RIGA - Latvia's long-running referendum saga reached a climax on Saturday July 7 with polling stations at home and abroad opening for voters to register support or opposition to controversial security laws 's and by implication, the ruling coalition government.
Or perhaps 'anticlimax' should be substituted for 'climax'. Provisional results from the Central Electoral Commission show that turnout was low, with just 23 per cent of the electorate [337,747 voters] bothering to take part.
Though an overwhelming 96 percent of those who did vote backed outgoing president Vaira Vike-Freiberga on the last day of her presidency and registered their opposition to the security amendments, the figure was too low for the vote to be considered valid. For the vote to have legal force, at least 50 per cent of voters who took part in the last general elections [or 453,730 people] had to turn out.
The low turnout enabled all parties to claim some degree of consolation from the results.
Vike-Freiberga claimed that she was satisfied with the results, telling Latvian National Radio: "My aim was to revoke the inadequate amendments to the law, which were introduced by parliament. My aim has been reached."
Far from feeling threatened by the protest vote against his government, Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis was also able to look at the results in a positive light, even suggesting that more referenda might be useful in the future. In a radio interview Sunday morning he said: "The state must consider using referendums to find out public opinion."
In a subsequent television interview, he admitted that his government had been over-zealous in passing the controversial amendments and forcing a stand-off with the president."This, of course, was a mistake," Kalvitis said.
Various reasons have been suggested for the low turnout, ranging from the fact that the ballot took place on one of the year's most popular days for weddings [with the date 07/07/07 being considered particularly auspicious] to accessibility problems at some polling stations and voter awareness that by registering to call a referendum they had already defeated the security amendments.