Voters granted powers to disband parliament

  • 2009-05-06
  • By Kate McIntosh
RIGA - Latvian President Valdis Zatlers has formally signed off on historic constitutional amendments paving the way for the electorate to directly dissolve the parliament by popular vote.
The new legislation makes Latvia the only country in the European Union to grant its citizens the ability to initiate the dissolution of Parliament via a national referendum 's a right usually reserved for the head of state.

Under the legislative changes approved by Parliament on April 8, the Constitution's Article 14 now states that no less than one-tenth of voters can initiate a national referendum on dissolution of the Saeima (Latvian parliament).
The new laws stipulate that if a majority of referendum participants, and no less than two-thirds of the number of voters who participated at the previous Saeima elections, votes for dissolution, Parliament will be disbanded.

The Constitutional provision that the electors may not recall any individual member of Saeima remains unchanged.
The Constitution's Article 49 has also been amended so that extraordinary Saeima elections are called no sooner than one month, and no later than two months, after the current Saeima is dissolved.


However, Zatlers said the latest amendments to the Constitution did not go far enough.
Speaking at a conference organized by the Latvian Bar Association last month following parliament's approval of the changes, Zatlers said he would continue to push for further parliamentary reform.
Zatlers has also called on parliament to approve laws streamlining the president's right to dissolve Parliament and proclaim a new parliamentary election.
"The mechanism which allows the president to dissolve Parliament and proclaim a new election is seen as an effective way of resolving a parliamentary crisis in most parliamentary democracies," he said.

Zatlers said current provisions supported unacceptable delays in the approval of a new Cabinet 's a protracted and lengthy process even after snap parliamentary elections.
 "This is a process which will probably involve two political campaigns, and that simply cannot be seen as an effective solution to parliamentary crises," said Zatlers.
 "This is an election year. Local government and European Parliament elections will be held on June 6, and that is why we must continue to work on ways in which the electoral system can be improved," he said.

Last month Zatlers reneged on a threat to dissolve parliament despite key demands he had tasked the government with, including Constitutional amendments, remaining unfulfilled.
In a Jan. 14 ultimatum to the then government, issued one day after Riga was rocked by riots, the President vowed to initiate dissolution of the parliament should a series of strict demands remain unfulfilled by March 31.

Ivars Godmanis' ruling coalition collapsed after failing to agree on key government reforms and a new cabinet led by Valdis Dombrovskis was subsequently approved by Parliament on March 12.
In a public address on March 31 Zatlers defended his decision saying progress had been made on most of his demands, and adding that dissolving Parliament would only create further political stability.

A national referendum held in August 2008 to decide whether the constitution should be amended to give citizens the right to initiate a recall of the parliament failed to garner enough support.
The President and the then-opposition New Era  Party were in favor of the referendum, while the then ruling government argued against the changes saying it would cause even more instability in a country which has seen 13 governments in the 18 years since independence.  
The new amendments will take effect after the 10th Saeima elections.