New election commission head approved

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Kristīne Saulīte, the former chairperson of the World Association of Free Latvians, was confirmed as the new chairperson of the Central Election Commission (CVK) in a Saeima vote on Thursday, February 2. She was the only candidate put forward for the role.

The majority of the 100 Saeima deputies - 68 - voted "for", six representatives of the "Latvija first" party were "against", and another 15 deputies did not participate in the vote.

The debate before the vote was dominated by discussion of the problems of the CVK so far, including a lack of staff and funding, problems with the software in the polling stations experienced in the previous European Parliament elections, and other issues.

Member of the Saeima, former head of the Competition Council Skaidrīte Ābrama ("Progressives") undertook to diligently follow the work of the CVK and regularly update the difficulties of the commission in the Saeima.

The deputy said: "Unfortunately, [CVK is] an institution that has been kept in the role of a supplicant for a long time.

For a long time, the Central Electoral Commission has been raising the alarm that the European Parliament elections are approaching, but no funding has been allocated. Employees write resignations due to overload. The institution is losing professionals in the field who have been working in overload mode for a meager salary. And who will be left in the institution that must organize these processes necessary for democracy?"

Viktors Valainis, a member of the Greens and Farmers Union (ZZS), expressed doubts whether Saulīte will be able to cope with the responsibilities without prior experience in public administration but also pointed to the insufficient funding of the CVK, which is the organizer and overseer of all elections in the country.

Saulīte's CV shows that she was born in Lestene, Latvia, but has spent most of her life in Australia, where she was very active in diaspora life. She has worked at international private companies including bathroom furniture company "Rogerseller" and information technology company "CDG Group". Saulīte graduated in management from the Melbourne Business School and received a scholarship to obtain a diploma in management and strategy from the Harvard Business School.

Last week, LTV provided this brief biography of Saulīte (in Latvian).

According to the law, the CVK consists of nine members. The chairman and seven members of the election commission are elected by the Saeima, and one member is elected by the Supreme Court in its plenary session from among the judges.

The Central Election Commission was left without a leader when the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) asked the Saeima to relieve Kristīne Bērziņa of her duties in connection with criminal proceedings involving possible fraud on a large scale, abuse of official position and falsifying official documents in connection with a procurement organized by the CVK in 2021. Ten persons are involved in the case. persons, including Bērziņa and five officials. Commenting on the criminal proceedings initiated by KNAB, Bērziņa has stated that she worked at CVK to the best of her ability and with a clear conscience.

KNAB has also moved against the  information technology company "SOAAR" , which had won large-scale procurement contracts from the CVK in recent years.

Despite the financial scandal, there is no suggestion that any election results have been tampered with or falsified. 

Recently, LTV's "De facto" program reported  that the CVK might struggle to fulfil its obligations in view of forthcoming legislative changes.

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