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Cablegate: Referendum On Security Laws Fails to Receive Needed Turnout

VZCZCXRO8793
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHRA #0515 1920511
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 110511Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY RIGA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4170
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS RIGA 000515

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV LG
SUBJECT: REFERENDUM ON SECURITY LAWS FAILS TO RECEIVE NEEDED TURNOUT


Ref: Riga 344, Riga 192

1. The national referendum held July 7 on two controversial
amendments to Latvia's security laws failed to receive the required
voter turnout and will not be valid, though legally this was a mute
point. The vote was set in motion when President Vaira
Vike-Freiberga suspended promulgation of two Saeima
(Parliament)-approved amendments in March, arguing that adoption of
the amendments could result in abuse of power by the government and
political forces over national security agencies, and initiated a
signature drive that successfully called for the national referendum
(see reftels for further background). The Saeima subsequently
revoked the two amendments, but the Constitution contains no
mechanism for the cancellation of a referendum once put in motion.
The referendum received 338,231 votes (roughly 40% of voters who
participated in the last election), 115,499 shy of the
Constitutionally-required votes needed for validity. However, as a
moral-victory for referendum proponents, 96% of the votes cast were
in favour of reversing the security law changes.

2. Opposition parties, namely New Era (JL), had hoped that strong
passage of the referendum would be seen as a vote of no confidence
against the ruling coalition, and New Era leaders have called for
the resignation of the government. The Prime Minister and ruling
parties discount interpreting the vote in such a manner and state
that they maintain the trust of the people.

3. Comment: The referendum was held at a time when many Latvians
were on summer holiday, away on weekends in the country, or
celebrating 7/7/07 weddings. In that light, it is significant, and
should put the government on notice, that over 300,000 people would
turn out to vote. But in the end, a feeling that the vote did not
matter after parliament revoked the amendments and the lack of a
significant "get out the vote" effort, combined with a great summer
day, meant that not enough people saw the need to vote. Although
the government will not fall over the referendum, the entire course
of action on the security laws over the past six months has sent a
clear message that the people of Latvia are watching and will speak
up when there are issues that concern them. A calculation by the
coalition that no one would notice or care about their actions in
amending rather obscure and technical regulations for managing the
security services was proven wrong. And that, at least, is a step
forward on behalf of the health of Latvia's democracy.

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