Vike-Freiberga to end presidency with historic security referendum

  • 2007-06-27
  • By Talis Saule Archdeacon
RIGA - Incumbent President Vaira Vike-Freiberga has said that her last act before leaving office will be to sign the referendum against two national security amendments passed earlier this year by the government.
In her last speech to Saeima (Latvian parliament) on June 21, Vike-Freiberga said that she hopes that by making this vote her last act as head of state will convey the importance of the referendum.
She said that it is meant also as a symbol that the government should not try to resurrect the bills at a future date 's under a more complaisant president 's a possibility that has been widely speculated on.
"The president is still very convinced that this [the national security amendments] is the wrong thing for the country," presidential spokeswoman Aiva Rozenberga said.

The symbolism of the last act is also significant in that it is an entirely domestic affair, while Vike-Freiberga is likely to go down in history for her strong performance in international affairs, which included hosting a NATO summit and speaking to the U.S. Congress.
The July 7 referendum is also crucial in that it provides voters a rare chance to express their level of satisfaction with the government.
"The importance is far wider than just what surrounds the bills themselves. The political implications will be at least a red flag to the government for how they work with the political process," Vita Terauda, director of Providus, an NGO monitoring political and democratic issues in Latvia, said.
Rozenberga agreed. "The Latvian nation is looking very closely at what the government is doing, and they can't pass anything they want. The law they wanted was not in the nation's interests, and the president saw that," she said.

The government initially used an antiquated clause in the constitution allowing it to push a bill through while Parliament is in recess. Vike-Freiberga blasted the move, saying that the clause was meant for an earlier age when communication with vacationing politicians was more difficult.
She responded by using her own constitutional right, under article 72, to suspend the publication of an amendment, giving voters the chance to gather signatures for a popular referendum on the issue.

The signature gathering campaign passed far more successfully than anyone had thought, gathering 215,000 signatures when only 149,000 were required.
The referendum will need far more votes to be successful, however. In order to be legitimate, a total of 453,730 votes will have to be cast.
While blocking the bills is a moot point 's Parliament has already repealed them 's enough signatures could have drastic consequences for the ruling coalition.
Opposition lawmakers, both from the opposition New Era Party and from former Constitutional Court chairman and presidential candidate Aivars Endzins, have said that the government may be forced to resign over the issue.

Moreover, Terauda agrees that the calls for dissolving the government may have some legitimacy.
She said that if enough signatures were gathered "then that is a strong signal to the government that the people are not happy with the work that they have so far been doing. A natural political step would then be to dissolve the government."
It is doubtful, however, that the ruling coalition would step down over the issue. Andris Runcis, political analyst at the University of Latvia, said that he is "quite sure" that Prime Minister Kalvitis will not step down.
"Because the People's Party is quite ambitious, they have some plans, programs and schedules about what to do and how to do it, and so they will not step down because of this referendum," he said.
Albeit a domestic issue, the national security amendments will resonate beyond Latvia's borders, particularly among NATO allies. There has also been significant pressure from NATO and other security allies not to allow the amendments to go through.

NATO countries have reportedly stated their objection to the ambiguity with regards to who will have access to sensitive security information. Indeed, in accordance to the amendments, the prime minister's analytical department would obtain the right to issue security clearances, which in turn would widen the circle of people with access to sensitive investigations and national security secrets.
Voting booths will be set up in almost exactly the same places as they were in the previous parliamentary election. According to the Central Election Commission, only 5 percent of the polling stations will be in different places. There will be a total of 953 voting booths in Latvia, 158 of which will be in Riga, and 47 abroad. They will be open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.