Plan for elected President jumps first hurdle

In their final meeting of the Fall session on Thursday, Saeima members narrowly referred to committee proposals for constitutional changes that could lead to a directly-elected President.

The proposals, which could result in a President elected by popular vote serving a five year term, will now be considered by the relevant parliamentary committee before being returned to the debating chamber for further scrutiny some time next year.

However, support for the proposals is far from unanimous with several parties split on the issue. The vote in the 100-seat chamber was carried by a narrow margin: 50 votes to 34. 

Similar proposals from the Regional Alliance party specifying that potential Presidents must be over the age of 40, not possess any citizenship other than Latvian citizenship and must have high-level security clearance were defeated.

However there remains a high likelihood the proposals will not make it into actual legislation - particularly as constitutional changes require a two-thirds majority of the 100 elected lawmakers.

Currently the government coalition controls 61 seats, but two parties within the coalition, ZZS and the National Alliance, have members on both sides of the debate.

Meanwhile opposition parties are generally more enthusiastic about the prospect of a directly-elected President, though again without absolute unanimity.

What seems certain is that the next decision on who will be President - due in June next year - will again be taken by the Saeima itself in a secret ballot with deputies under no obligation to declare or explain their preferences to their voters.

The system has thrown up numerous surprises over the years and has resulted in several fairly obscure figures finding themselves in possession of Riga Castle.

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