Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 126

President Guntis Ulmanis yesterday found himself unable to promulgate the amendments to the citizenship law adopted by the parliament on June 22 after a divisive debate. The changes facilitate the mass naturalization of the Russian population (details in the Monitor, June 23). Following that vote, 38 out of the parliament’s 100 members signed a request for submitting the amendments to a national referendum.

Under the constitution, any legislation enacted by parliament is suspended for two months if at least one-third of the deputies request the holding of a referendum. The referendum will be held if at least 10 percent of registered voters sign the deputies’ petition. The Central Electoral Commission is empowered to administer the procedure. The legislation takes effect only if approved in the referendum, or if the petition to hold a referendum fails to gather sufficient signatures within the prescribed term of two months. Ulmanis yesterday criticized the petitioning deputies for “electoral populism” and for “passing the buck” from the parliament to the people. (BNS, June 30)

The amendments adopted by parliament had been prepared by the coalition cabinet of Prime Minister Guntars Krasts. However, Krasts’ own party, Fatherland and Freedom, is the main opponent. The prime minister personally endorsed the amendments, but supports the referendum initiative as well. He and other skeptics point out that Latvia has been asked to take a risky step without precedent in Europe, and that the electorate is entitled to express its opinion directly on such a vital issue. The outright opponents of the legislation argue that it would set the stage for a binational Latvia, instead of attaining the stated goal of a stable and integrated society.

Supporters of the legislation are themselves divided. Left-of-center parties (such as Saimnieks) approve it both on its merits and out of fear of losing Russian business if Moscow imposes economic sanctions on Latvia. Right-of-center parties (such as Latvia’s Way, the second-largest governing party) are concerned that the West, particularly the European Union, would ostracize Latvia if it rejects the amendments. The EU and other European bodies had pressured Riga to adopt this legislation. (BNS, June 24 through 29)