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A legal analysis of the dissolution of Latvian Saeima

Dr Inese Lībiņa-Egner, Legal advisor to the President, Riga, 30.05.2011.Print version
After Latvia’s President’s Valdis Zatlers announcement about the dissolution of the Saeima the official website of Latvia parliament published the full procedure of this action.

1.  The Latvian President’s instructions on dissolving the Saeima

1)  Article 48 of the Constitution states that the President of Latvia has the right to propose the dissolution of the Saeima, after which a national referendum is to be held.  The Constitution does not set limitations on these rights in relation to the approaching election of the President, the Saeima, or any other election.  The President has the right to do the things which the Constitution allows him to do until his very last day in office.  The fact that his term in office is drawing to an end does not have any effect on his competence.


2)  The President’s decision means a proposal to dissolve the Saeima, not the automatic dissolution thereof.  The decision to dissolve the Saeima is taken by the people of Latvia in a national referendum.


3)  If the President has decided to propose the dissolution of the Saeima, he so reports to the Central Elections Commission.

 

2.  Organising the referendum

4)  The national referendum on the President’s proposal is to be held no sooner than one month and no later than two months after the proposal has been forwarded to the Central Elections Commission (Article 5 of the law on national referendums and legislative proposals).


5)  The Central Elections Commission sets the date for the referendum.  It must be on a Saturday.  The vote occurs between 7:00 AM and 10:00 PM local time (Article 12 and 15 of the law on national referendums and legislative proposals).


6)  The vote is a secret vote in line with procedures set by the Central Elections Commission.  Ballots are used.  The ballot will state the proposal on dissolving the Saeima and the words “For” and “Against.”


7)  The referendum is open to all citizens of Latvia who have voting rights in Saeima elections.  Article 48 of the Constitution does not speak to a minimum number of voters so that a quorum is satisfied.  The decision is taken by a simple majority of votes.

 

3.  The work of the Saeima until the results of the referendum are published

8)  Between the proposal on dissolution and the national referendum, the current Saeima retains its rights.  The Saeima continues the procedure of electing a President.  If a new President is elected prior to the referendum, then he or she takes office in line with usual procedure.


9)  If the referendum takes place after the expiration of the President’s term in office and a new President has not been elected, then the functions of the President are carried out by the Speaker of the Saeima until such time as the results of the referendum are published.

 

4.  After the results of the referendum are published

10)  If more than one-half of voters support the dissolution of the Saeima in the referendum, then the Saeima is dissolved, and a new election is proclaimed.  The election must take place no sooner than one month and no later than two months after the dissolution of the Saeima (Article 48 of the Constitution).


11)  If the Saeima has been dissolved, then the rights of existing MPs remain in effect until the first meeting of the new Saeima.  The existing Saeima, however, can meet only if the President convenes it.  The agenda for such meetings is set by the President (Article 49 of the Constitution).


12)  If voters do not approve the proposal of the President, the current Saeima remains in office, but the sacking of the President is no longer of importance, because his term in office will already have ended.


13)  The new Saeima election will be organised in accordance with the terms of the law on Saeima elections.


14)  In accordance with Article 13 of the Constitution, a Saeima election in a snap election is convened no later than one month after its election.  Its authority expires three years later on the first Tuesday of that year’s November, when the newly elected Saeima is convened.

 

5.  The issue of electing a new President after the national referendum

15)  Article 52 of the Constitution states that if the President resigns, dies or is withdrawn before his term in office ends, the role of the President is held by the Speaker of the Saeima until such time as the Saeima elects a new President.  The Speaker also serves as acting President when the President is outside of Latvia or is otherwise hindered in doing his or her job.


16)  This means that Article 52 of the Constitution says that the presidency cannot be empty on purpose.  There are specific situations listed in the Constitution as to when the President is, for objective reasons, kept from discharging his or her duties, along with specific objective reasons as to why the presidency can be vacant.  In other words, the Constitution has enshrined the principle that the replacement of the President by the Speaker of the Saeima is possible only under objectively determined situations and only for a certain period of time, the Saeima being obliged to elect a new President.


17)  From the perspective of the logic of the Constitution, it would be problematic to permit a situation in which the people are deciding on dissolution of Parliament while the Speaker of the Saeima is the only person who can fill the role of the president, convene meetings of the Saeima, and set the agenda for such meetings.  That would be in violation of the spirit of the Constitution, because it has given such rights exclusively to the President, not to anyone who happens to be serving as acting President.  The logic of the Saeima, in other words, states that the Saeima must do its best to elect a new President before the national referendum.






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