RIGA - A popular referendum on raising state pension levels has failed to garner enough votes to pass. It was the second referendum to fail because of voter turnout in less than a month.
The Central Election Commission said that, based on preliminary data from all 998 polling stations across Latvia, only about 346,864 people took part in the vote. The referendum would have required about 453,730 signatures in order to achieve quorum.
"It failed. For the more than 400,000 pensioners living below the subsistence minimum, for them it is bad news," Society for a Different Politics head Aigars Stokenbergs told The Baltic Times.
The drive to increase pensions was one of the first causes spearheaded by the Society for a Different Politics, a newly formed non-governmental organization created by former political elite and slated to one day become a major party.
Some ruling coalition members argued that the failed referendum would seriously undermine people's faith in the newly formed NGO.
"The losers of the referendum are the political forces who promoted it. It is clear that the political force of Aigars Stokenbergs has completely failed," Augusts Brigmanis, head of the Greens and Farmers Union, a ruling coalition party, told the Baltic News Service.
The motion was supported by both the NGO and opposition parties, including the Pensioner and Senior Citizens' Party.
It was opposed by the prime minister and most members of the ruling coalition. Godmanis said the increased pensions would cost as much as 300 million lats (457.2 million euros) 's potentially enough to bankrupt the social security system.
Though the referendum on social pensions failed to garner enough participants to achieve a quorum, many still viewed the vote as a success.
More than 96 percent of the people who took part in the referendum 's some 333,799 voters 's supported the motion.
Pensioner and Senior Citizens' Party head Janis Kleinbergs told the Latvian news agency LETA on Aug. 24 that he viewed the referendum as a success because it was able to raise awareness in the government of the problem.
The high number of voters in support of the increase prompted Godmanis to pledge a slight rise in pensions sometime in the near future.
"Unfortunately, we did not raise pensions rapidly when the budget situation was good, during the so called 'fat years.' That cannot be changed. We will have to do it now that the situation with the budget is the worst," the prime minister's press secretary told BNS.
Kleinbergs said that if the government still refuses to meet his demands he will to take the matter to "international institutions."
"Although we feel ashamed about washing our dirty linen in public, in case the government refuses our demands also next time, the party will turn to international institutions," he said.
Stokenbergs also vowed to hold Godmanis to his promise.
"We have some government support and they are promising to do more. They've made promises and now we must hold them to it," the NGO head said.
Latvian pensions are currently well below the minimum subsistence level. Some pensions are as low as 110 lats per month, while the minimum subsistence level was 161 lats as of July 2008.
The referendum was the second to fail in less than a month. Voters poured out Aug. 2 to take part in a referendum that would have given Latvian citizens the right to directly dissolve Parliament through popular vote.