The law on municipal referendums was adopted by the Saeima last year and was supposed to be introduced from January 1, 2024. The law provides for the possibility to initiate referenda on the sustainable development strategy of a specific municipality or its amendments, on the initiatives of the municipality to build a public building or an object to which an assessment of its impact on the environment is applicable.
At least 15% of the voters who were included in the voter lists of the respective electoral district in the last council elections will have to back the idea of a referendum in order for it to proceed, (in Rīga, 10%). The Law on Local Referendums also provides for instigating the dismissal of the council with at least 30% of the voters included in the lists of previous elections. The council cannot be dismissed in the first or last years of its term of office.
The problem in meeting this plan is the lack of capacity and time , which the Central Election Commission (CVK), Citizenship and Migration Affairs Board (PMLP) announced earlier. Holding the European Parliamentary elections on June 8 next year is recognized as a priority and with efforts underway to prepare the electronic voting system for the European Parliament elections, there is not enough time and manpower available to introduce the referendum system, too.
That is why it is suggested to postpone the introduction of local referendums to 2026, explained Igors Rajevs, the parliamentary secretary of the Ministry of the Interior.
"The necessary electronic system has already been planned for the local government elections, which will take place almost a year after the European Parliament elections. But now we are talking about the referendums that will be held for the local government. We are asking for a postponement of the deadline for this. It is a technological problem that cannot be solved faster, that work must be done well, and it takes more time. We need to resolve financial matters, and the priority in this case is the European Parliament elections," said Rajevs.
The new electronic system will be provided by the Directorate of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (PMLP) with the support of the State Regional Development Agency. The new system needs to be carefully checked so that there are no surprises in the elections, added Uldis Apsītis, Deputy Head of the Directorate of Citizenship and Migration Affairs.
"The elections will be held on June 8, 2024. The system will be ready sooner, but it will need to complete all the tests. As a minimum, three months. In principle, the software will be ready for work from June 1," explained Apsītis.
These complications should not become a reason to postpone the long-awaited local referendums for two years, emphasizes Līna Austra Putāne, representative of the Civic Alliance of Latvia.
"The essence of the matter is to provide this democratic tool, which has been promised for a very long time. Democracy will not always be the most convenient or cheapest option when it comes to implementing a digital system, so we can find a compromise and implement it in a manual version. This is a very important part of meaningful participation," said Putāne.
Deputies and representatives of the institutions and non-governmental organizations involved in the preparation of the elections eventually agreed on a compromise on the introduction of local referendums, not postponing it for two years, but until autumn, says Olegs Burovs, head of the State Administration and Local Government Committee of the Saeima.
"Why September 1, but not sooner? Because the priority is the European Parliament elections, and, of course, the primary priority for any program is security. Of course, in our times, cyber security is the main thing. The good news is that you can apply for a referendum electronically.
In the first years, voting in the referendum will not be electronic, but manual. I am really glad that we agreed and found a compromise," said Burovs.
Citizens will be able to collect signatures for initiating a referendum on the portal of the state administration service Latvija.lv, while voting in the referendum will be organized in person by the relevant municipality. Paper ballots will be used for voting under the proposals.