Guide to the 2014 Saeima elections: The System

Take note – story published 9 years and 8 months ago

Latvia may have a population of just 2 million, but its electoral system is every bit as rigorous and complex as those in other countries with hundreds of polling stations opening across the globe. Here's how the whole thing works.


Candidates for Saeima elections must be members of a registered political party or alliance of parties. For the 12th Saeima elections, parties had from 16 July to 5 August to submit their candidate lists to the Central Election Commission (CVK), the body which oversees all elections in the country.

Candidates have to be Latvian citizens (including dual citizens) aged 21 or over. There are certain restrictions on allowing former Communist party members, Soviet functionaries, prisoners and mentally ill persons to stand.

Parties have to make a security deposit of €1400 along with the submission of their electoral list. The list must be submitted both electronically and in paper form. If the party fails to win at least 2% of the vote, it loses its deposit.

Parties can field a maximum of 115 candidates for the 12th Saeima elections. The numbers of the parties on the ballot paper are drawn by lot to ensure they are random.

For the 12th Saeima elections a total of 1156 candidates are registered with 13 party lists.

67% of candidates are male, 33% female.



All citizens of Latvia aged 18 and over are entitled to vote on election day. They need to take their passports with them to vote and receive a special stamp in it to confirm that they have voted.

Latvia's 270,000 "non-citizens" - a legacy of the Soviet occupation years - are not entitled to vote in parliamentary elections, even if they have permanent resident status. However, they can gain the right to vote if they undergo a process of naturalization and become citizens.

For the 12th Saeima elections, electronic identity cards (eIDs) can also be used to vote at polling stations, provided holders of the cards have applied in advance for a special document allowing them to do so. This measure applies to approximately 24,000 citizens who have eIDs but not passports.

Latvia does not currently offer electronic voting (e-voting) as is the practice in neighboring Estonia.



Latvia operates a proportional representation system during elections. Nevertheless, the country is also divided into five separate constituencies: Riga (32 seats), Vidzeme (26 seats), Latgale (15 seats), Kurzeme (13 seats), and Zemgale (14 seats). Candidates must choose one of the constituencies in which to stand.

The number of seats available in each constituency is based upon the number of registered voters each one contains.

The total size of the electorate is 1.55 million of Latvia's roughly 2 million population.



On election day, October 4, polling stations will be open between 7 am and 8 pm. Voters can vote at any polling station in Latvia or abroad.

At selected polling stations (61 of them), voters will be able to take part in "early voting" on October 1, 2 and 3 where their ballots will be kept securely then added to the main count on October 4.

Overseas voters can participate in the Saeima elections by voting on election day at one of the polling stations established abroad or by mail. Voters must apply to vote by mail in advance.

Voters unable to come to the polling station for health reasons can apply for "off-site" voting which involves an election official visiting them to receive the ballot.

Special arrangements are also made for military personnel serving overseas and for prisoners who retain the right to vote, which is not the case in some countries.



After having their identity confirmed at a polling station, each voter is issued with a complete set of ballot papers containing all the candidates nominated for the constituency and a ballot envelope bearing the stamp of the relevant polling station commission - quite a bundle of paper, in fact.

In an unusual feature of Latvian elections, a voter may choose to put a “+” mark opposite the name of a candidate they particularly like on the party list and/or cross out the name of a candidate they don't like. Alternatively they can leave the ballot paper unmarked. This process effectively moves candidates "up" or "down" the party list.

The voter inserts the ballot paper containing the list of candidates for which he or she has chosen to vote into the envelope (in a private voting booth), and emerges to put the envelope into the public ballot box.



The vote count starts as soon as the polls close.

Parties winning at least 5% of the total vote will win at least one seat in parliament. The exact distribution of seats is determined by a formula dependent upon how many parties cross the 5% threshold. 

Provisional results are published as they come in on the CVK website. An announcement of provisional results is usually made the day after the vote with the final results confirmed a week later. The CVK dictates the date of the first sitting of the new Saeima.

In the run up to the election, the CVK is operating a special telephone hotline (in Latvian) to answer any questions and queries from voters on +371 67049999. 


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