Category Archives: Saeima

“My voice” is also important

Mana Balss

Can you imagine being able to launch a public initiative through an online network and that the parliament of your country comes even to hear the proposal? Can you imagine that it can even become a new national law?

This imaginary scenario is actually something for real in Latvia, where a group of youths launched the portal “Manabalss.lv” -“My voice” – earlier this summer. We are talking about an online tool that allows citizens of this small Baltic country to be part of the policy making process.

Members of this virtual community have in this tool the possibility of launching their social and political proposals that can later be heard in parliament, as it has happened twice since early summer. 

In just three months, Mana Balss has gained a lot of popularity among Latvians.

“The truth is that we are a little overwhelmed by how quickly it has all gone. We did not expect to have such hectic first months, but it reinforces our idea and its utility. In Latvia there was a lack of citizen involvement in politics, especially because of the lack of results and the absence of a bridge to connect them to the political elite,”said Kristofs Blaus, one of the founders of this project.

IMPACT 

The first steps of Mana Balss were taken in summer of 2010, but it took almost a year for it to see the light.

At this time, this online tool has had a great media coverage in the country thanks in part to the former president, Valdis Zatlers, who used his influence to bring up one of the initiatives launched at Mana Balss. The result, a new law that requires the information about the owners of foreign companies to be disclosed. And it only took the proposal three weeks to become a law.

Now, the founders of this project are waiting to see if the government approves another initiative launched in the website, an initiative which in fact would legitimize the work of Mana Balss.

Latvians who want to make their proposals to change the laws of the country have to collect at least 90,000 signatures in order to be heard by the Parliament. At the moment, authorities are considering reducing this figure to 10,000. “We do not know whether it will arrive on time, since the country is holding parliamentary elections in mid September,” says Janis Erts, one of the founders of Mana Balss.

THE PROCESS 

Anyone can sign up and give their support to the proposals that are being discussed in it. However, there is a difference in relation to other socio-political tools like this; all users are tied to their real identity, since to register you have to provide your bank details.

Kristofs says: “It is just a way to ensure that no one has multiple identities, is trying to disrupt the process and fill Mana Balss with scam. We ensure that the identity of the user is real.”

Most of the banks that operate in Latvia are now supporting the project, but “at first it was hard to convince them of the potential future the project hides.”

Once registered, anyone can launch their proposals – no matter what type of initiatives they are – or campaign to improve something in the country. The process then gets started.

It takes about a month to see these proposals available online, for  a group of up to 15 experts in different fields (all volunteers) get in touch with the authors and offer their knowledge for the cause.

Then, the proponent must collect 100 signatures by themselves, showing that there are people supporting it. If they make the cut,  different lawyers give a legal shape to the initiative. It is only then that the proposal makes it to the website. And from there, anyone can support it just by giving their electronic signature.

This whole process does not ensure that the initiative would be heard by Parliament, but according to some political experts this online tool helps to reduce the distance between the public and politicians. In addition, you can track the evolution of the proposals at all times.

Mana Balss had over 100,000 visitors in two months and just over ten initiatives are currently available online. Altogether, it proves the success of the idea in Latvia. And now its founders want to export the idea to other countries. Lithuania will join them soon, Estonia may also, but the icing in the cake could be the UK.

Blaus Kristofs said: “We hope to see Mana Balss in Lithuania by the end of the year. And we are also in talks with people in the UK to launch this tool there. Although it will take time, given the country’s legislative complexity, we are optimistic for the future. “

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Latvia fires its Parliament

Latvians have voted massively to dissolve their parliament after a historical referendum. Almost 95 percent of voters want new general elections and the dismissal of the current Saeima.

Counting began shortly after ballots were closed – 23 hours local time – and according to the Central Election Commission participants have expressed their wish to dissolve the the Latvian Parliament.

More than 682,000 citizens voted in the referendum that saw an important turnout along the Gulf of Rīga. Saulkrasti County, on the gulf’s eastern side, registered a turnout of nearly 143 percent thanks, partly, to voters from outside the district who casted ballots there.

Vidzeme province had the highest participation – 54.16 percent – followed by Kurzeme at 53.04 and Zemgale at 47.61 percent. On the other hand, Latgale had the lowest, 34.60 percent. The capital of Rīga also had a low turnout: 36.46 percent.

Latvians living abroad had also the opportunity to take part in the historical referendum, the first of such kind in the Baltic country’s history.

“I voted for the dissolution of the Saeima. I want to bring to an end the influence of oligarchs in Latvia,” said student Ilze Zake.

“Hopefully, today’s result will help to draw a different political map in Latvia. However, we have to vote smartly, making sure that a new political elite takes over.”

CORRUPTION

Former president Valdis Zatlers called for the vote in late May. The Parliament had refused to lift the immunity of MPs after the anti-corruption office, KNAB, requested to search the house of parliament deputy and businessman Ainars Slesers, suspected of being involved in corruption deals.

He also denounced the influence of “business oligarchs” in Latvian politics. Mr Zatlers was ousted just one week later by the parliament, but has since founded a new political party.

“I had enough of living in a Latvia based on lies, cynicism and greed,” said the former president.

“We need to be honest before ourselves; Latvia is considered a small mafia state, and this is not the best reputation for a country,” Mr Zatlers told the LNT.

Latvia, who joined the EU in 2004, has long been dogged by corruption. The country is still emerging from the economic crunch – its economy fell 18 percent in 2009 due to strict budget cuts.

Elections are now expected to be held in September.

The last election in Latvia was only last October. It is expected that Mr Zatlers and allies – including PM Valdis Dombrovskis – will do well.

Mr Dombrovskis said this week; “A main goal of the elections will be to ensure that oligarchs, and the parties supporting oligarchs, do not control a majority in the next parliament. If this happens, then I would say the former president’s initiative of dissolving the parliament will pay off.”

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“We have always fulfilled the EU legal framework”

Roberts Zile. ECR group

Non-citizenship in Latvia is an issue that concerns not only non-citizens and pro campaigners, but also those who defend that the naturalisation process is a fair one and it follows the framework of International law.

My idea is not to expose the situation of non-citizens in the Baltic country, but to analyse it from all points of view.

Roberts Zile is chairman of Latvia’s ‘For Fatherland and Freedom’/LNNK party and an MEP in the new European Conservatives and Reformists party in the European parliament. He is former Minister of Finance (1997-1998) and Minister of Transport (2002-2004).

He said; “We have offered them the possibility to become Latvian citizens and it is up to each individual. We have been changing the legislation over the years to adapt it each particular situation. If we had not fulfilled the EU legislation, we would not have become a EU member state.

“I have personally experienced the naturalisation process within my family. My mum came from Ukraine and though she was old when she took the exams, she passed them,” added Roberts Zile.

He believes that the issue of non-citizenship in Latvia has been “exaggerated over the years” and that his country faces other important challenges in the future.

Finally, he pointed out one more thing: “Tell me about a country where non-citizens have the right to vote in national or local elections? There is none, so why should we act differently?”

This is just a short piece extracted from the chat I had with Mr Zile. Stay tuned and don’t miss the best bits!

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Citizenship Law in Latvia

The citizenship law in the Baltic country could often lead to confusion for outsiders who try to understand the country’s context.

It is completely necessary to look at Latvia’s history, even if it’s briefly. We have to go back to the 1940s. Following the German occupation (1941-1944), Latvia was then annexed into the Soviet Union. The occupation lasted until 1991 – when Latvia regained its fully independence. The polls showed and overwhelming feeling to acquire the longed dream. Continue reading

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Debate on Citizenship Law


Riga, capital of Latvia

Latvian society’s shape has changed over the last twenty years. More than 15 years ago Latvia adopted its Citizenship Law in order to give firm framework on the country’s society, especially regarding those former USSR citizens. And in 2004 the Baltic state joined the EU. Altogether has given Latvia’s society a different shape from its first years of independence.

Nowadays there are lot of young Latvians who have settled in other countries seeking work opportunities and a better future. We can also see a whole generation of descendants of non-citizens who has grown up in the country. Those are only couple of examples that some politicians in the Baltic country are setting in order to justify the necessity of amendments.

The debate is on and even the President of Latvia Valdis Zatlers, whose term finishes next summer, has stepped in to speak out about the issue. Mr Zatlers proposes to:

  • Lift the limitations on Latvian citizens, and their descendants, exiled, those who were forced to leave the country or were deported in the past and could not return.
  • Amend the Citizenship Law regarding the will to grant dual citizenship to children of Latvian citizens who were born abroad and have decided to live abroad.

Nationalist parties have proposed amendments on the law as well. Even the World Federation of Free Latvians (Pasaules brīvo latviešu apvienība, or PBLA) and the European Latvian Association (Eiropas Latviešu apvienība, or ELA) both back the president’s proposals regarding dual citizenship.

A Saeima commission is to begin discussion on proposals to pass a new bill on Citizenship. It is worth mentioning that last September a similar bill was given to the Saeima Legal Affairs Committee, but the 9th Saeima did not have time to review the bill.

So we will have to pay attention at Saeima’s next step and how the government and the country reacts toward it.

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