Saturday, July 07, 2007

Latvia's forgotten referendum

Tomorrow, Latvians will vote in a referendum. I haven't been writing about it much because the whole matter leaves me perplexed.

First, the history. On March 1, our parliament passed the amendments to two laws: The National Security Law and The Law on Security Institutions. Immediately after, the president Vaira Vike-Freiberga invoked a previously unused clause of Latvian constitution that lets the president to suspend a newly passed law for two months. If during the two months, a sufficient number of signatures (at least 10% of Latvian citizens with the right to vote) is gathered, a referendum is held.

The president accused the "oligarchs" in trying to gain the control over the security institutions and said that she was worried about NATO secrets falling into the wrong hands. That was enough to get signatures of 14.41% of Latvian citizens, resulting in tomorrow's referendum. Here is a conversation over the phone that I had with one of my friends who signed:

FRIEND: I signed the referendum petition today.
ME: Did you read what the controversial laws actually say?
FRIEND: No, but I've heard they are really bad.

This was fairly typical. I tried reading them and it left me perplexed. This is one law and this is the other one (both links in Latvian). The most serious change appears to be adding this sentence to the existing law:
For the parliamentary oversight, the members of National Security Committee of Saeima (the Latvian parliament), together with persons who have been authorized by the committee and who possess the top category clearance for access to national secrets, have the right to conduct examinations of national security institutions, to access the necessary information and documents, except for information about secret sources, to interview employees of national security institutions, to verify the legality and the necessity of conducted intelligence and countrintelligence operations.
I'm wondering what are the standards of other countries on this. Do the parliaments usually have the oversight or not? Unfortunately, the Latvian debate on the laws never got to this question.

The debate was just mudslinging about the evil conspiracy to gain access to the state secrets. Well, if we can't trust members of parliament who have top category security clearance, we might be in deep trouble anyway. (Of course, that assumes that Latvian security services actually possess some valuable information and I'm not sure about that, either.) On the other side, I generally trust Vike-Freiberga when she makes a claim that something is wrong in a major way...

As I said twice before, I am perplexed. But the number of signatures was enough for a referendum. To avoid being humiliated by a referendum loss, the government invalidated the two laws before the referendum. So, now we have a referendum on whether to abolish two laws that have already been abolished.

The people who hate the current government will regard this as a chance to show that they hate it, by voting the abolish the laws. The president has called on everyone else to vote. What comes out of it and what is the big picture... who knows?

UPDATE (7/8): The referendum is now over. According to preliminary results, about 23% of eligible voters showed up to vote. (For comparison, the turnout in the last parliamentary election was 61.88%.) Out of those who voted, 95.7% supported repealing one of two laws and 95.8% supported repealing the other.

Because of the low turnout, the result is not legally binding. This means that the two laws have only been repealed once (by the parliament) instead of being repealed twice (by both parliament and referendum).

New Era Party (which is in opposition) believes that the referendum's result shows that the government lacks popular trust. They've called for resignation of prime minister. Well, New Era Party seems to be using every chance to call for someone's resignation this summer...

1 comment:

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