Political System

Latvia Table of Contents

The current electoral system is based on that which existed in Latvia before its annexation by the Soviet Union. One hundred representatives are elected by all citizens at least eighteen years of age, on the basis of proportional representation, for a period of three years. The Saeima elects a board, consisting of a chairman, two deputies, and two secretaries. The chairman or a deputy acts as speaker of the legislature. By secret ballot, the Saeima also elects the president, who must be at least forty years of age and have an absolute majority of votes. The president then appoints the prime minister, who nominates the other cabinet ministers. The entire Cabinet of Ministers must resign if the Saeima votes to express no confidence in the prime minister.

The Saeima has ten permanent committees with a total of 100 positions, so every deputy may sit on one committee. There are five other committees with a total of thirty-four positions. Committee chairmen, elected by committee members, often belong to minority parties not represented in the Saeima's ruling coalition. Draft laws for consideration by the Saeima may be submitted by its committees, by no fewer than five representatives, by the Cabinet of Ministers, by the president, or, in rare instances, by one-tenth of all citizens eligible to vote.

The president is elected for a period of three years and may not serve for more than two consecutive terms. As head of state and head of the armed forces, the president implements the Saeima's decisions regarding the ratification of international treaties; appoints Latvia's representatives to foreign states and receives representatives of foreign states in Latvia; may declare war, in accordance with the Saeima's decisions; and appoints a commander in chief in time of war. The president has the right to convene extraordinary meetings of the Cabinet of Ministers, to return draft laws to the Saeima for reconsideration, and to propose the dissolution of the Saeima.

Latvia's judicial system, inherited from the Soviet regime, is being reorganized. There are regional, district, and administrative courts as well as a Supreme Court. Final appeals in criminal and civil cases are made to the Supreme Court, which sits in Riga.

Latvia's four provinces (Vidzeme, Latgale, Kurzeme, and Zemgale) are subdivided into twenty-six districts, seven municipalities, fifty-six towns, and thirty-seven urban settlements. The highest decision-making body at the local level of government is the council, elected directly by the locality's permanent population for five-year terms and consisting of fifteen to 120 members. Members elect a board, which serves as the council's executive organ and is headed by the council chairman. In May 1994, in their first local elections since regaining independence, Latvian citizens elected more than 3,500 representatives, most belonging to right-of-center, pro-Latvian-rights parties and organizations. Candidates from the Latvian National Independence Movement were the most successful, and those from organizations succeeding the once-dominant Communist Party of Latvia fared worst.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress