Latvia – How should the President be elected?

In Latvia, the President is elected by Parliament in a secret ballot. Members of Parliament have no obligation to reveal which candidate they support. Article 36 of the Constitution of Latvia states: “The President of the Republic of Latvia shall be elected by secret ballot by a majority of not less than 51 members of the Parliament”.

Over the past few years, there have been discussions initiated both by State presidents, the media, and society about the election process for the State president. Should the president continue to be elected by a secret ballot or an open ballot in parliament, or should the president be directly elected?

Currently, the vote on the President is the only secret vote in the Parliament. All other votes – on laws, the election of officials, such as the Speaker of the Parliament, the Prime Minister, the judges of the Supreme Court and the judges of the Constitutional Court, the State Auditor, the President of the Bank of Latvia, the Chairman of the Central Election Commission and other officials – are open.

The current President of Latvia, Raimonds Vejonis, was elected on June 3, 2015, in a secret ballot with 55 votes “FOR” and 42 votes “AGAINST”. At that time Vejonis stated that he was ready to support the direct election of the President.

In June 2017 President Vejonis suggested that President should be elected by a popular vote and invited the Parliament to amend the Constitution accordingly. He urged MPs to ensure that the 2019 Presidential election would be held by popular vote.

The idea for a direct Presidential election has been discussed for some time. Constitutional changes require a two-thirds majority of the 100 elected parliamentarians.

At the same time, 11,483 people have signed the public initiative portal Manabalss.lv (my voice) to change the way the State president is elected. The proposal is to reword Article 36 of the Constitution in the following way: “The President of the Republic of Latvia shall be elected by open vote with no less than 51 majority of the Parliament members”. The idea is that the Presidential elections in Latvia would be more open and transparent, that voters could find out how their elected members voted and who is responsible for the result.

MPs of the Unity, National Alliance and Harmony parties, support the initiative, while MPs from the Greens and Farmers Union and Latvia From the Heart are against.

From February 2015 until April 2017 there was a working group in Parliament looking at the possible extension of the mandate of the President and the evaluation of the election procedure. Composed of a single representative from each party in Parliament, the main conclusion of this working group is that the current procedure for the election of the President should be changed. The President of Latvia should be elected by the people of Latvia in direct, general, equal and secret elections.

On June 12, most of the members of Parliaments’ Legal Commission (5 votes “FOR”, 3 votes “AGAINST”) supported the amendments to the Constitution proposed by the opposition party, the Association of the Regions of Latvia, which stipulates an open ballot for the election of the President by parliament. The representatives from the Unity and the National Alliance “For All Latvia” – “Fatherland and Freedom” / LNNK, supported the amendments, while most of the members of the Green and Farmers’ Union did not vote.

On June 20, President Vejonis said, in effect, that an open ballot was not open enough. The President pointed out that, even before an open vote, political parties agree on how they will vote, and it is not possible for each MP to express an individual opinion, because of party loyalty.

The debate is ongoing and this will be followed up in future posts.

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