Latvia referendum 2011
A referendum ratifying the former president’s decision to dissolve Parliament was held in Latvia on July 23, 2011. This is basically the resolution of a major political crisis in the country, covered in more detail here, which started when former President Valdis Zatlers decided to use his never-used prerogative to dissolve Parliament (the Saiemas) after it rejected earlier this spring a law which would have limited the immunity of one of its members, the corrupt Ainārs Šlesers. In Latvia, the President’s decision to dissolve the legislature must be ratified by voters – and if voters do not ratify the President’s decision, then the President must resign. However, angry members of the Saiemas got that done for him before the referendum, when on June 2 they elected Andris Bērziņš to the presidency in his stead during regular presidential elections.
In the backdrop of all this crisis is a crusade against corrupt politicians and oligarchs who allegedly run the show. Valdis Zatlers got angry with those oligarch politicians who run the country, and decided to use the risky power of dissolution to make a political statement. Latvians are frustrated with deep-seated corruption in their legislature and heavily backed the ex-president’s crusade against corrupt politicians. Many voters hoped that by dissolving parliament and holding new elections, something would change.
Turnout was 44.6%, but there was no turnout quota set rendering the referendum valid despite sub-50% turnout. 94.3% of voters voted in favour of the ex-president’s decision to dissolve parliament, while 5.48% voted against. 0.21% of ballots were invalid. A general election could take place on September 17.
Latvians eager for political change and a break with the corrupt oligarchs will likely turn to a new party led and founded by ex-President Valdis Zatlers, the Zatlers’ Reform Party (ZRP). This new anti-corruption party was credited with 17.5% of voting intentions in July, tied for first place with the opposition ethnically Russian Harmony Centre (SC). The governing centre-right alliance Unity led by Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis trails in third, with only 8.7% after having won 31% in last year’s legislative election. Dombrovskis has been forced to severe budget cuts in one of the EU members touched the worst by the economic crisis. His governing partner, the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) is given 8.1% of voting intentions (it won 19.7% in 2010). The far-right National Alliance receives 6.3%, while all other parties including Ainārs Šlesers’ Latvia’s First Party/Latvian Way party are under the 5% threshold.
Such a strong showing by Zatlers’ new party could place him in a good position to lead the next government, but this could be complicated by Zatlers’ very public feud with one of the most corrupt oligarchs in the country, former ZZS leader and Ventspils mayor Aivars Lembergs. Zatlers has already announced that he would not work with the “three oligarch parties”: the ZZS, Latvia’s First Party/Latvian Way (LPP/LC) and the People’s Party. While LPP/LC, the party led by Ainārs Šlesers which won eight seats in coalition with the People’s Party in 2010, is unlikely to regain representation, the ZZS could retain representation and form a major obstacle to the ZRP’s access to power.