11 March 2007

The Showdown

The crisis that has been brewing since last autumn's elections (when Aigars Kalvītis became the first Prime Minister to survive an election in a Baltic State since the restoration of independence) has come to a head. In a step no Latvian President has taken since democracy was restored, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga announced yesterday that she was suspending the promulgation of the ill-conceived security legislation that the governing coalition rushed through the Saeima, Latvia's parliament. The President invoked Article 72 of the Satversme, Latvia's constitution, which reads:

The President has the right to suspend the proclamation of a law for a period of two months. The President shall suspend the proclamation of a law if so requested by not less than one-third of the members of the Parliament. This right may be exercised by the President, or by one-third of the members of the Parliament, within seven days of the adoption of the law by the Parliament. The law thus suspended shall be put to a national referendum if so requested by not less than one-tenth of the electorate. If no such request is received during the aforementioned two month period, the law shall then be proclaimed after the expiration of such period. A national referendum shall not take place, however, if the Parliament again votes on the law and not less than three-quarters of all members of the Parliament vote for the adoption of the law.

In a January article on the darkening political skies, "Experts Warn of 'Oligarchs' Usurpation' in Latvia," Ben Nimmo of Deutsche Presse-Agentur quoted Lolita Čigāne of the Providus public policy NGO: "What we're seeing is the oligarchs' usurpation of Latvia's institutional framework by putting 'their' people in the right places. It's not completely illegal or dictatorial, but we're moving towards becoming just a token democracy." Nimmo also wrote a piece about the Saiema's subsequent defiance of the President's veto, and the first English-language article on yesterday's dramatic events.

Sandra Kalniete, a leader of the Third Awakening and now the presidential candidate from the opposition party Jaunais Laiks (New Era), said that the President "is currently the sole guarantor of democracy in Latvia" and called for the resignation of Aigars Kalvītis' government. Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga's final term as President ends in July. Aivars Endziņš, formerly the chairman of Latvia's Constitutional Court and a harsh critic of the governing coalition's consolidation of power, hints that the President's invocation of Article 72 could be a prelude to Article 48:

The President shall be entitled to propose the dissolution of the Parliament. Following this proposal a national referendum shall be held. If in the referendum more than half of the votes are cast in favor of dissolution, the Parliament shall be considered dissolved, new elections called, and such elections held no later than two months after the date of the dissolution of the Parliament.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating developments!

Your President wants to leave with a bang, or something has struck a nerve. I definitely agree with her position - the law in question is highly suspect, not only in how it was first presented to the Saeima. Someone needs to stand up and sound the alarm. I hope she won't be left standing alone.

What's the next step, a referendum on the matter? Can your President collect enough signatures to hold a referendum on the subject? Let's hope the Latvian electorate shows up if there is to be one. Do Latvians love their democracy, or are they envious of their Russian neighbours' love of autocracy? (being somewhat facetious here)

I will stay tuned, this story could unfold in wierd and wonderful ways, I think.


13 March, 2007 02:27  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thanks for your comment, Pierre! At the moment, it seems like total victory for our President -- the PM, apparently realizing that the people would see this as a referendum on his Government, and rightly terrified of what the people would say, is calling for the withdrawal of all of the questionable legislation (not just the questionable parts -- the whole shebang), which means that a referendum would be "a referendum about nothing." What this means legally is still unclear (because the ball is already rolling, as set forth in the Satversme). In a related development, Lainis Kamaldiņš, the former head of our main intelligence agency (SAB) and a close confidant of the oligarch Lembergs, has resigned as a consultant (not without spewing considerable amounts of invective). The trouble is, of course, that the coalition is still together -- in three months they may have a President who does their bidding. I therefore hope that the process continues -- I also hope that because there seems to be some genuine grassroots activity in the offing, and I am convinced that emerging from nihilistic apathy is the only thing that will fix anything in this country.

13 March, 2007 15:26  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update Pēteri. That certainly qualifies as an interesting, and welcome, development. Do you feel public opinion is on the President's side? I do know she has a good reputation and the respect of many. She will be sorely missed when her term ends in three months, and I doubt she will run as Prime Minister. This is playing out like a game of chess, What's the next move?...

My wife tells me Lembergs is in jail. Another small victory for your President? Is his arrest related in any way to the proposed law? Could Lembergs and his accolytes have used that law to intervene/interfere in the investigation against him?

Apathy is the worst enemy of a democracy. People need to stand up, be heard and be counted. Hmmm, this concept could revolutionise many established democracies around the world. :-)


15 March, 2007 02:50  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thanks once again for your comment, Pierre! I'm swamped with work, otherwise I would try to write a summary of this week of high drama. Hopefully in the next couple of days...

17 March, 2007 11:14  
Blogger Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Pēteris,

I sincerely want to thank you for your very interesting and insightful comment on my blog concerning current political developments in Latvia.

I only regret that I have not been able to respond earlier, as I as well have been swamped with work.

I especially liked the very detailed characteristics of "some candidates for the presidency". It really gave a succinct picture of the entire situation.

Finally, I hope to read more on this on your blog, and I realise I have a lot to learn from you.



20 March, 2007 21:53  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thank you, Vilhelm! Except for Ben Nimmo's articles for Deutsche Presse-Agentur, not much has been written about the situation in the international press (not counting some very short pieces here and there, the one in the Tagesanzeiger being of very dubious quality...) I will try to update soon -- but I, too, am swamped with work! I certainly learn a lot at your blog -- I trust it because your articles on Latvia have always been accurate, which is remarkable considering the number of countries you try to cover.

Warm regards,

21 March, 2007 06:58  

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