Cablegate: Latvia to Hold Two Signature Drives in 30 Days

DE RUEHRA #0151/01 0801531
R 201531Z MAR 08




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Latvia to hold two signature drives in 30 days

1. Summary. Two unrelated legislative amendments - constitutional
amendments providing the rights to dismiss Saeima through a national
referendum and amendments setting the level of a minimum pension at
the official subsistence level - proposed by private groups have
succeeded in collecting the required number of signatures (10,000)
necessary to force the government to launch national signature
drives on the proposals. If signature drives are successful (149,064
Latvian citizens have to sign for each proposal) the proposed
amendments will be forwarded to Saeima. If Saeima fails to enact the
proposals, the proposed amendments will be put on national
referenda. The signature drives will run for 30 days and finish on
April 15. End summary.
Draft Constitutional amendments
2. Constitutional amendments providing the public the right to
initiate a process to dismiss the Saeima (currently, only the
President can initiate Saeima's dismissal through national
referendum) were developed by the Latvian Free Trade Union (LBAS) in
response to the way the former government headed by Aigars Kalvitis
(People's Party - TP) developed and adopted the 2008 state budget in
October last year. LBAS announced that the then-government failed to
fulfill the given promises regarding public sector employees' wages.
"These amendments to the Constitution will eradicate from the
country the politicians' tradition of thinking about the people only
once every four years -- before elections," said chairman of the
labor confederation Peteris Krigers. "And this will undoubtedly
expand citizens' chances of more tightly controlling members of
parliament, thereby guaranteeing a stronger civic society." Though
the Kalvitis' government stepped down after the state budget was
adopted, LBAS continued collection of signatures required for
launching the signature drive.
3. In general, LBAS's proposal has received positive evaluations as
expanding the scope of democratic rights of the people through
direct political participation. However, some political experts warn
of possible abuse, which could result in never-ending signature
drives on Saeima's dismissal. Former President Vike-Freiberga has
also expressed concern about the amendments.
4. Stances of political forces are divided along the lines of their
position in the current Saeima: all opposition parties support the
draft amendments and one of the biggest, New Era (JL), is planning
to get involved in a promotion campaign. Most of the parties in the
ruling coalition are against the draft amendments. The head of the
government Ivars Godmanis (LPP/LC) believes that "[O]ur Constitution
has been drafted in a very thorough and balanced manner [and should
not be changed]" and will not participate in the signature drive.
His party (LPP/LC) and TP members are also against the proposed
amendments. However, a leader of another coalition party, the Union
of the Greens and Farmers (ZZS), Augusts Brigmanis announced that he
supports the constitutional amendments proposed by LBAS.
5. The response of ordinary citizens to the amendments is unclear.
Though the government popularity ratings remain very low and the
recent poll reveals that 28 percent of respondents claimed that they
would sign for the draft amendments to the Constitution providing
popular rights to dismiss Saeima, according to the data of Central
Election Committee, only 20,681 citizens (about 13 percent of the
required number) have signed over the first week of the signature
drive. (Note: Traditionally, there is a surge in signatures in the
final week of a collection drive. End note.)
Draft amendments on the Law on Retirement Pensions

6. A separate, but parallel signature collection effort is taking
place on proposed amendments to the Law on Retirement Pensions that
would ensure that all pensions are at least at the level of the
official subsistence (poverty) level. Currently, a third of all
pensioners, receive less than 100 lats (aprox. 220 USD) a month and
the poverty line is officially about 130 lats (aprox. 285 USD) a
month. The process was initiated by the Union of Pensioners last
year, however, the remaining number of signatures necessary to
qualify for the signature drive was collected in February this year
when recently formed political force "Cita politika" (headed by
former People's Party ministers Aigars Stokenbergs and Artis Pabriks
announced that "poverty is the major issue in the country" and
supported the petition drive.

7. The proposed draft amendments are seen as ensuring a rise in the
Pabriks/Stokenbergs party's poll numbers, but experts note that the
proposal as drafted would provide only a short-term solution for
pensioners' economic situation. The draft amendments are not
supported by the ruling coalition. The other opposition parties have
not clearly voiced their support for or opposition to the proposed
amendments. Theoretically the authors of the proposal could count on
the support of Latvia's pensioners, which constitute almost 28
percent of the total population.

8. Comments. Though there is no direct relation between the content
of the two proposed amendments, both attempts are aimed at changing
current key players in the political arena. New emerging political
and social forces are using democratic, but rarely used, methods to
find and strengthen their positions in the political market.
However, the chances of success are rather low. Even though Latvian
citizens claim to support the proposed amendments, most likely they
will not participate in the signature drives, which come over the
holiday period, because they feel deeply disillusioned in politics
and their ability to influence political processes. If the necessary

RIGA 00000151 002 OF 002

signatures are collected, the possibility that either of the
proposals would actually be adopted is even smaller since a majority
in Saeima has said that they would not support the proposals and the
standards for passage at a referendum are quite high.


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