Latvia's Constitutional Court on Nov. 29 deemed that the controversial border treaty with Russia does not endanger the legal continuation of the state by failing to refer to the peace treaty Latvia signed with Russia in 1920. Under the 1920 treaty, Latvia controlled the region of Abrene, now Pytalovo, and Russia deemed the move to cite the document as a claim on its territory. The court noted in its ruling that it took into consideration both popular "will" and international concerns. Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis compared the new treaty to the decision to withdraw the red army from Latvia in terms of historical importance for the state. Latvian ambassador to Russia Andris Teikmanis told public radio on Nov. 30 that the agreement could be finalized by the end of the year.
U.S. President George W. Bush approved Charles W. Larson Jr. as his country's new ambassador to Latvia on Dec. 3. Larson, aged 39, was born in Iowa where he served as a state representative and state senator in the Iowa General Assembly. He has served in Iraq and in 2005 founded "Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission," an organization supporting military operations in Iraq and uniting families whose members have served or died there. He is currently a partner in the Lincoln Strategies Group and a major in the U.S. Army Reserve. Larson still has to be approved by the Senate before he can be officially confirmed as ambassador. Current U.S. Ambassador Catherine Todd Bailey's term expires on Feb. 4.
On Dec. 4, the government endorsed a Justice Ministry plan to grant suffrage rights to prison inmates, allowing them to vote in European Parliament and local Latvian parliamentary elections. Currently, people in detention are granted voting rights by a 2003 Constitutional Court ruling, but jail inmates are still barred from casting ballots. The initiative is aimed at ensuring the observance of human rights in Latvia. The decision prompted human rights Ombudsman Roman Apsitis to question the deplorable conditions in Latvia's prisons.
The government announced on Dec. 3 that the country plans to introduce an e-voting system in upcoming European, national and municipal elections. The government plans to have the system in place in time for the March 2009 municipal elections. Estonia already has an e-voting system in place and Lithuania plans to hold its first e-election next year. It is hoped that the new technology will help draw younger voters 's who tend to use the Internet more often but vote less 's to the ballot box.
For Fatherland and Freedom, a nationalist ruling coalition party, condemned the Foreign Ministry on Dec. 3 for its inability to stand up to Russian manipulation of the formation of the new government. In a Dec. 2 interview with Latvian public television, Russian Ambassador Viktor Kalyuzhny said that relations between the two countries would be much better if the party was not a part of the next government. The nationalist party said the lack of response from the foreign ministry was "absolutely unacceptable."