Observation of parliamentary elections in Latvia

«Doc. 8255 3 November 1998

Report (1) Ad hoc Committee of the Bureau for the observation of elections in Latvia

Rapporteurs: Mr Mikko Elo, Finland, Socialist Group and Mrs Elisabeth Fehr, Switzerland, Liberal, Democratic and Reformers’ Group

1. On 2 September 1998, Mr Arnis Cimdars, the Chair of the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Latvia, invited the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to monitor the parliamentary elections in Latvia on 3 October 1998.

2. An ad hoc committee was set up by the Bureau. It was composed as follows, on the proposal of the political groups:

  • Mr Mikko Elo (Finland, SOC), Chair
  • Mrs Elisabeth Fehr (Switzerland, LDR), Vice-Chair
  • Mr Felice Carlo Besostri (Italy, SOC)
  • Mr Terry Davis (United Kingdom, SOC)
  • Mrs Elisabeth Fleetwood (Sweden, EDG)
  • Mr Gunnar Jansson (Finland, LDR)
  • Mr Atilla Mutman (Turkey, SOC)
  • Lord Newall (United Kingdom, GDE)
  • Mr Nikola Obuljen (Croatia, EPP/CD)
  • Mrs Kristina Ojuland (Estonia, LDR)
  • Mrs Liouba Oleinik (Russia, UEL)(2)
  • Mrs Pilar Pulgar (Spain, EPP/CD).

Secretarial services for the committee were provided by Mr Dufour, Ms Ramanauskaite and Ms Fritsch.

3. It should be noted at the outset that, of the 120 international observers present, the Council of Europe was the only body to be represented by a parliamentary delegation.

4. The ad hoc committee visited Latvia from 1 to 4 October 1998 (see programme in Appendix I).

5. In this report, we shall analyse in turn the political context, the issues at stake in the elections and the referendum, the conduct of the election campaign and of the poll, and the results of the elections and the referendum. I. The political context 6. The 6th Saeima (i.e. the 6th legislative period of the Parliament), elected for 3 years in 1995, was drawing to its scheduled close.

7. The composition of the Parliament was as follows:

Seats:
Democratic party Saimnieks: 18
Latvia’s Way: 17
People’s Movement for Latvia (Siegerist party): 16
Fatherland and Freedom Union (TB): 14
Unity Party (SP): 8
National Conservative Party (LNNK) and allies: 8
Farmers’ Union (LZS) and allies: 8
National Harmony Party (TSP): 6
Latvian Socialist Party (LSP): 5
TOTAL: 100 seats

8. There were several changes of government during this parliament. The last government, in power since April 1998, was led by Mr Krasts and was based on a coalition between the Fatherland and Freedom Union, Latvia’s Way, the Farmers’ Union and the Christian Democrats of the People’s Movement for Latvia.

9. One of the main challenges facing this government was to integrate those of the country’s residents who do not have Latvian citizenship (about a third of the population or some 650,000 people) and who, incidentally, were not entitled to vote in the election.

10. Finally, and chiefly in response to the recommendations of international organisations, on 22 June 1998 the Saeima adopted certain amendments to the Law on Citizenship of 1994, the most important of which were as follows:

  • removal of “age windows” (age ranges in which non-nationals could apply for naturalisation);
  • relaxation of the conditions for the naturalisation of the elderly;
  • automatic granting of Latvian citizenship to the children of stateless parents born after 21 August 1991, the day of Latvia’s declaration of independence.

11. In accordance with Article 72 of the Latvian Constitution, a binding referendum on these amendments was held on 3 October 1998, at the same time as the elections to the Saeima.

12. Much of the election campaign centred on this theme. II. The issues at stake in the parliamentary elections and the referendum 13. From the Council of Europe’s point of view, there were three main issues. This was an opportunity for Latvia:

  • to ensure a free democratic debate leading to the free expression of the will of its population;
  • to proceed with the harmonious integration of its non-citizen population;
  • to establish the basis for mutually beneficial international relations with the international community, particularly the European Union and the Russian Federation.

14. In this connection it should be recalled that, at the Luxembourg Summit in December 1997, the European Union had not included Latvia among the first candidates for accession to the Union, in particular because of its failure to integrate the Russian-speaking population. Russia also continually criticised Latvia for flouting the rights of its Russian-speaking minority and regularly brought more or less amicable pressure to bear on its neighbour.

15. Though there were many more and varied themes to the campaign than citizenship, this subject did play a major role both in the parliamentary elections and, of course, in the referendum.

16. Regarding the referendum on the Law on Citizenship, the question asked of the voters was whether the law as amended on 22 June 1998 should be repealed. Repeal would have meant a return to the law of 1994 which was much more restrictive. III. The conduct of the election campaign and the poll 17. As mentioned above, the parliamentary elections and the referendum were held on the same date, 3 October 1998. a) The parliamentary elections 18. The elections were organised in accordance with the electoral law of 6 June 1995. 21 lists were in competition for election to the 100 seats in the Saeima, the single-chamber Latvian parliament.

19. The country was divided into 5 constituencies and voters were entitled to vote in any of the country’s polling stations. In order to prevent multiple voting, voters’ passports were stamped, once for the parliamentary elections and once for the referendum.

20. Voters had to choose a list of candidates and could cast a preferential vote by placing a cross against the name(s) of their preferred candidates and deleting the names of those they rejected. Only lists which obtain more than 5% of the votes cast are represented in the Saeima.

21. The election therefore was proportional, direct and by simple majority, with a preferential vote and the reallocation of the votes obtained by lists which did not reach the 5% threshold.

22. Only persons over 18 years of age with Latvian citizenship could vote, which automatically ruled out the non-citizens (who make up about one-third of the population).

23. Lists of candidates had to be registered with the Central Election Commission between 40 and 80 days before polling day. Each party had to have at least 200 members and make a deposit of 1000 lats which would be refunded if it obtained more than 5% of the votes cast.

24. Candidates (who numbered some 1,100 in total) had to be at least 21 years of age and have Latvian citzenship. Under Section 5, para. 7 of the Electoral Law they had to be proficient in the Latvian language to the third (i.e. the highest) level.

25. Under Section 5, paras. 5 and 6, persons could not be candidates if they had been members of certain organisations, including the KGB, and/or had been active in certain others, including the CPSU (the Communist Party of the Soviet Union).

26. These provisions prevented certain people from standing, including Mr Bojars, the leader of the Social-Democrats, and Ms Zhdanoka of the Latvian Human Rights Committee. b) The election campaign 27. This was conducted for the most part under normal conditions although it was punctuated by a number of incidents.

28. Regarding access to the media, some candidates complained about discrimination, because the parties with major financial resources could buy unlimited time on radio and television, and this gave rise to clear discrimination. At present there is hardly any control over the funding of parties in Latvia, and it would appear necessary to introduce rules ensuring more transparency and possibly even a system of public funding for political parties.

29. Regarding the press, a number of candidates complained of the mercenariness of certain newspapers and journalists who provided publicity for certain candidates in the guise of interviews.

30. The campaign was also punctuated by a number of revelations of scandal, some true some false, and personal attacks, like that aimed at one member of the Latvian parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe, Mr Pantelejevs, which did not prevent his party from coming second in the elections.

31. On the whole, however, we have no reason to believe that these incidents had any major impact on the election results. c) The referendum 32. This was organised on the basis of the Constitution (Articles 72 and 74), the Law on Public Referendums and Legislative Initiatives of 20 April 1994, and the Instructions for organising public referendums of 7 September 1998.

33. The question put to the voters was as follows: “Do you want the “Law of 22 June 1998 “The Amendments to the Citizenship Act” to be repealed?”.

34. The aim therefore was to establish whether the voters wished to reject the amendments (designed to promote the integration of non-citizens): anyone who did so wish had to vote “Par” (for), and if the “for” votes were in the majority, the original 1994 Law would come back into force unamended. To vote in favour of the amendments introduced by the Law of 22 June 1998, it was necessary to vote “Pret” (against). According to a number of the people we interviewed and in the opinion of our delegation, the way in which the question was formulated could lead to confusion; to express approval for the integration of non-citizens, voters had to vote “against” while to oppose integration they had to vote “for”.

35. This was a crucial issue for the country. If the opponents to integration had won, Latvia would have been in danger of perpetuating the division between nationals (citizens) (two-thirds of the population) and non-nationals (the remaining one-third).

36. This would also have meant the country distancing itself from the recommendations of international organisations, particularly the OSCE, the European Union and the Council of Europe, thereby reducing its chances of early accession to the European Union and increasing the risk of growing isolation vis-à-vis the Russian Federation.

37. Finally, in spite of the ambiguous wording of the question(3), good sense prevailed and the law on citizenship, as amended on 22 June 1998, was approved by 53.02% to 45% (with 1.98% spoilt ballot papers). As a result of the vote some 20,000 children of stateless parents born after 21 August 1991 automatically acquired Latvian nationality as will all those born after the historic vote of 3 October 1998. d) The conduct of the vote 38. Polling stations were open throughout the country from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday 3 October 1998. For the first time since 1991 Latvian citizens abroad were entitled to a postal vote. Mobile ballot boxes were organised for persons incapable of travelling to a polling station.

39. The Ad Hoc Committee split up into three groups, one of which went to Riga and Jurmala, one to Ventspils (in the west) and the other to Daugavpils (in the east). In all, the committee visited more than 50 polling stations throughout the country.

40. At the polling stations voters were asked to sign two registers, one for the elections and one for the referendum, and their passports were stamped for each vote.

41. Very few irregularities were noted by our observers. It should perhaps be mentioned that many of the voters did not go into the polling booths; it has to be said, though, that there were not enough of these in some of the polling stations where there was an unexpectedly large turnout, since numbers were difficult to foresee as voters could vote in any of the country’s polling stations. There were also many cases of “family voting”.

42. In the polling stations visited by the delegation, we frequently questioned the members of the Election Commission, the party political observers present and the voters about the conduct of the poll, and in the vast majority of cases, there was not the slightest complaint. However, it did become clear that some voters had misunderstood the referendum question and voted contrary to their intention.

43. Members of the delegation also monitored the counting of the ballot papers and votes in a number of polling stations and saw nothing that was in any way out of order.

44. Generally speaking, the Central Election Commission, the municipal commissions and the polling station commissions are to be congratulated for their devotion to duty and their efficiency. Of course, we must also pay tribute to the Latvian people for their massive turnout in polls so vital for the future of the country: 72.67% for the parliamentary elections and 69.82% for the referendum.

45. The results of the election are set out in Appendix II. IV. Conclusions 46. The day after the elections the Ad Hoc Committee gave a press conference and published the statement which is reproduced in Appendix III.

47. The following exerpt of the statement reflects perfectly the view of the Ad Hoc Committee:

“We have received some complaints about bias in the media and about provisions in the electoral law which prevented some candidates from taking part in the elections. However, we consider the electoral process as free, fair and democratic. It is to be hoped that the election results will enable Latvia to make further progress on the road to democracy and economic stability. As for the referendum, we found some evidence of confusion about the question. Its outcome reflects nevertheless the will of the Latvian people to achieve full integration of all persons residing in Latvia and to pave the way for the country’s admission to European institutions”.


APPENDIX I Programme of the visit to Latvia of the ad hoc Committee for the Latvian elections (1-4 October 1998) Thursday 1 October Arrival of the delegation

5.30 p.m. Meeting with ambassadors of Council of Europe member States at the German Embassy Friday 2 October 9 a.m. Meeting with the Latvian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly

10 a.m. Meeting with Mr A. Cimdars, Chair of the Central Election Commission, and other members of the commission

11 a.m. Meeting with representatives of the political parties

2 p.m. Participation in a press conference given by Mr A. Cimdars, Chair of the Central Election Commission

3 p.m. Meeting with media representatives

4 p.m. Meeting with Ms T. Zhdanoka (Latvian Human Rights Committee) and Ms Z. Zvaigzne (Information and Documentation Centre of the Council of Europe)

7 p.m. Reception hosted by the Central Election Commission Saturday 3 October Monitoring of the elections and the count

– Riga and Jurmala: MM. Elo, Davis and Obuljen and Mrs Pulgar, accompanied by Mr Dufour

– Daugavpils (in the east): Mrs Fehr, Mr Besostri, Mrs Fleetwood and Mr Mutman, accompanied by Ms Ramanauskaite

– Ventspils (in the west): Lord Newall, Mr Jansson and Mrs Ojuland, accompanied by Ms Fritsch Sunday 4 October 8.30 a.m. Meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee and adoption of a statement on the elections and the referendum

11 a.m. Press conference

Departure of the delegation. APPENDIX II Proportion of the vote and number of seats In the Saeima

1995 1998
Party % of the vote Seats % of the vote Seats
Democratic Party Saimnieks 15.3 18
Latvia’s Way 14.7 17 18.22 21
People’s Movement for Latvia (Siegerist Party) 15.1 16
Fatherland and Freedom Union (TB)(5) 11.6 14 14.15 17
Unity Party (SP) 7.2 8
National Conservative Party (LNNK) and allies 6.2 8
Farmers’ Union (LZS) and allies 6.1 8
National Harmony Party (TSP) 5.6 6 14.23 16
Latvian Socialist Party (LSP) 5.7 5
New Party(4) 0 0 7.4 8
People’s Party(4) 0 0 20.93 24
Association of Latvian Social Democrats(4) 0 0 12.87 14
100 100

APPENDIX III Press Release Free and fair Parliamentary elections in Latvia and positive outcome of the Referendum on the citizenship law STRASBOURG, 05.10.98 – A delegation of the 40-nation COUNCIL OF EUROPE Parliamentary Assembly observed the parliamentary elections and the referendum on the citizenship law held in Latvia on Saturday, 3 October 1998.

The delegation, headed by Mikko ELO (Finland, SOC), visited more than 50 polling stations in Riga, Daugavpils (East) and Ventspils (West) areas on election day, and had meetings with the Central Electoral Commission and representatives of political parties, the media and NGOs.

On the evening of the electoral day Mr Elo declared that “We have received some complaints about bias in the media and about provisions in the electoral law which prevented some candidates from taking part in the elections. However, we consider the electoral process as free, fair and democratic. It is to be hoped that the election results will enable Latvia to make further progress on the road to democracy and economic stability. As for the referendum, we found some evidence of confusion about the question. Its outcome reflects nevertheless the will of the Latvian people to achieve full integration of all persons residing in Latvia and to pave the way for the country’s admission to European institutions”.

A full report on these elections will shortly be submitted by Mikko Elo and Elisabeth FEHR (Switzerland, LDR) to the Assembly. The assessment of the results of the elections and the referendum will also be included in the report on the respect of obligations and commitments by Latvia as a member state of the Council of Europe, to be prepared by Terry DAVIS (United Kingdom, SOC) and Gunnar JANSSON (Finland, LDR). The other members of the delegation were Felice Carlo BESOSTRI (Italy, SOC), Elisabeth FLEETWOOD (Sweden, EDG), Atilla MUTMAN (Turkey, SOC), Lord NEWALL (United Kingdom, EDG), Nikola OBULJEN (Croatia, EPP/CD), Kristiina OJULAND (Estonia, LDR), and Pilar PULGAR (Spain, EPP/CD).


Note 1: Publication of this report was authorised by the Bureau at its meeting of 3 November 1998.


Note2: In the end, Ms Oleinik did not take part in the observation mission.


Note 3: The ambiguity is due above all to the wording of Article 74 of the Constitution which provides for the repeal of a law by referendum but not its approval.

Felice Besostri

avv. Felice C. Besostri Avvocato amministrativista, docente di Diritto Pubblico Comparato a.a. 2005/2009, Commissione Affari Costituzionali Senato della Repubblica XIII Legislatura, Assemblea Parlamentare Consiglio d’Europa 1997/2001 (Commissione Giuridica dei Diritti dell’Uomo, Commissione Ambiente, sottocommissione selezione dei giudici della Corte Europea dei Diritti dell’Uomo), ricorrente contro ammissione dei referendum elettorali e la legge elettorale per il Parlamento europeo, interveniente nei giudizi contro la legge elettorale per il Parlamento nazionale. Presidente Rete Socialista – Socialismo Europeo.