Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Constitutional amendments after the referendum on constitutional amendments? (updated)

The ominous referendum is over. Forty percent of the eligible voters or 2/3 of the voters who participated in the parliamentary elections in 2006 announced that they are not satisfied with the way their republic is governed. In any European democracy the political elite should take such forceful show of political participation into consideration. Latvian present "political clique" is of different breed. Except the PM Godmanis the rest of the governing coalition bigwigs assume that the majority of population is content with the way Latvia is ruled. So be it with the present Latvian "political elite", and they can really enjoy their Pyrrhic victory for a little while.

In the meantime it was an announcement of historic magnitude that came amidst the ongoing referendum campaign. Last Friday the TV3 "Nekā Personīga" show was the first media outlet that disclosed the ill famous "Lembergs stipend list". The latter is the notorious list to what also the former president Vīķe Freiberga was referring in her farewell speech in Saeima, the Latvian parliament. Last May she rather ominously concluded in her speech that "the sword of Damocles" is hanging over the heads of certain politicians, and for the sake of cleaning up the Latvian political environment she asked the leaders of political parties to start the "purification process" themselves. It is obvious today, that leaders of political parties do not care about such ethical suggestions particularly from the retired president, because they are scared. They are afraid to lose their material benefits, because most of the party members have taken mortgage, leased a car, and are also busily eager to fill their pension funds. It means that if they should lose their MP seat, they would have problems finding another job, thus just thinking about probable future discomfort makes them to behave the way they behave.

The president has called for the extraordinary session of the parliament although the Art. 46 of the constitution gives him the right to convene only the extraordinary sessions of the Cabinet. Perhaps the president is in hurry to make it to Beijing Olympics, thus such a hurry. Nevertheless, he announced that he wants to use his right (Art.47) to initiate legal amendments. He is planning to submit his version of constitutional amendments that would allow qualified number (250 000) of voters to initiate the dissolution of the parliament among other things. President's amendments were prepared by the group of constitutional law experts and led by the member of the European Court of Human rights Mr Egīls Levits.

So called president's amendments are upgraded version of the amendments on Art. 78-79 proposed by the popular motion, and voted upon last Saturday. If president is serious about the need to pass those constitutional amendments he should make it as an ultimatum for the parliament to pass them till the end of the autumn session around Christmas, as suggested by Iveta Kažoka. Also former Minister of Foreign Affairs Artis Pabriks contemplates about same ideas, and suggests that in case the parliament would not act swiftly the president should act decisively and use his constitutional powers. After all, the president has a power (Art.48) to initiate the dissolution of the parliament.

Will it be possible to elect accountable and politically responsible representatives to fill those seats...
Photo: Saeima

I doubt about the ability of the 9th Saeima members to change their behavior. Delfi reported yesterday that the PM asked his coalition partners about possible resignation after learning the referendum results, but they had convinced him not to do it. Also Diena quotes the head of the People's Party (TP) fraction head Mr Kučinskis saying: "president strongly overestimates the ability to pass those constitutional amendments until the end of the year. Until that date the document could be passed only in the first reading."

Problems of the present government and Saeima stem not from suddenly 610 000 voters being dissatisfied. The reason for dissatisfaction is faulty and very often questionable legislation - the slow process of the anti money laundering law just being the most vivid example here. Such examples as I just mentioned are myriad, and loopholes in existing laws allow different interest groups have an inordinate influence on the way the country is governed.

Now, we should wait until the legal amendments of the Latvian president would be given to the parliament tomorrow. It is interesting, whether he would stipulate the need to have also certain time frame for this law to be passed in the parliament? Without a specified time frame MP's can easily delay their legislative duties until the next legislative elections in October 2010. And there is the August 23 referendum coming as well, thus to manipulate the outcome of the forthcoming referendum Latvian parliamentarians could actually make miracles and pass president's constitutional amendments prior this ominous date!?

Updated

Diena just reported that opposition Civic Union (PS) party has prepared their version of constitutional amendments and delivered them to the Saeima presidium. Reasons for such a sudden legislative rush are twofold. First, when popular amendments were voted down in the parliament, then the constitution stipulates that they must be voted in popular referendum without any amendments. Second, there are rumours about a possibility of the president not actually delivering constitutional amendments but the opinion of his constitutional commission instead. The president on his way to meet his Chinese counterpart apparently wants just to signal the parliament that they should bear in mind the real raison d' etre of the past referendum. Anyway, the primary task of the legislative branch is to legislate (!), and regardless of the president delivering his commission's amendments or just opinions about possibility to change the constitution there is one opposition party that acted already

The PS is actually using the legislative initiative from the past times. Just prior the coup d'etat in May 15, 1934 Latvian MP's already failed to pass the amendments that would allow 1/10 of the electorate to dissolve the parliament. The PS proposes to change the Art. 14 ("the electors may not recall any Members of the Saeima.") of the Satversme as follows: "no less than 1/10 of the electors may initiate the referendum about dissolving of the parliament. If majority of voters wants to dissolve the parliament, that is not smaller than the half of the total number of participants in the last elections, then parliament is sacked and new elections must be announced which must take place no later than two months after the referendum. Electors cannot recall single members of the Saeima"

Reasonable proposal indeed, and shall see what will be the text that the president is planning to deliver to the parliament tomorrow. Also, rather ominously already the speaker of the parliament Mr Daudze announced that there will be no debates after the speech of the president (!), because according to G. Daudze there is nothing to debate after presidential speeches...(douze points:-)

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