Small parties barred from Saeima and EP elections

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Only parties with at least 500 members will be able to participate in the Saeima and the European Parliament elections, the Latvian parliament decided Thursday, reported LSM. reported previously that only a few parties have at least 500 members.

Among them are Unity, Harmony, the Central Party, Latvian Farmers' Party, the Latvian Green Party, National Alliance, the Social Democratic Workers' Party, as well as Honored to Serve Rīga.

Political analyst Filips Rajevskis told LSM the amendments, which "will not fundamentally affect Latvia's political system", could drive up the value of parties currently existing only on paper, as parties needing extra members could arrange to "buy a package", that is, a defunct party. There's also a risk of signatures for establishing a party being faked.

An LSM infograph shows that more than half of the currently existing parties - and two parties currently in the Saeima (Latvia From the Heart and Regional Alliance) - no longer have enough members to participate in the elections, according to 2015 data.

The initiative to change Latvia's political system was pushed through by an expert group created by Latvia's previous president Andris Bērziņš. It enjoys the support of Raimonds Vējonis, Latvia's current president, as well.

Supporters of the amendments say that thanks to the initiative seekers of short-term gains or people funded by exclusive backers will be discouraged from becoming politicians. Parties can still enter elections by joining forces and boosting member numbers to at least 500.

The have been criticized as well, for example, by constitutional rights lawyer Egils Levits, who said that the amendments go against democratic principles, as in Latvia only parties are able to put forward candidates. 

While Saeima party Latvia From the Heart, which had 268 members in 2015, says it's considering to turn to the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights over the amendments.

In order to register in Latvia, a political party has to have at least 200 members.

Under the new amendments, a party will also have to be founded at least a year prior to the elections to be eligible to participate.

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