RIGA - More than 170,000 people have signed a petition to increase pension levels as the successful grassroots campaign that promises to offer a better deal for elderly people gathered steam.
Though the official tally of signatures still does not include those gathered abroad or the 12,000 collected to initiate the campaign, it is still some 20,000 more than was needed to send the draft amendments to Saeima (Latvian parliament).
"This success shows that society has a desire to care for and help their grandparents and the elderly, and we hope the government will finally understand that it is their job to help these people as well," Aigars Stokenbergs, the head of the Society for a Different Politics, told The Baltic Times.
The signature gathering campaign to raise pensions was one of the first major projects taken up by the Society for a Different Politics, a non-governmental organization (NGO) formed by former political elite and slated to one day become a major party.
The draft amendments are aimed at increasing pensions 's currently some of the lowest in the EU 's to match the minimum subsistence level, which measures the smallest amount of money someone can live on.
The bill will now head to parliament. If parliament does not pass the amendments then the issue will go to referendum. It would require signatures from about 745,000 registered voters to pass a referendum and force the bills into law.
"Find a positive way to resolve this, and we will not have to follow through with the referendum," former Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks, another leading member of the new NGO, told The Baltic Times earlier this year.
"We think that the referendum is necessary, [but we hope] that Parliament will be smart enough not to push it that far, because it can be fixed earlier," he said.
The final results of the signature gathering campaign will be ready in about three weeks, at which time Parliament will have to make room for it on its schedule.
Stokenbergs said that while the campaign was a victory for his NGO, the real winners will be the pensioners who have been struggling to survive.
"It's not that important that this helps the NGO, but that it benefits over 400,000 pensioners in Latvia who have been living on such little amounts of money and in poor conditions," he said.
Latvia has one of the worst track records for pensions in the EU. According to Statistics Latvia, at the end of last year pensions in the country were only 177 euros 's lower than both Estonia and Lithuania at 240 and 182 euros respectively.
At the beginning of this year, by contrast, the minimum subsistence level in Latvia was 211 euros. At the beginning of the year there were 567,400 people who received pension payments.
The draft amendments to the pension law were submitted on Feb. 18 by the Society for Different Politics and the Pensioners and Seniors Party, after having collected the signatures of 11,989 voters.