In May 2022, the domestic politics of Latvia are dominated by previously topical issues – the provision of support to the people of Ukraine, preparations for the October parliamentary elections, as well as the topic of morality in youth education. Intense debate has arisen over the proposal to offer Ukrainian citizens dual citizenship, which deserved negative views from national politicians and deputies. In the last two months, the party association “Development For!” has fragmented, with party participants leaving. As well as has raising questions whether the parties “For the Development of Latvia” and “Movement For!” should stand for election separately, although it has the potential to lose even more supporters, as well as putting the opportunity to be re-elected in risk. The issue of morality in education is also a challenge, as there are different views on whether sexuality and maturation should be taught in schools, a fundamental topic that is currently a vulnerable topic of discussion in schools. Work is still under way on the adoption of the Law on Local Government, which has just been approved at second reading and is awaiting approval at final reading of the Parliament (Saeima).
Latvia’s political agenda has not faced any new challenges in the past month, but progress has been made on previously established topics and goals. In 6 months, the 14th parliamentary elections are expected, in which the composition of the new Saeima will be determined. Thus, the parties are actively preparing, though continuing to face challenges that damage or build the parties’ reputations. In addition, there is an active exchange of views between party representatives regarding the current issues – the war in Ukraine, support for the people of Ukraine, as well as on the main issues of local politics – the development of educational content and the new model of local government. In this analytical briefing, read about the latest topical issues of Latvia’s domestic policy.
I Dual Citizenship to Ukrainians
At the end of April, the Progressive Political Party called for the possibility of dual citizenship for Ukrainian refugees. The “Progressives” Party assumes that the list of countries with which Latvia may have dual citizenship should be expanded as a matter of urgency to include Ukraine. Representatives of several political parties have stated that they would not support this proposal.
“National Alliance” representatives are concerned that the real purpose of the “Progressives” offer is to act while the Citizenship Law is open for change and then try to lobby out, for example, the automatic granting of citizenship to non-citizens, which the “National Alliance” certainly will not allow. The party co-chairman added that he does not trust the “Progressives” and that the parties’ values are “not close” to him, so if this issue is seriously discussed among politicians, there is no doubt that the “National Alliance” will consider the proposal “unacceptable to national interests and security”.
In turn, the leader of the parliamentary faction “New Unity” Ainars Latkovskis, admitted that the assignment of dual citizenship to Ukrainian refugees would mean confidence in Russia’s victory in the war in Ukraine. “This is a populist proposal from the party “Progressives”, and I would not be surprised if the Ukrainian themselves perceive this proposal as offensive”, commented Latkovskis. According to him, the Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war are patriots of their country, and are very different from those whom Latvia previously accepted – the so-called “economic refugees”. In any case, if one of them decides to stay, then there is an accessible procedure for obtaining Latvian citizenship.
Thus, dual citizenship for Ukrainians is not currently a priority issue on the political agenda. It is much more important to focus on the maximum provision of assistance and resources so that Ukraine can win the war with Russia.
II “Development/For!” participation in Parliament elections
On March 24, 2022, in protest to the suspension of the Riga Spatial Plan, suspended by the Minister of Environmental Protection and Regional Development, Arturs Tomass Pless (“For the Development of Latvia”), the Chairman of the Riga City Council, Martins Stakis, withdrew from the association “Development/For!” and the party “Movement For!”. After the agitation caused by the Minister’s decision, it was debated whether the “Movement For!” and “For the Development of Latvia” will start in the 14th Parliamentary (Saeima) elections as an association. At the end of April, more than a hundred delegates voted in the congress of the party “Movement For!” to stay in the union together with “For the Development of Latvia”.
The party congress was convened following the call of 113 party members to liquidate the party association before the 14th Saeima elections. In parallel, two other proposals were submitted – to decide on the future of the association after the 14th Saeima elections, as well as to evaluate the party’s membership in the association after each election.
III Local Government/Municipality Law
The draft law of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development “Law on Local Governments” regulates the activities of local governments, providing for greater opportunities for public involvement in local government activities, as well as a clearer separation of decision-making and executive powers. One of the most important innovations in the law is the opportunities for the involvement of the extended society in the work of the local government.
The draft law envisages determining the co-operation of the local government with civil society organizations and ensuring the involvement of the society in the work of the local government. New tools for public participation are also envisaged – a collective application and a citizens’ council. To promote the transparency of local government activities and the selection of professional specialists, it is planned to recruit administrative staff through an open competition, as well as rotation. The term of office of the Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director is also set at five years, as well as the requirements for candidates and periodic performance appraisal.
The draft law introduces a requirement to publish the draft on a website for public opinion. The competence of line ministries to verify the legality of binding regulations before they enter into force has also been determined. It clarifies the competence of institutions and officials, promoting the separation of decision-making and executive powers and the efficiency of the performance of functions. The draft law defines the municipal administration and central administration and sets out the conditions for the establishment of county parishes and city administrations.
At the beginning of May, the Parliament supported the bill in the second reading. The Parliament has yet to approve it in the final reading.
IV Morality Topics in Education
The proposal of several members of the Parliament to remove from the Law of Education an article relating to the moral education of students, in accordance with the values protected in the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia, has deserved great debate, especially regarding marriage and the family. According to the initiators of the change in the law, the presence of this supposed “censorship” in the educational process hinders the development of logical thinking and making informed decisions regarding sexuality and morality. However, if the teacher chooses to tell students more about relationships and sexuality, the law makes them feel disobedient to the law.
Former Minister of Education and Science Ilga Suplinska expressed support for the deletion of the law because she had once received complaints from organizations that school principals prevented them from meeting with students to talk about reproductive health and addictions, referring to the law. The opposite conviction was also expressed, so in April of this year Chairman of the Saeima Education, Culture and Science Commission, suggested setting up a small working group with representatives from the University of Latvia and the State Education Content Centre. As a result, a proposal has been defined not to exclude the article of the law, but to supplement the last part of the article with such values enshrined in the Constitution (Satversme) as “life, human struggle, freedom, family, marriage, work, nature, culture, Latvian language and the Latvian state”.
Thus, topics related to the upcoming parliamentary elections in October 2022 and the war in Ukraine are on the political agenda this month. However, attention is also drawn to aspects that require long-term solutions, such as improving the local government law and moral issues in education. Despite the fact that the issue of dual citizenship for Ukrainian refugees has been updated, it should not dominate the political discourse. It is more important for politicians to focus on providing maximum resources to help Ukraine win the war. Regarding morality in education, health literacy and sexual education in schools should be promoted. The task of the school is to provide full information and teach critical thinking, as well as learn about questions for self-knowledge from the materials provided at the school, and not from information found on the Internet, which can have long-term consequences for young people’s development. As for the upcoming elections to the Parliament, for greater stability it is important for the political parties not to separate, but to unite.
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This briefing was written by the Institute of Economics of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, in collaboration with the China-CEE Institute, and is the intellectual property of the C hina CEE-Institute. The original publication is available here: https://china-cee.eu/2022/05/12/latvia-political-briefing-topical-issues-of-latvian-domestic-policy-in-may-2022/