RIGA - Two prominent politicians have attacked a series of constitutional amendments to election laws proposed by a presidential commission.
The amendments are seen as a crucial step to reinstalling public trust in how Latvia elects its head of state, a process that left many angry and embittered in 1999 and 2007.
In a March 24 interview, the chairman of Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Andris Berzins, said that the proposed changes, which would essentially make it more difficult for Parliament to elect a president, were merely "cosmetic."
"I would like to see a wide public discussion before a final decision is taken," he said.
"The issue must be viewed as part of a cosmetic painting 's finishing it is secondary. It is more important to think of the balance of power," Berzins said.
He said that the proposed creation of a special institution that would deal with presidential elections was unnecessary.
"The creation of new institutions is pointless. We already have too many institutions 's regulating the [election] procedure could be more sensible," he said. A new institution raises questions about political support, he added.
The proposals received an even more damning assessment from the former President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who remains popular.
Though not as harsh on the proposals, Vike-Freiberga's spokeswoman, Karina Ravina-Vimba, said that the former president believes the amendments could complicate the electoral process.
She stressed that, while Vike-Freiberga does not hold a strong opinion on the matter, this was not the right time to tweak the process given the instability in the government and sharp divisions in Parliament.
The Constitutional Commission, an entity formed by President Valdis Zatlers to find ways to improve the current electoral system, released its conclusions on March 18. Chairman Egils Levits said his team of experts would recommend amending the election procedures in order to give the president more independence.
The proposal envisioned increasing the number of parliamentary votes necessary to win the country's top post from 51 to 55.
Some parliamentarians, in-cluding Berzins and a number of other heavyweights, feel that this number should be increased to as much as 60.
"There had been 53 votes three times in a row when electing the previous presidents," Parliament's Legal Committee Chairman Gunars Kusins told the Baltic News Service.
The commission also recommended adopting amendments that would allow Parliament to be dissolved by popular referendum, an issue which has recently garnered serious attention after an extensive signature gathering campaign brought the issue into the limelight.
Levits also said, however, that a country should tread very carefully when changing the constitution, and noted that Latvia had already done so too many times.
"One should be careful with the constitution," said Levits.