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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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