RIGA, July 2 (Itar-Tass) — A referendum granting Latvian citizenship to local non-citizens, most of whom are Russian-speaking, will be held despite parliament-adopted amendments to the law on national voting and initiation of laws. The amendments bill tightens the procedure of holding referendums in Latvia, a source at the “For Equal Rights” movement told Itar-Tass on Monday.
Previously, before the amendments were adopted by parliament, it was necessary to collect 10,000 notarized signatures and hand them over to the Central Electoral Commission which later organized an official collection of signatures from one tenth of Latvian voters (more than 150,000 people) in favor of a referendum. Now, starting of January 1, 2015, the referendum’s initiators will have to collect one tenth of signatures themselves. Latvian President Andris Berzins didn’t sign the bill and sent it parliament for reconsideration.
For Equal Rights movement has welcomed the president’s move which will delay the bill’s coming in force for some time at least.
“The decision of the Latvian parliament (or Saeima) will indeed deprive the Latvian people of an opportunity to initiate future referendums because such a threshold will practically be insurmountable for any public initiative group,” the movement’s activists say.
“However the movement will continue its effort to collect 10,000 signatures necessary for initiating a referendum on granting the Latvian citizenship to the non-citizens. Since we had started our signature campaign before the law was amended, the old rules, including a 10,000 threshold, are still applicable to it. At the moment, we’ve gathered over 6,300 signatures and the dynamics of the process indicates that despite the actions by the president and parliament, the required 10, 000 signatures are going to be collected,” the human rights activists went on to say.
Earlier, For Equal Rights movement started collecting notarized signatures of Latvian citizens for granting citizenship to local non-citizens. If they are collected, the Latvian Central Electoral Commission will have to stage a national vote. Local non-citizens can be granted Latvian citizenship if 230,000 Latvian citizens vote for the initiative in the referendum.
Latvia has a population of more than two million people of whom 320,000, predominantly Russian-speakers, don’t have a Latvian citizenship. They have been deprived of most of their political rights, including a right to vote at municipal and parliamentary elections as well as elections to the European parliament since Latvia separated from the Soviet Union in 1991.