Latvia: the Constitutional Framework

Latvia is a parliamentary republic first established on 18 November 1918. Its de jure independence was recognized on 26 January 1921. The Satversme (Constitution) was adopted on 15 February 1922, and it was reintroduced in full, with amendments, on 6 July 1993, when the 5th Saeima (Parliament) was elected.

The main function of the Saeima is law-making and adopting the state budget, but it also elects the President of the State, the State Auditor, and the Central Election Commission, and ratifies international agreements. The Saeima may give a vote of confidence or no confidence in the government. Draft laws may be presented to the Saeima by the President of State, the Cabinet, the Committees of the Saeima, no less than five individual members of the Saeima or, in cases and in a manner provided for in the Constitution, by one-tenth of the electorate.

The members of the Saeima shall be exempt from judicial, administrative and disciplinary prosecution, in connection with in the fulfilment of their duties, although not for the dissemination of defamatory information with the knowledge that it is false, or the dissemination of defamatory information about private or family life. Members of the Saeima may not be arrested or searched, nor may their personal liberty be restricted in any way, without the sanction of the Saeima. According to the Rules of Procedure of the Saeima, a deputy may be expelled from the Saeima by a Saeima decision if he or she during the period of a current session has been absent from more than half of all the Saeima sittings without a valid excuse. A deputy may be expelled from the Saeima by a decision of the Saeima if, upon approval of his/her mandate, it is established that he/she lacks command of the official language at the level necessary for the performance of his/her professional duties.

According to the Satversme, executive power is held by the Cabinet of Ministers. The Cabinet consists of the Prime Minister, full Ministers and State Ministers, the latter resembling junior ministers in other countries. State Ministers cannot be regarded as fully-fledged Cabinet members, but have voting rights in the issues concerning their field. An incoming Prime Minister must be nominated by the President. A nominated Prime Minister must then receive a vote of confidence in the Saeima, in which an absolute majority among those deputies present is required. The Prime Minister nominates the members of Cabinet, who also must receive a vote of confidence in the Saeima. All presidential decrees shall be countersigned by the Prime Minister, or by the Minister concerned, who thereby assumes full responsibility for the decrees.

If the Saeima expresses a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, the whole Cabinet shall resign. If the Saeima expresses a vote of no confidence in a particular minister, the Minister shall resign and the Prime Minister shall nominate another person to take his or her place. According to the Saeima Rules of Procedure, draft resolutions about a vote of no confidence in the Cabinet, the Prime Minister, Ministers or in Ministers of State, may be submitted by at least ten deputies or by a Saeima Committee. A question to any member of Cabinet in the regular Saeima 'questions and answers' sittings must be submitted in writing by no fewer than five deputies. Five deputies is also the minimum size of a Saeima faction.

The President promulgates laws passed by the Saeima. He may suspend the promulgation of a law for a period of two months at the request of not less than one-third of the members of the Saeima. A law thus suspended shall be submitted to a referendum if a minimum of 10 per cent of the electorate so requests. A referendum shall not be taken if three-quarters of the Saeima members pass the law once again, or, generally, on budget matters and foreign policy. The President (1) represents the State in an international capacity; (2) carries out the decisions of the Saeima concerning the ratification of international treaties; (3) is Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and in time of war appoints a Commander-in-Chief; (4) declares war on the basis of a decision of the Saeima; (5) pardons criminals; (6) has the right to convene extraordinary meetings of the Cabinet and presides over such meetings; (7) has the right of legislative initiative; (8) has the right to propose the dissolution of the Saeima. A proposal to dissolve the Saeima shall be followed by a referendum. If, in the referendum, more than one-half of the votes are cast in favour of dissolution, the Saeima shall be considered as dissolved and new elections shall held within two months. If, in the referendum, the dissolution of the Saeima is opposed by a majority, the President shall be regarded as dismissed and the Saeima shall elect a new President of State for the remaining period of office of the President.

On the motion of not less than one-half of the members of the Saeima, the Saeima may at a secret sitting decide by a two-thirds majority to dismiss the President and immediately appoint a successor. Should the President resign, die or be dismissed, the duties shall be carried out by the Chairman of the Saeima pending the election of a new President of State.

In 1998, the Satversme was amended. A Constitutional Court was established and 27 paragraphs on civil and human rights were added to the Satversme. Language policies are also dealt with in the Satversme after the amendments of 1998 and 2002. The constitution now says that '[t]he working language of local governments is the Latvian language' (101) and that '[e]veryone has the right to address submissions to State or local government institutions and to receive a materially responsive reply. Everyone has the right to receive a reply in the Latvian language' (104).

Adapted from: Berglund, Sten, Ekman, Joakim, and Aarebrot, Frank H., 2004. The Handbook of Political Change in Eastern Europe. Second Edition. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Composition of Latvian Government

Date of inauguration Prime Minister Party of PM Parties in Cabinet Left-Right position
May 1990 Ivars Godmanis Latvian People's Front Latvian People's Front Centre
July 1993 Valdis Birkavs Latvia's Way Latvia's Way, 10 Centre
      Farmers' Union, 3  
Sept. 1994 Māris Gailis Latvia's Way Latvia's Way, 10 Centre
      Pol. U. of Economists, 2  
      Independent, 1  
Dec. 1995 Andris Šķēle No affiliation DP-Saimnieks, 4 Centre
      Fatherland & Freedom, 4  
      Latvia's Way, 3  
      LNNK, 2  
      Unity Party, 1  
      Farmers' Union, 1  
Feb. 1997 Andris Šķēle No affiliation DP-Saimnieks, 3 Centre
      Fatherland & Freedom, 4  
      Latvia's Way, 3  
      LNNK, 2  
      Farmers' Union, 2  
Aug. 1997 Guntars Krasts Fatherland & Freedom/LNNK Fatherland & Freedom/LNNK, 4 Centre
      DP-Saimnieks, 4  
      Latvia's Way, 3  
      Farmers' Union, 2  
      Christian Democrat, 1  
Nov. 1998 Vilis Kristopans Latvia's Way Latvia's Way, 6 Centre-right
      Fatherland & Freedom/LNNK, 6  
      New Party, 2  
Jul. 1999 Andris Šķēle People's Party People's Party, 5 Centre-right
      Fatherland & Freedom/LNNK, 5  
      Latvia's Way, 5  
May 2000 Andris Bērziņš Latvia's Way People's Party, 5 Centre-right
      Latvia's Way, 4  
      Fatherland & Freedom/LNNK, 4  
      New Party, 2  
Nov. 2002 Einars Repse The New Era The New Era, 8 Centre-right
      Latvian First party, 3  
      Farmer's Union, 2  
      Fatherland & Freedom/LNNK, 2  
      Green Party, 1  
      Without party, 2  
March 2004 Indulis Emsis Green Party People's Party, 5 Centre-right
      Latvian First Party, 5  
      Farmers' Union, 2  
      Green Party and Farmers' Union, 1  
      Green Party, 1  
      Without party, 3  

Adapted from: Berglund, Sten, Ekman, Joakim, and Aarebrot, Frank H., 2004. The Handbook of Political Change in Eastern Europe. Second Edition. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

FOR UP-TO-DATE DETAILS, see the website of the Cabinet of Ministers of Latvia.


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