help of "experts," but so far the party declined to reveal their identity.

Even so, the amendments may not reach the floor of Parliament for months, and even then the opposition will be stiff. With parliamentary elections a year away, New Era's proposal for granting more power to eligible voters may also increase their popularity among the electorate.