On Thursday, 27 October, Legal Affairs Committee of the Saeima unanimously supported the draft law which will revoke the provision of the Rules of Procedure of the Saeima on electing officials by secret ballot. The Committee arrived at this decision after getting acquainted with those draft laws whose consideration was initiated by the previous convocation and can be continued by the 11th Saeima.
“Public demand for open election of officials remains high. Taking into account the recent voting by secret ballot in the Saeima, as well as yesterday’s vote in the Legal Affairs Committee, the general public is sensitive to this issue. Therefore, it is gratifying to receive support from all the political parties represented in the Saeima regarding the proposed amendments to the Rules of Procedure, and I hope we will proceed with the proposal without delay,” said Ilma Čepāne, Chairperson of the Legal Affairs Committee.
She pointed out that legal experts have identified both pros and cons of the secret ballot procedure. However, in many post-communist countries the secret ballot is used in a manner that discredits the principles of parliamentary democracy. Thus, there are grounds for introducing an open election procedure for all officials. MP Andrejs Judins (Unity) also pointed out that in current circumstances “we should discontinue using the secret ballot procedure because it does more harm than good”.
Valērijs Ašegins, Secretary of the Committee, said that he will support the initiative and thus fulfil one of the promises given to the electorate, namely, to discontinue the secret ballot procedure in the Saeima. He also indicated that discontinuing the secret ballot procedure might diminish MPs’ ability to vote independently and might subject them to increased control and pressure from their political parties.
The draft law proposes to apply the open voting procedure in electing members of the Presidium of the Saeima, the Ombudsman, the Auditor General, judges, the Head of the Constitution Protection Bureau, the Prosecutor General, the Head of the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau, the Chairperson of the Central Election Commission and other statutory public officials. For the time being, the secret ballot procedure will be retained in electing the President of Latvia and judges of the Constitutional Court as set forth in the Constitution. However, the Committee agreed to consider discontinuing the secret ballot procedure also in electing the aforementioned officials when other amendments to the Constitution are reviewed.
MPs decided to continue considering several other draft laws elaborated by the 10th Saeima, inter alia, amendments to the Latvian Administrative Violations Code, aimed at increasing penalties for violations of deforestation regulations. The Committee also decided to proceed with the work on a package of three draft laws which would completely abolish capital punishment, even in time of war, as set forth in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Furthermore, amendments to the Constitutional Court Law are to be reviewed by the Saeima in order to harmonise its provisions with the Spatial Development Planning Law.
According to the Rules of Procedure of the Saeima, if consideration of a draft law has not been completed during the term of office of one convocation of the Saeima, though it has been considered at either one or two readings, the next Saeima, upon proposal of the President, the Cabinet of Ministers, a Saeima committee or at least five MPs, must decide during its first session whether to continue considering the said draft law. If the Saeima decides to continue considering the draft law, it is to be regarded as passed at the first reading. The 11th Saeima will decide on 67 draft laws whose consideration was not completed by the previous convocation.
Saeima Press Service