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World > Europe > Latvia > Government and Political Conditions (Notes)

Latvia - Government and Political Conditions (Notes)


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The highest organ of state authority in Latvia is the Saeima, a unicameral legislative body of 100 members who are elected by direct popular vote to serve four-year terms. The Saeima initiates and approves legislation sponsored by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is the head of government and has full responsibility and control over the Cabinet. The President, who is elected by the Saeima every four years, holds a primarily ceremonial role as head of state, though the President must sign each law into force and has the power to return laws to the Saeima twice for review and revision. The President also has the power to call for a referendum on legislation that the Saeima refuses to change after twice being sent back.

In the autumn of 1991 Latvia re-implemented significant portions of its 1922 constitution, and in the spring of 1993 the government took a census to determine eligibility for citizenship. Latvia finalized a citizenship and naturalization law in the summer of 1994, which was further liberalized in 1998. By law, those who were Latvian citizens in 1940 and their descendants (regardless of ethnicity) could claim citizenship. Forty-one percent of Latvia's population is ethnically non-Latvian, yet almost three-fourths of all residents are citizens of Latvia. Requirements for naturalization include a conversational knowledge of Latvian, a loyalty oath, renunciation of former citizenship, 5 years of residency in Latvia, and a basic knowledge of Latvian history. Dual citizenship is allowed for those who were forced to leave Latvia during the Soviet occupation and adopted another citizenship. Convicted criminals, agents of Soviet intelligence services, and certain other groups are excluded from becoming citizens.

On March 19, 1991 the Supreme Council passed a law explicitly guaranteeing 'equal rights to all nationalities and ethnic groups' and 'to all permanent residents in the Republic regardless of their nationality, equal rights to work and wages.' In addition, the law prohibits 'any activity directed toward nationality discrimination or the promotion of national superiority or hatred.'

In the June 5-6, 1993 elections, in which more than 90% of the electorate participated, eight of Latvia's 23 registered political parties passed the 5% threshold to enter parliament. The centrist party Latvia's Way received a 33% plurality of votes and joined the Farmer's Union to head a center-right-wing coalition government.

The September 30-October 1,1995 elections resulted in a deeply fragmented parliament with nine parties represented and the largest party commanding only 18 of 100 seats. Attempts to form right-of-center and leftist governments failed; seven weeks after the election, a broad but fractious coalition government of six of the nine parties was voted into office under Prime Minister Andris Skele, a popular, nonpartisan businessman.

In the 1998 elections, the Latvian party structure began to consolidate, with only six parties obtaining seats in the Saeima. Andris Skele's newly formed People's Party garnered a plurality with 24 seats. Though the election represented a victory for the center-right, personality conflicts and scandals within the two largest right-of-center parties--Latvia's Way and the People's Party--prevented stable coalitions from forming. Two shaky governments quickly collapsed in less than a year. In May 2000, a compromise candidate was found in the Latvia's Way mayor of Riga, Andris Berzins. His four-party coalition lasted until parliamentary elections in October 2002. Those elections left Latvia's Way, for the first time since 1993, with no seats in parliament. The New Era Party, which ran on an anti-corruption platform, gained the most seats and formed a four-party coalition government until the abrupt resignation of the Prime Minister in February 2004 over issues relating to personalities and management of the ruling coalition.

In 1999, the Saeima elected Vaira Vike-Freiberga, a compromise candidate with no party affiliation, to the presidency. Though born in Riga in 1937, she settled in Canada during the years of the Soviet occupation, becoming a well-respected academic on the subject of Latvian culture and psychology. Following her election, she became one of the most popular political figures in Latvia. She was overwhelmingly re-elected by parliament for another four-year term in June 2003. She was also credited with bringing Latvia to the world's stage and serving as an important check on the ruling coalitions.

With the tacit support of leftist parties, a minority government led by Greens and Farmers Union leader Indulis Emsis took office on March 9, 2004. The new government focused on smoothing Latvia's entry into NATO and the European Union, which took place in the first half of 2004. The government collapsed on October 28, 2004 after parliament voted against the 2005 budget. A new coalition government, led by Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, took office on December 2, 2004 and was re-elected on October 7, 2006. These last election results marked the first time that an incumbent administration has won re-election in the history of independent Latvia.

In 2007, the Saeima elected Valdis Zatlers, another candidate with no political affiliation, to the presidency. An orthopedic surgeon by trade, Zatlers was the director of the Latvian Traumatology and Orthopedics Center until his election and has no prior political experience. When his start was clouded by charges that he had accepted supplemental payments for medical services on which he did not pay taxes, he complied with investigations and paid back taxes as directed by the State Revenue Service.

Latvia's flag consists of two horizontal, maroon bands of equal width, divided by a white stripe one-half the width. The national holiday is November 18, Independence Day, which marks Latvia's 1918 independence.

Principal Government Officials
President--Valdis Zatlers
Prime Minister--Aigars Kalvitis, People's Party
Minister of Defense--Atis Slakteris, People's Party
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Artis Pabriks, People's Party
Minister of Economy--Jurijs Strods, Fatherland and Freedom
Minister of Interior--Ivars Godmanis, Latvia's Way
Minister of Education and Science--Baiba Rivza, Greens and Farmers Union
Minister of Agriculture--Martins Roze, Greens and Farmers Union
Minister of Welfare--Dagnija Stake, Greens and Farmers Union
Minister of Justice--Gaidis Berzins, Fatherland and Freedom
Minister of Culture--Helena Demakova, People's Party
Minister of Finance--Oskars Spurdzins, People's Party
Minister of Environment--Raimonds Vejonis, Greens and Farmers Union
Minister of Health--Vinets Veldre, Independent
Minister of Transport--Ainars Slesers, Latvia's First Party
Minister of Children and Family Affairs--Ainars Bastiks, Latvia's First Party
Special Task Minister of e-Affairs--Ina Gudele, Independent
Minister for Regional Development and Local Governments--Aigars Stokenbergs, People's Party
Special Task Minister for Society Integration Affairs--Oskars Kastens, Latvia's First Party
Special Task Minister for Administration of EU funds--Normunds Broks, Fatherland and Freedom
Ambassador to the United States--Andrejs Pildegovics

Latvia maintains an embassy in the United States at 2306 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC 20008 [tel: (202) 328-2840].


Facts at a Glance: Geography - People - Government - Economy - Communications - Transportation - Military - Climate - Current Time - Ranking Positions - Latvian Lats Exchange Rates
Notes and Commentary: People - Economy - Government and Political Conditions - Historical Highlights - Foreign Relations - Relations with U.S.



Facts at a Glance
Geography
People
Government
Economy
Communications
Transportation
Military
Climate
Current Time
Ranking Positions
Latvian Lats Exchange Rates


Notes and Commentary
People
Economy
Government and Political Conditions
Historical Highlights
Foreign Relations
Relations with U.S.





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