A national referendum on dissolution of the Latvian parliament is set July 23, the Central Election Commission in Rīga has announced. The date was approved May 30 after President Valdis Zatlers on May 28 used his constitutional power to initiate dismissal of the Saeima—the first time any Latvian head of state has done so.
In a nationally broadcast speech, the president reacted to the May 26 failure by the Saeima to back the prosecutor general’s request to allow a search of residences controlled by oligarch and MP Ainārs Šlesers. Zatlers said the decision revealed a split between the legislative and judicial branches of Latvia’s government.
Šlesers, according to Latvian media reports, is among oligarchs and public officials implicated in a serious criminal investigation recently undertaken by the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (Korupcijas novēršanas un apkarošanas birojs).
Šlesers, speaking on Latvian Independent Television, said Zatlers is engaging in a power grab similar to what President Kārlis Ulmanis did in 1934. The only difference, Šlesers said, is that Zatlers is pursuing it via democratic measures, unlike the coup-d’état of Ulmanis.
The election commission chose the latest possible date for the referendum, according to a press release. This will allow the commission to organize mail balloting for Latvian citizens abroad, as well as allow the commission to better prepare for the referendum.
Under the Latvian constitution, if voters approve the referendum, then the Saeima will be considered dissolved and new parliamentary elections will be scheduled. However, if the referendum fails, then the president must step down.