This will be the second Saeima election in which participation restrictions apply to parties – candidate lists can only be submitted by parties or party associations (smaller parties acting in alliance) that have at least 500 members, and the party must have been established at least one year before the elections on October 1.
De Facto reports that the formation of eligible parties was a very popular product in the Latvian political market this year. Some near-defunct old parties were revived, while in other cases parties were formed or transformed shortly before the elections, changing their leaders, board, statutes, and even their name.
De Facto studied cases where existing parties were taken over by newer, virtually unknown political forces including "Sovereign Power", "Servants of the People" and "People's Power".
It may come as a surprise to learn that there are no fewer than 69 political parties in the official register. Some are in the process of liquidation, while others have not submitted information on the number of members they have: the minimum membership of a political party is 200.
Of the six parties founded in the last two years, five were created with the aim of participating in the Saeima elections. However, for the 14th Saeima elections, political forces that have become active only in recent months have also applied to participate, using a loophole in the law. If a new political force takes over a longer-established party, it avoids falling foul of the rule about being established for more than a year and also inherits the membership number.
For example, Saeima deputy Jūlija Stepaņenko, who was elected from the Harmony party list but subsequently left the party and has then been involved with various recently-formed political forces before also leaving them, became the head of the "Sovereign Power" party this spring.
This party was actually founded several years ago as the "Heart of Latgale Union" by the former mayor of Rēzekne and former member of the Saeima Ernests Jurkāns, but made limited impact. In March he rebranded it "Law. Responsibility. Order" with ambitions to grow it from a minor to a major political force. Jurkāns remained on the board, but former Rīga councilor Vjačeslavs Stepaņenko was elected as its chairman. Under his leadership, the party added about 300 members within a few months, reaching the 500 necessary for a Saeima run. Stepaņenko handed over the post of the party leader to his wife, Saeima deputy Jūlija, at a general meeting of members held remotely at the end of June. The 16 present members of the party voted for it, and they also accepted the change of the party's name to "Sovereign Power".
It should be stressed that under existing rules, such maneuvers are completely legal.
In another case, the "Alternative" party, once known as the party of Aleksejs Mirskis, led by the former vice-mayor of Riga Vadims Baraņņiks for the last couple of years, is now called People's Power (Tautas varas spēks). Its chairman is Valentīns Jeremejevs, an online activist known for announcing various boycotts. He became the leader of "Alternative" only in May, when the previous board was dismissed and Jeremejevs and his associates were appointed at a general meeting convened by 52 members during a Zoom conference.
But according to De Facto, the transformation of the New Harmony (Jaunā Saskaņa) party is surrounded by the greatest intrigues. New Harmony was founded in 2018 by businessman Juris Žuravļovs and was itself originally known as For an Alternative (Par Alternatīvu), changing its name in 2019 ahead of European elections in which some concerns were expressed that voters might be confused by seeing both Harmony and New Harmony offering candidates.
In June this year, the party was taken over by activists of the Servants of the People ("Tautas kalpi") association founded during the wave of Covid restrictions, headed by Aivars Smans. The new members of the board renamed the party Servants of the People for Latvia ("Tautas kalpi Latvijai" / TKL). The minutes of the meeting of representatives submitted to the register of companies show that already on February 20, the board of the party convened a meeting, which was held four months later - on June 22, at the premises of "Tautas Kalpi" on Čaka Street in Rīga. The meeting, which was reportedly attended by 45 members, was chaired by Jānis Kuzins, a former colleague of Žuravļov, who also submitted all the changes to the register.
But according to De Facto, Žuravļovs claims that Kuzins acted without the knowledge of the rest of the board, expressed suspicions about various possible illegalities, and promised to contact the law enforcement authorities. "There was no meeting, none of my friends and colleagues from the party were invited, no one received any letter or invitation to such a meeting. So clearly it's all bogus, it's totally bogus," claimed Žuravļovs.
However, Kuzins told De Facto he completely rejects the accusations and started thinking about the changes in the winter, because he wanted to distance the party from Žuravļovs, who at that time was accused of publicly calling for violation the independence of Latvia. In the spring of 2020, Žuravļovs expressed a request to Russian President Vladimir Putin to occupy Latvia in a radio broadcast, and now the courts are looking into this matter.
Kuzins, who himself is no longer a member of the TKL, explained the changes in the party as follows: "They approached me because a criminal case started against Juris Žuravļovs, and it was understood that he could be put in prison for treason. That's why I called a meeting of representatives and actually expelled him from the board, because – why do we need problems? I am loyal to Latvia, and I don't need something like that. But they [the "TKL" board] thought that I was too popular in Russia and that I would somehow disturb them as well. Okay, okay..."
Meanwhile, TKL convened the first general meeting this week after changing the party's name and program. Although there are officially almost 550 members in the party, about ten people came to the meeting, so there was no quorum.
Having arrived at the meeting, TKL board chairman Smans claimed to De Facto that he has recently received hints from various unnamed people that he should pay for the takeover of the party.
It could be perceived as extortion, but he did not contact the police. "Understand, people want everything, and of course people from outside also want something here, they also call me. I won't say the names of those who called me and said they could fix it... We have nothing to fix. We are legally on the board, and we have no questions or problems with this at all," Smans said.
However, the fact that the existence of more than 500 TKL members is only virtual cannot be denied. Smans admits that only about a tenth of more than 80 candidates on the party's election list are actually party members. Under the law, it is not necessary to be a party member to be a party candidate.
Changes in the law entered into force six years ago, and their purpose was to make Latvia's party system more mature, with longer-established parties with larger memberships. The plan to introduce new requirements for parties that want to participate in the Saeima elections was put on the agenda of the parliament shortly after the 12th Saeima elections, in November 2014.
At that time, an expert group for the improvement of governance created by then-President Andris Bērziņš delivered proposals for improving the system of political parties. The experts concluded that one of the signs confirming the ability of a political party to fulfill its functions is the number of its members. Therefore, parties that want to participate in the Saeima elections must have at least 500 members.
Also, the experts decided that the requirement to allow parties that were founded at least a year earlier to participate in the elections could make the political process easier to predict and guarantee the opportunity for the electorate to become familiar with newly founded parties for a longer period of time instead of being presented with numerous unknown names every time they cast a ballot.
In both political and academic circles, there was criticism of the plan to limit the parties running in the Saeima elections. For example, the current President, then a judge of the Court of Justice of the European Union, Egils Levits, said the following on the LTV program "Tieša runa" in February 2016, a week before the adoption of the law in the Saeima: “The current system does not produce quality politics, and the new system will produce even worse politics, as stagnation will only be intensified. The party cartel will strengthen."
On October 1, 2022, the 14th Saeima elections will be held in Latvia, in which 100 parliament members will be elected for the next four years.
A total of 19 party lists have been submitted – an increase on the 16 lists submitted four years ago. You can see the lists of candidates, the pre-election programs, and the information on candidates on the CVK website.
Citizens of Latvia from the age of 18 have the right to vote in Saeima elections, while Latvian citizens who are over 21 years old on election day can run for Saeima elections. Only parties that were founded no later than a year before the elections and have at least 500 members may run in the Saeima elections... but as outlined by De Facto above, there is more than one way to meet the criteria, on paper, at least.