The social initiative platform ManaBalss.lv (My Voice) that was launched in June of last year has recently submitted an initiative to expel members of parliament (MPs) who have failed to fulfill their given oath in the Saeima. The initiative was proposed on December 1, 2011 and there were collected online more than 10,000 signatures. It has now been submitted as a bill for an amendment to the Rules of Procedure of the Saeima. My Voice has gained huge popularity not only among inhabitants of Latvia, but also abroad. It is well-known not only in Europe, but also in Asia and Australia. Baltic neighbors are also interested in implementing similar social initiative platforms in their countries.
Let’s turn to a discussion on this initiative. At first sight it seems quite understandable that if an MP gives an oath, he or she should be punished for breaking it. For example, in Canada, breaking the oath is a serious offense and the MP is liable for punishment. He or she can be suspended, or even expelled, from the Parliament. In New Zealand an MP can be found guilty of perjury.
No doubt, specific legal responsibility for breaking the oath should also be drafted in the Rules of Procedure, because otherwise, without the imposition of penalty for misconduct, an oath would not make sense. Has My Voice evaluated the possible consequences for introducing legal responsibility?
This initiative was initiated after the referendum on the Russian language as a second official language in Latvia, which took place on Feb. 18 this year. MP Nikolajs Kabanovs (Harmony Center) had signed the petition. Article 3(1) of the Rules of Procedure says: “I, upon assuming the duties of a Member of the Saeima, before the people of Latvia, do swear (solemnly promise) to be loyal to Latvia, to strengthen its sovereignty and the Latvian language as the only official language (..)”
Kabanovs clearly broke the oath that he had given in Saeima. Of course he should be punished, and he actually was punished: a written warning was issued. MPs Kabanovs and Vitalijs Orlovs (Harmony Center, Committee Chair of Mandate, Ethics and Submissions Committee) are against this proposed initiative; they were the only MPs in Saeima who voted against Kabanovs’ punishment.
Article 3(1) also contains the following: “(..) to fulfill my duties honestly and conscientiously.” If this amendment to the Rules of Procedure is made, the formal accusation process, for one suspected of breaking the oath (with the penalty being expulsion from office) might end up being abused, in that investigations into whether the oath was broken or not could be initiated too frequently. In addition, according to the initiative by My Voice, they would also be refused the possibility of being nominated as a candidate in the future, and to hold any position in the state administration or local government.
It seems that before passing the bill at the first sitting of Saeima, the representatives of the initiative, and the Mandate, Ethics and Submissions Committee, should analyze the potential consequences of such an amendment. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to punish MPs with a fine instead of expulsion.
Nevertheless, this and other recent initiatives seem to tackle the most pressing problems in society, especially taking into account that there is a proposed initiative to introduce a progressive taxation system. Thus, My Voice’s initiatives allow citizens to increase public engagement in politics and to be part of the policy-making process, which is necessary in a democratic country.