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Valdis Zatlers

Valdis Zatlers

Activities in the area of legislation

Proposals on Constitutional Amendments from President of Latvia

History

 
On December 7, 2007, for the first time, the President summoned for its first meeting a Commission on Constitutional Law which, at the President’s request, undertook an evaluation of current constitutional rules about snap elections. The commission was also asked to evaluate amendments to the Constitution that had been proposed by voters.[1]
 
The Commission on Constitutional Law presented its final conclusions on ways of improving the mechanism for snap elections in March 2008.[2] President Zatlers called on the Saeima to analyse these views and to draw the necessary conclusions related to enshrining the principles of snap dissolution of the Saeima and new elections in the Constitution.
 
The Constitution of Latvia currently says that the President can only propose the dissolution of the Saeima, after which there must be a referendum. If more than one-half of voters vote against dissolution of the Saeima, then the President loses his job, and the Saeima elects a new president instead. If the President proposes dissolution of the Saeima under these rules, he must so report to the Central Elections Commission. The national referendum on the proposal must be organised no earlier than one month and no later than two months after the information has been received by the commission. If the Saeima is dissolved as a result of the referendum, then the new election must be held within two months’ time. The new Saeima must meet for the first time no later than one month after it is elected. This means that under current rules, some five months must pass between the initial presidential initiative and the gathering of a new Saeima.
 
Snap elections are one way of dealing with parliamentary or national crises. It is even more important to ensure that a parliament that is more in line with the political situation and that is more ready to satisfy the will of the people in a precise way is elected as quickly as possible. The Commission on Constitutional Law found that in pursuit of this aim, the constitutional right to propose a snap election must be given both to the President and to a specific number of voters in a referendum. The Constitution currently grants the President the right of arbitration. He is allowed to influence the country’s political and legal system so as to balance issues and stabilise situations, he can prevent crises and help to find solutions to problems. If the Constitution were amended, therefore, to give the President the relevant rights to propose a snap election, that would not mean an expansion in the President’s authority. Rather, it would represent a more effective process related to existing rights in line with the actual political situation which prevails.
 

I. A legislative initiative from President Valdis Zatlers on June 3, 2008

 
On June 3, 2008, President Zatlers proposed constitutional amendments to allow the President to sack the Saeima without a national referendum and without the risk of losing his own job. The president also stated that the power and rights of the people to propose the dissolution of the Saeima must be enhanced, and so the rights must be given to two entities – the President and a specific number of voters.
 

II. A legislative initiative from President Valdis Zatlers on August 6, 2008

 
In the referendum on constitutional amendments which took place on August 2, 2008, a substantial percentage of the citizens of Latvia supported amending Sections 78 and 79 of the Constitution to allow one-tenth of voters to propose the dissolution of the Saeima. Although the referendum failed, politicians both in the governing coalition and in opposition quickly expressed their support for the right of a specific segment of voters to propose a national referendum on dissolution of the Saeima.
 
After the results of the referendum were known, President Zatlers, for the first time in the history of the Republic of Latvia, summoned an emergency meeting of the Saeima. The President called for constitutional amendments to allow both the President and a certain number of voters to propose the dissolution of the Saeima. He once again repeated the things which he had said in his letter of June 3, 2008.
 

III. Proposed constitutional amendments from Valdis Zatlers on January 21, 2009

 
In his two proposals in 2008, President Zatlers did not offer specific amendments, because he hoped that the Saeima would engage in careful discussions and find a solution that would be acceptable to most MPs. The aim was to find a version of the amendments which would receive the support of the constitutionally required percentage of MPs for amending the basic law. Sadly, MPs have not managed to agree on a specific text to this very day, and so, in accordance with the rights given to him in Section 47 of the Constitution, President Zatlers submitted specific text to the Saeima on January 21, 2009. The proposed amendments would:
 
Allow no fewer than one-tenth of voters to propose a national referendum on dissolution of the Saeima, with dissolution occurring if a majority of voters votes “yes,” and the total number of voters is at least two-thirds of those who voted in the previous parliamentary election
 
This would substantially enhance the power of the people in Latvia. The indicated quorum would mean that the process would be realistic, but it would not be one that could be used for purely populist reasons – a party’s dissatisfaction with election results or a desire to promote domestic instability, for instance.
 
Allow the President to dissolve the Saeima without a referendum or the loss of his or her job
 
This would improve the mechanism for sacking the Saeima after a lengthy parliamentary crisis. It would also strengthen the President’s ability to serve as a politically neutral arbitrator. The proposed amendments would allow the people of Latvia and the President to become involved in the political process and to influence decisions as needed.
 

 

[1] On October 24, 2007, the Latvian Association of Free Labour Unions began to collect petition signatures to force amendments to Sections 78 and 79 of the Constitution of Latvia so as to allow no fewer than one-tenth of voters to submit to the President of Latvia a draft law on dissolution of the Saeima. The law would be submitted to a national referendum if the Saeima failed to approve it without changes. The decision on dissolving the Saeima would be approved if at least half of the voters from the previous parliamentary election cast ballots in the referendum and if the majority of those people voted in favour of dissolution of the Saeima. This initiative passed through the aforementioned process. The Saeima rejected it on June 5, 2008. A national referendum on the draft law was held on August 2, 2008, but a quorum was not assembled, and the amendments were not approved.
 
[2] The full text of the commission’s views has been posted on the portal www.president.lv since April 30, 2008.