Initiative aims to remove parliamentary 'abstention' votes

On September 18 a public initiative signed by 11,200 Latvian residents will be submitted to the parliament, said public initiative site representative Annija Emersone. It aims to eliminate the unusual practice of allowing Saeima lawmakers to abstain from voting, in addition to the option of simply not participating in a given vote.

The current Rules of Procedure allow members of the parliament to not only vote "for" or "against", but also to abstain from voting. The public initiative calls to delete this option from the rules, as MPs also have an option of simply not participating in a vote in addition to casting their vote as an abstention - an unusual parliamentary practice that is somehow popular in Latvia. 

"Currently the Saeima rules of order allow MPs to vote not only 'for' or 'against' decisions but also 'abstain'. This option is incorrect and misleading, so we ask it to be removed," reads the petition on public initiative website.

"'Abstaining' from decision making essentially means that an MP admits to not being able to carry out their duties. Someone may object that there are votes where it isn't ethical for parliament members to participate. However even now MPs can simply choose not to participate in these votes, and the chance to 'abstain' does not help solving the problem. Quite the contrary, it misleads electors as an abstention vote is essentially the same as voting 'against'," reads the petition.

Pauls Raudseps, journalist from Ir magazine and one of the initiators of the signature drive, believes that this is wrong and misleading to voters. He emphasized that members of parliament are elected to make decisions, not to avoid them.

The website emphasizes that the current practice shows that some Saeima members abstain even in nationally-crucial votes. In many other parliaments, including in countries with democratic traditions centuries long, parliament members do not have the option to abstain from voting. For example, in the British, U.S., Austrian, Irish, Canadian, Maltese, Dutch, Slovenian and Australian parliaments this option does not exist, explained the initiative.

Consequently, it suggested that last sentence in Article 139 of the Rules of Procedure of Saeima, "The Members who have voted "for" or "against" or "abstained" shall be regarded as having participated in the vote" - the words "or against" be crossed out. Therefore all Saeima decisions would be taken by majority vote and "the results would not be distorted with the misleading abstaining from voting," emphasized the initiative.

The initiators of the idea believe that if members of parliament do not have the option to abstain from voting, it will minimize their chances of hiding their opinions or misleading voters, as by abstaining they actually vote against a given motion. This would increase their responsibility before the voters.

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