2.1 General description, history and basic facts

In Latvia democratic principles are realised indirectly - by means of elections and participation of elected national representatives in several levels of legislation and executive power. The Constitution provides direct participation of citizens having the right to vote in legislation process in the form of referendum. The parliament is elected in equal, direct, secret ballot and proportional elections for the period of four years. The same principle applies to elections of local authorities - city and town council, rural and amalgamated self-government council as well as for election of deputies in European Parliament.

 

Elections of the Parliament (the Saeima)

The existing election system is quite similar to those principles that were used in elections before the state coup of 15 May, 1934. National representatives or deputies are elected in the Parliament according to proportional election principle using lists of party representatives. When compared to inter-war period, the most essential difference is the fact that 5% elections' barrier has been introduced after regaining independence. It was done with an aim to reduce number and influence of small parties in Latvian parliament. 100 parliamentarians are represented in the Parliament; they are elected for the period of four years. The Central Election Commission monitors election process and observance of law.

Latvian citizens who have reached the age of 18 have rights to elect parliament. A person has rights on choice to participate in the elections in any of five electoral districts - Riga, Vidzeme, Latgale, Kurzeme or Zemgale. The Central Election Commission declares number of deputies to be elected in each electoral district proportionally to the number of voters. The number of voters is clarified four months prior to the date of elections according to data provided by Population Register.

Each Latvian citizen may be elected in the Parliament if he/she is more than 21 years old on the day elections and in case if this person is not subject to any of limitations mentioned in the Parliament Elections Law. Taking into consideration the circumstances in the framework of regaining independence of Latvia, there are introduced passive restrictions to be elected for those Latvian nationals who have been staff employees of the Soviet intelligence service or who have actively participated in the Soviet Union's Communist Party or closely related organisations (that are listed). The list of election candidates may be submitted by: 1) political organisation (party) registered as stated by the law and 2) by alliance of political organisations (parties). One and the same candidate may be nominated only in the list of candidates of one political organisation/alliance of political organisations in one or in several election districts. Lists of registered candidates must not be recalled. The Central Election Commission publishes lists of deputy candidates and their pre-election programmes not later than 20 days prior to elections in the official newspaper "Latvijas vēstnesis".

Multi-party system is typical for Latvia. Often coalitions are created to ensure necessary votes to candidates. In the elections of 9th Saeima candidate lists from 7 parties and political alliances won the elections and gained 100 deputy seats -People's Party (Tautas partija) (23 seats), alliance of parties "Union of Greens and Peasants"  (Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība) (18 seats), Party "New Era" (Jaunais laiks) (18 seats), alliance of parties "Consensus centre" (Saskaņas Centrs)  (17 seats), election alliance of parties Latvia's First Party (Latvijas Pirmā partija) and Party "Latvia's Way" (Latvijas ceļ) (10 seats), alliance "For Fatherland and Freedom/ LNNK - Latvian National Independence Movement" (Tēvzemei un Brīvībai"/LNNK) (8 seats), alliance of political organisations "For human rights in unified Latvia"  (Par cilvēka tiesībām vienotā Latvijā) (6 seats).

Relevant legislative documents and institutions

Parliament (Saeima) Election Law (adopted 25.05.1995), ink to text in English http://web.cvk.lv/pub/public/28126.html

Parliament of the Republic of Latvia (Saeima) www.saeima.lv

Central Election Commission http://web.cvk.lv

 

Referendum and collection of signatures

All nationals, having the right to vote and vote in the elections of Parliament, are entitled to participate in referendum. The Constitution of Latvia provides six cases when referendum shall be held:

1) the parliament has amended Articles 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 or 77 of the Constitution. These amendments are considered as accepted in the National referendum if they are accepted by at least half of the citizens having the right to vote.

2) the President  of Latvia has proposed the dissolution of the parliament. The parliament is considered as dissolved if this is accepted by more than half of voters having the right to vote. If more than half of voters do not accept dissolving of the parliament in the referendum this means that the state's president is considered as dissolved and the parliament has to elect a new president for the rest of terms of office of the dissolved president.

3) the President  of Latvia has suspended the promulgation of a law for two months, and during this period a petition by not less than one-tenth of the electorate has been received to put the suspended law to a national referendum. The law is suspended if in the referendum there participate at least half of voters who have voted in the last elections of parliament and majority of them vote for suspension of the law.

4) the parliament has not adopted without change as to its content a draft law or a draft amendment to the Constitution submitted by not less than one-tenth of the electorate. The draft amendment to the Constitution is adopted if it is accepted by at least half of nationals having the right to vote in referendum. The draft law is adopted if in the referendum there participate at least half of voters who have voted in the last elections of parliament and majority of them vote for the adoption of the law.

5) membership of Latvia in the European Union must be decided in the referendum.

6) substantial changes in the terms regarding the membership of Latvia in the European Union must be decided, and at least one-half of the members of the parliament have  requested a national referendum on this matter. 

Collecting signatures is one of the means that allow electorate of Latvia to participate in decision making process. Collection of signatures is organised in two cases:

1) a draft law or a draft amendment to the Constitution  are brought in.

Not less than 10 000 Latvian citizens eligible to vote have to have the right to submit to the Central Election Commission a fully elaborated draft law or a draft amendment to the Constitution. The Central Election Commission has to organise collecting signatures for the support of this activity. If the draft law or the draft amendment to the Constitution has been signed by not less than one-tenth of Latvian citizens who were eligible to vote in the previous elections of parliament, the President of Latvia shall submit to the Saeima the draft law or the draft amendment to the Constitution. If the parliament does not adopt without change as to its content a draft law or a draft amendment to the Constitution, this is passed to national referendum.

2) Initiation of national referendum on suspension of a law.

The Constitution provides that the President of Latvia may suspend the promulgation of a law for two months. Also one third of parliamentarians may ask the President to suspend the promulgation of the law. After the promulgation of the law has been suspended, the Central Election Commission shall start collecting signatures to start national referendum on revocation of the law. The national referendum shall be organised if a petition by not less than one-tenth of the electorate has been received.  The law is suspended if in the referendum there participate at least half of voters who have voted in the last elections of parliament and majority of them vote for suspension of the law. However, the national referendum does not take place if the parliament votes again for the same law and if not less than three thirds of parliamentarians vote for the adoption of the law.

Relevant legislative act

Law on National Referendums and Legislative Initiatives (adopted 20.04.1994) Link to text in English:  http://web.cvk.lv/pub/public/28862.html

 

Elections of local authorities

System of Latvian local authorities is characterised by low constitutional content, rather strong control of local authorities by the authorities of higher level and medium autonomy level (Vanags un Krastiņ, 2005: 139).

The administrative territory of any urban, rural or amalgamated local self-government makes a single electoral district. Rights to participate in the elections of local authorities are to Latvian citizens and nationals of European Union who have reached the age of 18 and are not Latvian citizens but are registered in the Register of Residents. Voters shall be registered on the Voters Register and filed with their place of residence on the administrative territory of the respective local authority at least 90 days before the day of the election, or persons who own real estate which is filed with the territory of the respective local authority according to the procedure set out by law. 

The number of deputies to be elected to the councils is determined in proportion to the number of residents registered in the Residents' Register in the territory of the respective local authority on the date the elections are announced:

up to 2 000 residents - 7 Council members;

from 2001 to 5 000 residents - 9 Council members;

from 5 001 to 20 000 residents - 11 Council members;

from 20 001 to 50 000  residents - 13 Council members.

over 50 000 residents - 15 Council members.

Exceptional case is The Riga City Council that consists of 60 Council members. On average there are about 8 council members in the councils of Latvian local self-governments. The number of council members was considerably decreased after 1994 and it is one of the least in Europe. It is essentially smaller than during the Soviet period and smaller than in Latvia during inter-War period. In Latvia according to law the proportion between voters and council member is less in smaller local authorities and greater in larger local authorities.

Inhabitants in local municipality

Number of voters per one deputy of the local self-government

Less than 1000

63

1000 - 1999

115

2000 - 4999

187

5000 - 9999

390

10 000 and more

2681

Average

313

Table: I.2.1 Number of inhabitants in local municipalities and number of voters per one deputy of local self government (source: Vanags un Krastins, 2005:219)

 

The citizen of Latvia and the citizen of European Union which is not the citizen of Latvia but is approved in the Inhabitant Register of Latvia have rights to be elected in the local authority's elections. The rights to candidate are form the age of 18 years if there are no restrictions determined in laws which refer to the candidate and if the candidate corresponds to at least one of the following conditions: 1) there is registered placed of residence within the municipality's administrative territory at least last 10 months; 2) the candidate has worked within the municipality's administrative territory (as an employee or a self-employed person in accordance with the law "On the state social insurance") at least last 4 moths; and 3) the candidate is the owner of a real estate registered in the municipality's administrative territory in accordance with the law. The candidate observing conditions determined by this law is able to candidate only in the one municipality council.

In the municipalities where the number of inhabitants is more than 5000 deputy candidate lists of the city council, county council and parish council can be submitted by: registered political organization (party); the association of registered political organizations (parties); or two or more registered political organizations (parties) which are not united in the association of registered political organizations (parties). If the number of inhabitants is less than 5000 lists of the deputy candidates besides the mentioned above can be also submitted by associations of voters. These lists have to be signed at least by 20 voters which have registered place of residence in the administrative territory of the respective municipality. A person can agree to candidate only in the one candidate list. The registered candidate lists can not be cancelled. The Ministry of Justice publishes the list of all registered political organizations (parties) and their associations in the official newspaper "Latvijas Vēstnesis" not later than 15 days before the Election Day. Pre-election programmes and candidate lists are placed in the accessible for voters place.

Traditionally in Latvia also second level local authorities (in the period between wars - counties, later - districts) with elected councils which supervised the territory more of the ten civil parishes existed. Though as the result of the administrative territorial reform, the directly elected district councils established1994 in accordance with the Law "On Self-Governments" were abolished in 1997 and replaced by delegates of respective local municipalities - representatives of rural, urban and amalgamated local self-government. At the same moment district council's functions were considerably narrowed.

Relevant legislative act and institution

City Council, District Council and Parish Council Election Law (adopted 13.01.1994) Link to text in English: http://web.cvk.lv/pub/public/28125.html

Central Election Commission http://web.cvk.lv