The mission had a short-term character. Monitoring has been conducted between 22nd and 24th of July.
Direct observation has been conducted at polling stations (24) visited on referendum day in the capital city Riga, as well as in Latgalia region.
Interviews taken among Latvian political scientists, researchers, analysts, as politicians from several parliamentary and non-parliamentary parties.
President Valdis Zatlers, using his constitutional powers, has called for referendum over the question of parliament dissolution on 28th May 2011. The legal foundation for the referendum is prescribed in the following articles of the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia of 15th February 1922 (with further amendments):
“48. The President shall be entitled to propose the dissolution of the Saeima. Following this proposal, a national referendum shall be held. If in the referendum more than half of the votes are cast in favour of dissolution, the Saeima shall be considered dissolved, new elections called, and such elections held no later than two months after the date of the dissolution of the Saeima.
49. If the Saeima has been dissolved, the mandate of the members of the Saeima shall continue in effect until the newly elected Saeima has convened, but the dissolved Saeima may only hold sittings at the request of the President. The agenda of such sittings shall be determined by the President.
50. If in the referendum more than half of the votes are cast against the dissolution of the Saeima, then the President shall be deemed to be removed from office, and the Saeima shall elect a new President to serve for the remaining term of office of the President so removed.”
The possibility to dissolve the parliament by popular voting has been created by the amendment of 2009, proposed by president Zatlers during his conflict with the Saeima.
According to the articles mentioned above, it is unclear whether the newly elected president Andris Berzins, elected on the 2nd of July would be forced to step down in case the voters decided not to dissolve the current parliament. The referendum on parliament’s dissolution is a new instrument and has never been used before.
The ballots provide the voters with one simple question: “Do you support dissolution of the 10thSaeima?”. The possible answer were “For” and “Against” (in accordance with the Law on National Referendums and Legislative Initiatives, Article 14). Thus the ballots can be described as simple and transparent which means that further explanations for the voters were not needed.
Legal basis of the referendum
Besides the articles of Latvian Constitution mentioned and quoted above, the referendum was held on the basis of the Law on National Referendums and Legislative Initiatives, as well as on the instructions issued by the Central Electoral Commission.
Voter Register is not used in the referendum, so the only possibility of avoiding multiple voting was a stamp in passport (on page 9 of a passport). A voter may cast her / his vote in any of 1028 polling stations (950 in Latvia and 78 abroad).
Remark: This may lead to confusion as only a register of permanent voters guarantees that the number of ballots is appropriate. The procedure also excludes those not having valid passport (approximately 25 000 citizens) from participating in the referendum. On the other hand, the procedure enables those who are out of their home district to participate in the voting, which is particularly important in the Summer period.
Only those voters who are eligible to vote in parliamentary elections are entitled to participate in a referendum.
Remark: Several observers and human rights activists have already pointed out that the practice of excluding an ethnic / linguistic minority from participation in the public / political life is dubious. According to the data presented by human rights organizations, about 350 000 of non-citizens living in Latvia were not able to cast their votes and thus it was impossible for them to democratically show their political preferences. Thus the referendum could be described as having partly democratic character, as only a part of the population could cast their votes.
According to Article 12 (2) of the Law on National Referendums and Legislative Initiatives, the referendums are held on Saturday.
Remark: This may causе that voters cannot participate in referendum, because of other duties, particularly work. On the other hand, the polling stations were opened between 7 and 22, which probably has given a possibility to vote for every interested citizen.
According to Article 15 (2) of the Law on National Referendums and Legislative Initiatives, a voter may cast her / his vote with assistance of a trustworthy person and / or relative.
Remark: This may cause abuses, which are impossible to be controlled by members of polling station committee. In practice, the Mission has not found such cases at polling stations.
A voter which is not able to participated in the referendum by coming to the polling station may cast her / his vote at home, provided she / he had informed the polling station electoral commission about her / his request not later than at 12 o’clock on the voting day.
Remark: Usually possible abuses come out of such a procedure, but the Mission have noticed that only 2-6 voters at a polling station wished to vote at home so the problem was not significant.
The Mission has not noticed any serious law violations and / or frauds which could influence the results of the referendum. Thus the referendum may be described as fair and transparent, corresponding with the national law of the Republic of Latvia, as well as with international standards / conventions ratified by Latvia.
Some remarks of the Mission are of technical / organizational character:
1) polling stations were usually located in buildings of public schools and some of them were in poor technical condition, as well as there was to little place for the voters and commission members;
2) polling stations were not prepared for disabled voters – there were no lifts or other facilities enabling such voters to enter a polling station;
3) at the polling station no. 135 in Riga, the Mission have noticed a security video camera working which might disturb the voters, as well as – theoretically – violate the secret character of the ballot;
4) the Mission has not noticed any internal observers present at the polling stations visited. The Mission has also noticed that there were no technical conditions for their work due to lack of place at several polling stations.
Thus the Mission, positively valuing the openness and transparency of the Central Electoral Commission of the Republic of Latvia, shall pass a few recommendations which could help avoiding several technical problems in the future.
Steering Committee of the Mission
Mateusz Piskorski (Poland)
Alexander Brod (Russian Federation)
Alexander Tereshchenko (Belarus)