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Latvia - June 2019 Election - President

In Latvia, the Saeima speaker deputises for the President whenever he or she is unable to execute his official functions. In Latvia, the president is elected by the parliament. This is done in a ballot, the only in which the way the MPs vote is kept secret. The procedure is intended to prevent an elected president being able to punish those who did not back him or her.

However, in practice it leads to lawmakers saying they they voted one way when the results of the secret ballot show that a number of them must simply be lying. Saeima deputies have no obligation to reveal which candidate they supported. Tallying up the results of previous votes has shown that it is not uncommon for lawmakers to lie about who they backed even when they do make a public declaration on the subject.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the current state of affairs is not popular among the electorate; indeed, some presidential elections are overshadowed by accusations that, as MPs are not held accountable for their choice, they cast their votes unscrupulously. The 'oligarch transcripts' leaked by the Ir weekly in the summer of 2017 even showed political strongmen bragging in secret about having used their clout in the past to secure victory for their favored candidate.

In his address to Saeima on 22 June 2017 Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis suggested changing the presidential election procedure so that the head of the state would be elected by the people instead of the lawmakers. He called on the Latvian parliament to pass a legislation allowing the people to elect the Latvian president directly already in 2019, urging the lawmakers not to hesitate and to start the adoption of the necessary amendments to the Latvian Constitution this fall.

However, given the fundamental changes to the constitution that it would require and the likelihood that the constitutional court would need to consider proposals, such a timetable for a Saeima he has repeatedly criticized for its low-quality lawmaking and sluggish response times would seem to be extremely optimistic.

President Raimonds Vejonis was surprised by the turnabout of the political parties regarding his suggestion to change the presidential election procedure, replacing a parliamentary vote with a popular public vote, reported LETA. He said that all the time the politicians had been speaking loudly about the need for a popularly elected Latvian president but when he actually came forth with the proposal the parties did a turnabout and started speaking of geopolitical risks, Vejonis said in a 07 July 2017 interview to SestDiena, a weekly supplement to the Diena daily.

A direct presidential election might result in a pro-Kremlin candidate becoming Latvias next President, European Parliament member Roberts Zile (National Alliance) warned in an interview to Latvian Television 26 June 2017. We know that there is this risk the closer to the Kremlin the greater the risk of getting a president with whom we might find us into a rather difficult situation, Zile said. The MEP recalled Lithuanias problems with President Rolandas Paksas who was impeached, also because of his ties to Moscow.

We cannot be sure about getting a popularly elected president, Zile said, noting that the money that would be spent on election campaigns would largely determine the outcome of a direct presidential vote. Zile believes though that the president of Latvia should be given broader powers.

Commenting on the remarks by the lawmakers from the opposition left-wing pro-Russia Harmony party that, if the people got to elect the Latvian president, the Harmony's leader and Riga Mayor, Nils Usakovs would become the next Latvian president, Vejonis said it depended on the voters. "If the voter activity is low, the candidates backed by the Harmony have better chances because the party's electorate is more consolidated and participates in the elections more actively while the pro-Latvian electorate tends to find different excuses for not voting. Then there is a risk therefore we, the voters, have to be active," the Latvian president said.

A meeting July 10 government coalition partners supported in principle Unitys proposal to form a parliamentary ad hoc committee tasked with probing the so-called "oligarch conversations". On 27 July 2017 Latvia's parliament supported setting up a parliamentary committee to investigate the 'oligarch transcripts'. The make-up of the committee, tasked to probe why the 'oligarch case' was dismissed before being brought to court and investigate public security risks that might be deduced from the conversations, was approved with 86 MPs voting 'for' and two 'against'.

The case was based on secret recordings of conversations of so-called 'oligarchs' by the anti-graft authorities. It was started in 2011 after the Saeima voted against allowing law enforcement officers to carry out a search at the residence of former MP and Transport Minister Ainars lesers. He was one of those recorded on tape along long-standing Ventspils mayor Aivars Lembergs.

About 11,000 people signed to change the way the president is elected on the public initiative portal, mandating a review by the Saeima. Seven MPs, of the Unity, National Alliance and Harmony parties, supported the initiative, while MPs from the Greens and Farmers Union and Latvia From the Heart voted against.

The Saeima Legal Affairs Committee on 29 November 2017 supported a public initiative over electing the Latvian president in an open vote. However the initiative may run against hurdles as any amendments to the Constitution require the approval of all coalition parties, of which the Greens and Farmers Union is one.

On 06 September 2018 the Latvian parliament supported amendments to the Latvian constitution that would introduce an open presidential vote. Out of the 86 MPs present, 82 voted 'for', three did not vote, and one, Askolds Klavin (Greens and Farmers Union) voted 'against' making the presidential vote open. MPs voted, in the first out of three required readings, over amending the Article 36 of the Latvian Constitution, changing a single word to make the presidential election an open ballot. Constitutional amendments require support of at least two-thirds of MPs present at the vote to pass.

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