ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission Final Report (excerpts), 2007

III. POLITICAL BACKGROUND

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The main contestants were (..) Harmony Centre (an opposition party, mainly representing the Russian-speaking communities); (..) Fatherland and Freedom (party representing Latvian nationalist ideas); For Human Rights in a United Latvia (mainly representing the Russian-speaking communities).

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V. LEGAL FRAMEWORK

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B. CANDIDACY RIGHTS

1. Lustration Provisions

The election laws for Latvian legislative authorities continue to prohibit candidacies by individuals subject to “lustration” provisions (Articles 5.5 and 5.6 of the Saeima Election Law).8 Under the election laws, persons who were employed by the USSR, Latvian SSR or another country’s security or intelligence services, or were actively involved after 13 January 1991 with the Communist Parties of the USSR or Latvian SSR, or certain other named organizations, are prevented from becoming candidates.The validity of such restrictions under the Latvian Constitution was upheld by the Constitutional Court in 2000 in a 4:3 decision.10

Footnote 8 The European Parliament Elections Law of Latvia does not contain such restrictions.
Footnote 9 According to the Saeima Election Law, Article 5, the restrictions are applicable to persons who: “(5) belong or have belonged to the salaried staff of the USSR, the Latvian SSR or another country’s state security, intelligence or counterintelligence services; [or] “(6) after 13 January 1991 have been active in the CPSU (the CP of Latvia), the Working People’s International Front of the Latvian SSR, the United Board of Working Bodies, the Organization of War and Labour Veterans, the All-Latvia Salvation Committee or its regional committees.”
Footnote 10 Judgment in Case No. 2000-03-01

The Election Law requires the Central Election Commission (CEC) to publish lustration-related information about candidates (Article 15.4), and requires those who propose candidates to submit similar information (Article 11.4[h]). The candidate lists published by the CEC for the 2006 Saeima election contained notations with respect to five individual candidates that they might have collaborated with Soviet or foreign intelligence or security services. None of these candidates had indicated this in their own disclosures.

No candidacies were directly excluded on the basis of lustration laws or procedures during the 2006 election, although legal proceedings are continuing in one case (see Election Administration section below). However, there is no way of ascertaining to what extent potential candidacies may have been deterred by the various lustration provisions.

In its Final Report on the 2002 Saeima election, the OSCE/ODIHR noted that the relevant legislation which serves as the basis for application of lustration provisions in the Election Law was scheduled to expire in 2004.11 That report concluded that this would be an opportunity to abolish these restrictions on candidacy rights. In reaching its conclusion, the report noted that the records of the KGB of the Latvian SSR held in Latvia were incomplete and partial and that they could not be consistently relied upon to provide direct evidence of the specific activities of former employees or alleged collaborators. Application of the law could therefore be arbitrary or selective.

Footnote 11 Law “On Maintenance and Use of Documents of the Former State Security Committee and on Stating of Facts about Persons’ Collaboration with the State Security Committee” (SSC Document Law).

In 2004, however, the Saeima extended the period under the SSC Document Law for use of files maintained by the Centre for the Documentation of the Consequences of Totalitarianism for an additional ten years. The Constitutional Court upheld the extension but did not address the constitutionality of continuing the use of the records with respect to candidacies for political office.12 Rather, it ruled that the legal challenge before it concerned only the overall extension of the period in which the information could be used.

Footnote 12 Judgment in Case No. 2004-13-0106 (22 March 2005)

In March 2006, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) Grand Chamber, in the case of Zhdanoka vs. Latvia, upheld a denial of candidacy in the 2002 Saeima election on the grounds of association with the former Communist Party and related organizations, but indicated that “the Latvian Parliament must keep the statutory restriction under constant review, with a view to bringing it to an early end.”13

Footnote 13 European Court of Human Rights (Grand Chamber), Case of Zdanoka vs. Latvia (Application Number 58278/00), Judgment, 16 March 2006. Available at – www.echr.coe.int/ECHR

In June 2006, the Constitutional Court of Latvia, in a case brought by a group of parliamentarians as well as an individual, Mr. Juris Bojars (former leader of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party), indicated that the candidacy restrictions could remain in effect but exempted Mr. Bojars from them due to his “noteworthy contribution to the renewal of democratic values in Latvia.”14 The Bojars case indicates that other potential candidates might be able to avoid disqualification based on the lustration norms in the statute, by bringing individual actions in the Constitutional Court.

Footnote 14 Judgment in Case No. 2005-13-0106 (15 June 2006)

In a meeting with the OSCE/ODIHR LEOM, the Deputy Chairman of the Constitutional Court, Justice Gunars Kutris, said that in the Bojars case the Court showed the Saeima how it might be possible to remove restrictions on certain individuals. In large part, this was based on an assessment of positive information on the individual throughout his career, both pre and post-1991. He noted that in the same decision, the Court also re-emphasized the conclusion by the ECHR in the Zhdanoka case that such restrictions had to be continually reviewed. He informed the LEOM that if Parliament did not revisit this question, the Court could do so.

In the 2006 election, only the candidacy of Mr. Fridijs Bokiss (Harmony Centre) was challenged on lustration grounds. Mr. Bokiss had previously been rejected as a candidate for the Saeima in 1995, on the grounds that he had been active after 13 January 1991 in the Communist Party of Latvia. After subsequent changes to the legal framework requiring a higher standard of proof, a court ruled that he could not be denied candidacy in the 2005 local elections. Mr. Bokiss won a seat on the City Council of Ludza, and became its deputy chairman. In 2006, Mr. Bokiss again sought to register his candidacy for the Saeima. The CEC did not reject his application, even though it had received a document from the Centre for Documentation relating to his earlier activities, since the 1995 judgment against him had not established the legal facts against him. At the time of writing, the Prosecutor had sent the case to the Riga regional court to make the necessary determination. Thus it is possible that Mr. Bokiss’ candidacy could be annulled after the election.15

Footnote 15 Mr. Bokiss did not win a mandate in the 2006 Saeima elections.

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C. CITIZENSHIP AND NATURALIZATION ISSUES

Participation in both national and municipal elections in Latvia is dependant on citizenship status. According to the Citizenship Law of Latvia (1995), only persons who were citizens before 17 June 1940, and their descendants, received automatic citizenship upon the reestablishment of independence in 1991.

After the annexation of Latvia into the Soviet Union, large numbers of people from Russia and other areas of the former Soviet Union settled in Latvia. These people and their descendants generally fall into the category of so-called “non-citizens” who must go through a naturalization process in order to become citizens.16 The biggest group among these are ethnic Russians, but there are also significant numbers of ethnic Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians and others.

Footnote 16 Children born after 21 August 1991 can be registered as citizens without being naturalized, if their parents so choose.

The naturalization procedure, which appears to be efficiently administered by the Naturalization Board of the Republic of Latvia, includes a fee of LVL 20; tests of Latvian language skills (the State language), Latvian history and the Constitution; and an oath. The Latvian authorities consider the procedures to be reasonable, affording an opportunity for all non-citizens who so wish to obtain Latvian citizenship. While some non-citizens have expressed a preference not to become citizens for various reasons, others regard some of the procedures as too difficult, especially the language requirement for the elderly.

As of 1 April 2006, some 411,000 permanent legal residents of Latvia, approximately 18 per cent of the total population, remained in the category of “non-citizens.” 17 Between the 2002 and 2006 Saeima elections, approximately 60,000 people were granted citizenship through naturalization,18 which is over half the total number of those naturalized since 1995. Excluding those under the age of 18, the remaining non-citizen population is well over 250,000 persons of voting age.

Footnote 17 According to information provided by the Naturalization Board. In addition, nearly 39,000 other persons are considered aliens or stateless.
Footnote 18 Naturalization Board, “Information on naturalization process, on recognition of stateless persons’  or non-citizens’ children, who were born in Latvia after August 21, 1991 to be citizens of Latvia and on registration of the status of the citizenship of Latvia – on September 30, 2006”,
www.np.gov.lv/index.php?en=fakti_en&saite=statistic.htm

Non-citizens do not enjoy voting rights in any Latvian elections, although they do have the right to join political parties (at least half of a political party’s membership must be citizens) and can contribute money to political parties. Despite the ongoing naturalization process, the fact that a significant percentage of the adult population of Latvia does not enjoy voting rights represents a continuing democratic deficit.

The OSCE/ODIHR also expressed concern about this issue after the 2002 Saeima election. The OSCE/ODIHR recommended at that time, as have the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Council of Europe and the Council of Baltic Sea States on separate occasions, that consideration be given to permitting those persons in the category of non-citizens to vote in municipal elections. This approach could serve as a step towards facilitating the integration of these persons.

Since accession to the European Union, Latvia has granted the right to vote in municipal and European Parliament elections to nationals of other EU States residing in Latvia in accordance with EU norms.

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VI. ELECTION ADMINISTRATION

F. VOTER EDUCATION AND INFORMATION

(..) The CEC also established a telephone hot-line where information was provided both in Latvian and Russian. On the hotline, a voter could receive information about voting procedures as well as about the addresses of polling stations closest to his or her location, and make complaints.

Citing the Official Language Law, the CEC produced virtually all information exclusively in Latvian, although the Chairman did provide voter information through interviews in the Russian language media. Provision of voter information in Russian was the subject of a previous OSCE/ODIHR recommendation, given that Russian remains the first language of a substantial portion of Latvia’s voting population. According to 2000 census figures, Russian was the native language of approximately 892,400 inhabitants.
20 In addition, another 920,000 Latvians and 117,900 non-Latvians declared Russian as their second language.

Footnote 20 Mežs, Ilmars, The Latvian Language in the Mirror of Statistics, Jana Seta Map Publishers, 2005

Although the Official Language Law restricts the use of languages other than Latvian in official correspondence, forms, seals and documents by national and local government institutions, courts and state-owned companies, it is not universally prohibitive. The OSCE/ODIHR LEOM encountered a number of government information publications printed in Russian and other languages, relating to resident registration, freedom of movement, and requirements for travel. Article 20 (4) of the Official Language Law provides that the Cabinet of Ministers “shall determine the cases” when such institutions may “concurrently with the official language, also use foreign languages”. However, the last time the subject was addressed by the Cabinet was in August 2002. Given the prominence of the Russian language in the daily affairs of the general population and the universal importance of elections and their results to citizens and non-citizens alike, the new Cabinet is encouraged to revisit this issue and act on its authority to allow the CEC to produce instructional materials, voter information and other relevant documents in both Latvian and Russian.

VII. THE CAMPAIGN

A. OVERVIEW

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One incident during the campaign involved the language used on campaign posters in Daugavpils. An official from the City Administration ordered the PCTVL party to remove its bilingual posters, describing them as illegal. The party objected, claiming that it was entitled to put up such posters. By 26 September bilingual posters had been removed from the city’s trams, presumably by the authorities, but by 28 September the authorities had reversed their position.

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X. OBSERVERS

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Non-citizens are entitled to be members of political parties, and there appears to be no legal barrier that would prevent a party or alliance from including non-citizens among their observers. However, their capacity to observe would be limited in that under the law, only voters, who must be Latvian citizens, can file an election complaint.

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XII. PARTICIPATION OF MINORITIES

In addition to the large non-citizen population, (see section IV C, Citizenship and Naturalization Issues), the population of Latvia includes a number of minority groups among its citizens. Of the total population of 2,288,923, the Latvian majority makes up 58.9 per cent. The largest minority population is the Russian minority, who comprise 28.4 per cent of the population (55.3 per cent of the total Russian population are citizens of Latvia). In addition, there are substantial minority populations of Belarusians (3.8 per cent of the total population, of whom 35.2 per cent are citizens of Latvia), Ukrainians (2.5 per cent, of whom 27.3 per cent are citizens of Latvia), Poles (2.4 per cent, of whom 74.1 per cent are citizens of Latvia), and Lithuanians (1.4 per cent, of whom 58.4 per cent are citizens of Latvia). There are several other groups with less than one per cent of the total population each.23

Footnote 23 “Residents of Latvia by Ethnic Origin”, Data from the Population Register of the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs on 16 August 2006. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia at
www.mfa.gov.lv/lv/latvia/integracija/integracijas-politikacopy/

In the 7 October election, 15 of the persons elected to parliament identified themselves as Russian. In addition, one person identified himself as Karelian, one person as Jewish, and one as German, while four persons did not declare their ethnicity. The remaining 78 persons declared themselves as Latvian.24

Footnote 24 Website of the CEC of Latvia: www.cvk.lv/cgi-bin/wdbcgiw/base/saeima9.GalRezS9.vis

In addition to citizenship and naturalization, an issue that potentially affects the participation of national minorities in the election process is the interpretation and application of the Language Law in a manner that prevents official bodies from providing voter education and information materials in languages other than Latvian (see section V F, Voter Education and Information).

Latvia ratified the Council of Europe (CoE) Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities25 (“Framework Convention”) in June 2005, and the Convention entered into force for Latvia later that year. A declaration by the Saeima indicated that Latvia interpreted the term “national minority” as being limited to Latvian citizens and not applicable to other permanent legal residents who were not citizens of Latvia or another country.26 Other parts of the declaration limited the application of the Convention’s linguistic provisions to certain official uses of minority languages in areas traditionally inhabited by national minorities (Articles 10.2 and 11.3).

Footnote 25 ETS No. 157
Footnote 26  2nd Article: “The Republic of Latvia declares that the term ‘national minority’, which is not defined in the Convention, for the purpose of the Convention will apply only to citizens of Latvia, whose culture, religion or language is distinct from the Latvians, who for generations have traditionally lived in Latvia, and who view themselves as belonging to the Latvian state and community, and who wish to preserve and develop their culture, religion and language. Persons that are not citizens of Latvia or of another country, but live permanently and legally in the Republic of Latvia do not belong to a national minority for the purpose of the Convention corresponding to the definition of a national minority included in the related declaration of the Republic of Latvia, but that identify themselves with a national minority corresponding to this definition, can use the rights foreseen in the Convention if a law does not establish an exception.”

The Framework Convention contains a number of provisions relating to the political rights of national minorities. Some of these reflect the political commitments contained in the 1990 Copenhagen Document.27 Under the Copenhagen Document, Part IV, OSCE participating States made a number of commitments with respect to national minorities. These include the statement that they “will respect the right of persons belonging to national minorities to effective participation in public affairs, including participation in the affairs relating to the protection and promotion of the identity of such minorities.”

Footnote 27 OSCE, Document of the Copenhagen Meeting on the Human Dimension of the CSCE, 1990.

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XV. RECOMMENDATIONS

The OSCE/ODIHR is offering for consideration by the authorities, political parties and civil society of Latvia the following recommendations on desirable improvements of electoral practices. They should be read together with the recommendations contained in previous OSCE/ODIHR Final Reports.

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2. Consistent with previous recommendations by OSCE/ODIHR and other international organizations, the Saeima should give consideration to granting the “non-citizens” of Latvia the right to vote in municipal elections. In addition, the Government should further intensify its endeavours to encourage non-citizens to initiate and undergo the naturalization procedure.

3. The legal restriction on the ability of the Central Election Commission to provide voter education material in minority languages continues to create an information gap for a significant proportion of the electorate. Official voter education material in languages other than Latvian should be available for sizeable minority linguistic communities. It is recommended that the Cabinet of Ministers act on its authority to allow the CEC to produce instructional materials, voter information and other relevant documents in both Latvian and Russian.

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5. The Saeima should consider terminating candidacy restrictions based on lustration provisions prior to the next Saeima elections.


Document data: 08.02.2007. Link: https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/latvia/23954?download=true Also available in Latvian and Russian https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/latvia/57908

Publisher’s note: Why is the maintaining of the peculiar lustration measure (not directed to those active in one-party system before 1990 – but to those having been active in a legal opposition party in 1991) related to minority rights?

The answer can be found in ECtHR Grand Chamber judgment of March 16, 2006, in Zdanoka v. Latvia, when the court describes the reasoning of the authorities: “93. Moreover, the applicant’s current conduct continued to justify her disqualification. Relying on numerous press articles, they submitted that the applicant’s political activities were part of a “carefully scripted scenario” aimed at harming Latvia’s interests, distancing it from the European Union and NATO and bringing it closer to the Commonwealth of Independent States. The Government referred to certain critical statements recently made by the applicant about the State’s current policy towards the Russian-speaking minority and the new Language Act;”

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