Friday, April 11, 2008

Referendum on early election moves ahead

Yesterday was the last day when one could sign for a referendum on a constitutional amendment that would allow to dissolve the parliament and hold early elections via (another) referendum. About 225,000 people, or 15% of eligible voters signed for the referendum. Wow!

So, the necessary signatures have been gathered and we will have the referendum in a few months. The government now has every reason to be afraid. This is a referendum on a constitutional principle but most of people did not sign for a abstract right to dissolve the parliament. Rather, they signed up because they don't like the current parliament.

The passage of the constitutional amendment is uncertain. The Latvian constitution puts a very high bar for constitutional referendums, by requiring more than 50% of eligible voters to vote "yes". And, for last few parliamentary elections, the turnout has been 60-70% of eligible voters and not all of those hate the current coalition.

Still, there is a chance it will pass and I'm now wondering if the coalition will try to preempt that. There is another version of the amendment circulating around, which also introduces referenda on early elections but sets stricter requirements on the number of votes to dissolve the parliament. The coalition could pass that in parliament, hoping that that will satisfy some of the unhappy voters.

This play was done once before, for 1999 retirement benefits referendum, when the parliament appeased the voters by passing a weaker version of referendum proposal. Some voters still showed up for the actual referendum to vote for the stronger proposal. But there were not enough of them for the proposal to pass.

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