11 April 2008

Referendum, ra, ra!

The head of the Central Election Commission (CVK) reports that ca. 213 000 persons signed in favor of amendments to the Satversme, Latvia's Constitution, that would make it possible for the people to initiate the dissolution of Parliament. That's far more than the number needed -- 149 064, a tenth of those eligible to vote in the last parliamentary elections. There may be some duplicates from those who provided notarized signatures prior to the month-long collection by CVK, but signatures collected abroad haven't been tallied yet.

In short -- we ("the people"), and the trade unions sponsoring this signature drive, have won... or, it proves that at least 213 000 people haven't yet surrendered to nihilistic apathy, our national beast. The process ahead is tortuous, as Veiko says, and I won't describe it here -- but the success of this first stage should inject some more well-deserved fear into the marrow of our darkling political elite. What many care about most is their seats, of course, and they'll continue to shudder a little.

I must say, though, that the proposed changes are risky. As experts in the law and politics have pointed out, rallying the people to "throw the bums out" will probably always be pretty easy. The next time we choose from our 60-odd parties in a flurry of
kompromat, slick advertising and shady financing, assuming that the people are given this power, it's possible that someone can fund a "throw the bums out" campaign the next day. In this country, smaller than many a city, "political technologies" can be employed like shots in the dark, from guns without serial numbers.

Still, I signed... because I trust our people -- our nation -- a lot more than I trust our so-called elite. When the Government threatens us with "chaos" -- the only response can be that the Government has long been dragging us into a half-light oozing lies and sinister lucre. As Laila Pakalniņa suggested, we -- the people -- could at least have an instrument with which to respond in extremity.


Photo: Reinis Oliņš, Diena.

Labels: ,

4 Comments:

Blogger Pierre said...

The circumstances may not be same as the previous referendum on the ill-fated security amendments. Nonetheless, it is one thing to muster 10% of the population excited enough to vote for the referendum, it is another matter entirely to get at least 50% to actually take part in that referendum.

How deep is the apathy? How strong are the people? You started hinting at this, but this ammendment is a double-edged sword. Sure the people can toss the bums out, but then someone with sufficiently deep pockets and/or a strong following could use it as a proxy coup.

But, heck, I think like you, I put my faith and trust in the people.

Pierre

11 April, 2008 20:10  
Blogger jams o donnell said...

Ah so the people will be able to table a no-confidence motion in the government?

I would inmagine that would strike fear into any politician anywhere (where they can't rig the vote that is)

11 April, 2008 23:15  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thanks for commenting, Pierre and Jams.

Jams -- Parliament rather than the Government. It'll be a rather unusual power if it passes.

This will now end up in Parliament. If Parliament votes for these amendments (and a 2/3 majority is needed because to change the Constitution), there's no referendum. If it rejects them, or alters them, there will be a referendum in August or September.

The alternatives proposed by Egils Levits' Commission sound reasonable -- the process of dissolution could not be initiated within six months of elections or within six months of the end of the President's term.

The Constitution currently reads, the President has the right to initiate dissolution -- but this is then put to a referendum, and if a majority votes against dissolving Parliament... the President is out. Levits and others have suggested getting rid of the latter clause, because that binds the President in a way that prevents him or her from ever exercising the power.

The thing is, though, that the President is elected by Parliament here. Proposals to increase the authority of the presidency include requiring a larger majority for the election of the President, or establishing an electoral college.

Others are pushing for a popularly elected President.

Pierre is quite right -- mustering the numbers needed in the referendum will be a lot harder. The weather tends to be more influential than political engagement in those months -- many people are out in the countryside on summer weekends, not carrying their passports near polling stations.

The main thing about the security amendments referendum last year (which was initiated by the former President, not a petition) was that the amendments had already been withdrawn. The Government was thus able to portray the actual vote as "a referendum on nothing."

Something similar could happen here. Parliament can adopt a new mechanism for dissolving Parliament that sounds good but is impossible in practice.

Indifference could also prevail for another reason -- tossing the bums out would in most cases result in electing the same bums; "the same crabs in different sacks," as the saying here goes. Other changes need to be made -- campaign finance reform being the main one.

12 April, 2008 07:00  
Anonymous Snork said...

>> Still, I signed... because I trust our people -- our nation -- a lot more than I trust our so-called elite. When the Government threatens us with "chaos" -- the only response can be that the Government has long been dragging us into a half-light oozing lies and sinister lucre.

I agree that we need some better checks and balances on the actions of the parliament. My biggest worry is that the whole process may evolve into a lengthy period of political maneuvering. This can easily distract both the policy-makers and the society from the situation with the economy, where action has to be taken now. Moreover, I am beginning to dislike this habit of proposing constitutional amendments almost every few months (the “traditional family” amendment, the popularly elected president, the idea to switch parliamentary elections to first-past-the-post system, etc.). Still, I think the referendum is worth it.

>> Indifference could also prevail for another reason -- tossing the bums out would in most cases result in electing the same bums; "the same crabs in different sacks," as the saying here goes. Other changes need to be made -- campaign finance reform being the main one.

Again, I fully agree that institutional changes are needed. However, I think this is one of the cases when the same bums may not be elected. If surveys are to be believed, Concord Centre is expected to win, while some of the veteran parties are balancing close to the 5% line. It seems that the composition of the Saeima may be altered quite radically. Of course, even if the referendum is successful, it would take some time before new elections are held.

14 April, 2008 01:17  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home