• 2007-11-28

cartoon by Jevgenijs CHeKSTERS

The ongoing campaign in Latvia to amend the constitution so that the electorate may disband the nation's legislature is a mistake. It is a misguided attempt to vent exasperations with the current parliament, which is, to be sure, an odious organization. Similar powers are not bestowed on voters in western democracies, and there is no reason to begin experimenting in Latvia. Empowering voters to disband the legislature won't work because it will become the temptation of first resort in times of political crisis. Instead of working to find political solutions to issues and problems, politicians and voters will spend their time trying to unseat one another. Petitioning, signature gathering, campaigning, referendum… it is easy to see how this could become an endless cycle 's at the expense of political expediency. What's more, parliamentary elections will likely be held more often, diluting their significance.

Given the lowly state of affairs in Latvia, it is tempting to throw out the baby with the bathwater. But at a time when we should be focusing on increasing effectiveness, we are allowing ourselves to get bogged down in costly procedural cul-de-sacs. As of Nov. 26, the organization that has initiated the constitutional change, the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia, said it had gathered 9,000 signatures, just a thousand short of its goal. Once it has reached that, the organization can begin the campaign to collect 150,000 signatures, enough to compile a draft amendment that can be submitted to the president. It would appear, given Latvia's ongoing economic woes 's next year we will see a potent mix of high inflation and a public wage freeze 's this campaign will go to the end.

The Satversme (Latvia's constitution) is not perfect. Indeed, the current government's woes can be traced back to an attempt to use a little known clause in the document that allows the Cabinet of Ministers to pass decisions with the force of law while Parliament is in recess. Kalvitis used it to amend the laws on national security 's he couldn't have picked a more serious batch of legislation 's without any debate whatsoever. Vaira Vike-Freiberga was beside herself, and called a referendum on the move. Though she lost the ballot, she won the argument on the constitution: in the current high-tech age, such a clause is anachronistic. It has since been removed.

At this point the current Saeima (Latvian parliament) is more a liability, and should be disbanded 's by the president. With each month Parliament's integrity is eroded by new revelations of impropriety. So far the top candidate for the Greens and Farmers Union, Aivars Lembergs, is under house arrest for very serious allegations. Another party member, Indulis Emsis, lost his position for false testimony. Augusts Brigmanis, an MP from the same party, is under probe for ethical offenses. Latvia's reputation has suffered immense damage. President Valdis Zatlers needs to listen to the people's will and call a referendum on the future of the existing legislature.

Perhaps here is where the constitution should be amended: so th at the president is directly elected by voters. Only then will the head of state's basis of support be redirected from party bosses to the people. As it is now, Zatlers, for all we know, is unable to act according in the nation's best interest because he is hostage to dangerous men like Andris Skele.