Politics of LatviaThe Saeima, a unicameral legislative body, now is the highest organ of state authority in Latvia. It initiates and approves legislation sponsored by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has full responsibility and control over his cabinet, and the President holds a primarily ceremonial role as Head of State.
In autumn 1991 Latvia reimplemented significant portions of its 1922 constitution and in spring 1993 the government took a census to determine eligibility for citizenship. After almost 3 years of deliberations, Latvia finalized a citizenship and naturalization law in summer 1994. By law, those who were Latvian citizens in 1940, and their descendants, could claim citizenship. Forty-six percent of Latvia's population is ethnically non-Latvian, yet about 85% of its ethnic Slavs can pass the residency requirement. Naturalization criteria include a conversational knowledge of Latvian, a loyalty oath, renunciation of former citizenship, a 10-year residency requirement, and a knowledge of the Latvian constitution. Dual citizenship is allowed for those who were forced to leave Latvia during the Soviet occupation and adopted another citizenship. Convicted criminals, drug addicts, agents of Soviet intelligence services, and certain other groups also 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 "guarantees to all permanent residents in the Republic regardless of their nationality, equal rights to work and wages." The law also prohibits "any activity directed toward nationality discrimination or the promotion of national superiority or hatred."
In the June 5-6, 1993 elections wherein over 90% of the electorate participated, eight of Latvia's 23 registered political parties passed the four percent threshold to enter parliament. The Popular Front, which spearheaded the drive for independence 2 years ago with a 75% majority in the last parliamentary elections in 1990, did not qualify for representation. The centrist "Latvia's Way" party received a 33% plurality of votes and joined with the Farmer's Union to head a center-right wing coalition government.
Led by the opposition National Conservative Party, right-wing nationalists won a majority of the seats nationwide and also captured the Riga mayoralty in the May 29, 1994 municipal elections. OSCE and COE observers pronounced the elections free and fair, and turnout averaged about 60%. In February 1995, the Council of Europe granted Latvia membership.
Through President Clinton's initiative, on April 30, 1994 Latvia and Russia signed a troop withdrawal agreement. Russia withdrew its troops by August 31, 1994, and maintained several hundred technical specialists to staff an OSCE-monitored pased-array ABM radar station at Skrunda until the facility was destroyed in 1995.
The September 30-October 1, 1995 elections brought forth 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; 7 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 widely popular, nonpartisan businessman. The also-popular president, Guntis Ulmanis, has limited constitutional powers but played a key role in leading the various political forces to agree finally to this broad coalition. In June 1996, the saeima re-elected Ulmanis to another 3-year term. In a summer 1997 scandal, the daily newspaper "Diena" revealed that half the cabinet ministers and two-thirds of parliamentarians appeared to violate the 1966 anti-corruption law, which bars senior officials from holding positions in private business. Under pressure from Skele, several ministers subsequently resigned or were fired. However, after months of increasing hostility between Skele and leading coalition politicians, the coalition parties demanded-and received-the prime minister's resignation on July 28. The new government, headed by the recent Minister of Economy and which includes the recently fired Minister of Transportation, is expected to pursue the same course of reform, albeit not likely as vigorous.
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 under Vilis Kristopans and Andris Skele quickly collapsed in less than a year. In May 2000, a compromise candidate was found in the form of Andris Berzins, the Latvia's Way mayou of Riga. His four-party coalition government has so far proven to be stable and has lasted more than 13 months to date.
In 1999, the Saeima elected Vair Vike-Freiberga, a compromise candidate with on 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 in the subject of Latvian culture. Since her election, she has become one of the most popular political figures in Latvia.
Local elections in 2001 represented a victory for the left-of-center parties in several municipalities, including Riga. A leftist coalition in the Riga City Council elected Gundars Bojars, a Social Democrat, to the office of mayor. The Social Democratic Party is currently the odds-on favorite for the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for fall 2000.
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.
conventional long form: Republic of Latvia
conventional short form: Latvia
local long form: Latvijas Republika
local short form: Latvija
former: Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic
Data code: LG
Government type: parliamentary democracy
Administrative divisions: 26 counties (singular - rajons) and 7 municipalities*: Aizkraukles Rajons, Aluksnes Rajons, Balvu Rajons, Bauskas Rajons, Cesu Rajons, Daugavpils*, Daugavpils Rajons, Dobeles Rajons, Gulbenes Rajons, Jekabpils Rajons, Jelgava*, Jelgavas Rajons, Jurmala*, Kraslavas Rajons, Kuldigas Rajons, Leipaja*, Liepajas Rajons, Limbazu Rajons, Ludzas Rajons, Madonas Rajons, Ogres Rajons, Preilu Rajons, Rezekne*, Rezeknes Rajons, Riga*, Rigas Rajons, Saldus Rajons, Talsu Rajons, Tukuma Rajons, Valkas Rajons, Valmieras Rajons, Ventspils*, Ventspils Rajons
Independence: 6 September 1991 (from Soviet Union)
National holiday: Independence Day, 18 November (1918)
Constitution: the 1991 Constitutional Law which supplements the 1922 constitution, provides for basic rights and freedoms
Legal system: based on civil law system
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal for Latvian citizens
chief of state: President Vaira VIKE-FREIBERGA (since 8 July 1999)
head of government: Prime Minister Andris BERZINS (since 5 May 2000)
cabinet: Council of Ministers nominated by the prime minister and appointed by the Parliament
elections: president elected by Parliament for a four-year term (amended from a three-year term on 4 December 1997); election last held 17 June 1999 (next to be held by NA June 2003); prime minister appointed by the president
election results: Vaira VIKE-FREIBERGA elected as a compromise candidate in second phase of balloting, second round (after five rounds in first phase failed); percent of parliamentary vote - Vaira VIKE-FREIBERGA 53%, Valdis BIRKAVS 20%, Ingrida UDRE 9%
unicameral Parliament or Saeima (100 seats; members are elected by direct popular vote to serve four-year terms - amended from three-year terms on 4 December 1997)
elections: last held 3 October 1998 (next to be held NA October 2002)
election results: percent of vote by party - People's Party 21%, LC 18%, TSP 14%, TB/LNNK 14%, Social Democrats 13%, New Party 8%; seats by party - People's Party 24, LC 21, TSP 16, TB/LNNK 17, Social Democrats 14, New Party 8
Judicial branch: Supreme Court, judges' appointments are confirmed by Parliament
Political parties and leaders: Anticommunist Union or PA [P. MUCENIEKS]; Association of Latvian Social Democrats [Juris BOJARS, Janis ADAMSONS]; Christian Democrat Union or LKDS [Talavs JUNDZIS]; Christian People's Party or KTP (formerly People's Front of Latvia or LTF) [Uldis AUGSTKALNS]; Democratic Party "Saimnieks" or DPS [Ziedonis CEVERS, chairman]; For Fatherland and Freedom or TB [Maris GRINBLATS], merged with LNNK; Green Party or LZP [Olegs BATAREVSK]; Latvian Liberal Party or LLP [J. DANOSS]; Latvian National Conservative Party or LNNK [Andrejs KRASTINS]; Latvian National Democratic Party or LNDP [A. MALINS]; Latvian Social-Democratic Workers Party (Social Democrats) or LSDSP [Janis BOJARS]; Latvian Socialist Party or LSP [Sergejs DIAMANIS]; Latvian Unity Party or LVP [Alberis KAULS]; Latvia's Way or LC [Andrei PANTELEJEVS]; National Harmony Party or TSP [Janis JURKANS]; New Party [Raimonds PAULS]; "Our Land" or MZ [M. DAMBEKALNE]; Party for the Defense of Latvia's Defrauded People [leader NA]; Party of Russian Citizens or LKPP [V. SOROCHIN, V. IVANOV]; Political Association of the Underprivileged or MPA [B. PELSE, V. DIMANTS, J. KALNINS]; Political Union of Economists or TPA [Edvins KIDE]; People's Party [Andris SKELE]
International organization participation: BIS, CBSS, CCC, CE, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, EU (applicant), FAO, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, Intelsat (nonsignatory user), Interpol, IOC, IOM (observer), ISO (correspondent), ITU, NSG, OAS (observer), OPCW, OSCE, PFP, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WEU (associate partner), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTrO, WTrO (applicant)
Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Aivis RONIS
chancery: 4325 17th Street NW, Washington, DC 20011
telephone:  (202) 726-8213, 8214
FAX:  (202) 726-6785
Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador James H. HOLMES
embassy: Raina Boulevard 7, LV-1510, Riga
mailing address: American Embassy Riga, PSC 78, Box Riga, APO AE 09723
telephone:  721-0005
FAX:  782-0047
Flag description: three horizontal bands of maroon (top), white (half-width), and maroon
- See also : Latvia