ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission Final Report (excerpts), 2011

VI. CANDIDATE REGISTRATION

In addition to restrictions to participate in elections as an independent candidate, people declared incompetent by a court decision, those serving prison terms, and persons sentenced for intentionally committed crime, but whose sentence has not yet been expunged, cannot run for elections. In addition, people subject to lustration provisions are prohibited to stand as candidates.14 The European Court of Human Rights stressed that these provisions violate a right of an individual to run for an office and advised to revise them.15

Footnote 14 Article 5 of the Saeima Election Law refers to persons who belonged to the salaried staff of the former Soviet Union’s state security, intelligence or counter-intelligence services.

Footnote 15 “The Latvian Parliament must keep the statutory restriction under constant review, with a view to bringing it to an early end.” Zhdanoka vs. Latvia, ECtHR, App. no. 58278/00, 16 March 2006. See also Adamsons vs. Latvia, ECtHR, App. no. 3669/03, 24 June 2008, where the Court ruled that the restriction violated the applicant’s right to stand.

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A candidate from the ‘For Human Rights in a United Latvia’ party filed a complaint with the State Language Centre (SLC) regarding two candidates from the ‘Concord Centre’ party, alleging that they had insufficient Latvian language proficiency. In response to the complaint, the two ‘Concord Centre’ candidates were invited to take a language test, however, this complaint was dismissed as unfounded.18

Footnote 18 All three candidates are members of Liepaja City Council. According to the SLC, anyone can make a complaint regarding an elected official’s language proficiency. The Election Law does not require Latvian language proficiency as a prerequisite for candidacy. Candidates are required to provide a self-assessment of their Latvian language skills when lodging their nominations with the CEC.

VII. ELECTION CAMPAIGN

A. POLITICAL CAMPAIGN

(..) The ethnic and linguistic lines between parties perceived broadly as representing Latvian speakers, and those perceived as representing the Russian-speaking population remained a main divide of the political landscape. (..)

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VIII. MEDIA

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C. OSCE/ODIHR LEOM MEDIA MONITORING

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Monitoring results indicate that media provided voters with a variety of political opinions overall. The Russian speaking electorate, however, was less exposed to diverse information about the campaign.29

Footnote 29 Russian speaking outlets tended to favor the ‘Concord Centre’ in terms of visibility. Russian newspapers were generally less analytical in their approach, at times blending facts and editorial comments. In addition, Russian-speaking TV channels did not offer debates with all the 13 electoral contestants.

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XI. PARTICIPATION OF NATIONAL MINORITIES AND NON-CITIZENS

The resident population of Latvia includes representatives of a number of ethnic and linguistic minorities. Ethnic Latvians make up 59.5 per cent of the population, while ethnic Russians are the largest minority, at 27.3 per cent of the population.39 Other minorities include Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles and Lithuanians.

Footnote 39 Data from the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, Ministry of Interior, as of 1 July 2011. See http://www.pmlp.gov.lv.

Out of the 1,092 registered candidates, 117 belonged to the Russian minority, 790 declared themselves to be ethnic Latvian and 133 chose not to declare their ethnic background; the rest were people of other ethnic backgrounds. The outgoing parliament had 15 members who identified themselves as belonging to national minorities, 13 of whom were of Russian ethnicity.40 In the 11th parliament, 18 members identify themselves as belonging to national minorities, of which 13 identify themselves as of Russian ethnicity.

Footnote 40 Candidates have the option to declare their ethnicity when registering with the CEC.

After the restoration of Latvia’s independence in 1991, citizenship was granted automatically to holders of Latvian citizenship prior to 1940 and to their descendants, leaving a large number of Latvian residents without Latvian or other citizenship. Currently, there are 319,267 people, about 14 per cent of the population, registered as “non-citizens”. The vast majority of these are of voting age, although they do not possess voting rights.41 According to Article 26 of the Law on Political Parties, non-citizens have the right to join political parties as long as they do not make up half or more of members. 42 They may also make financial contributions to political parties. Most non-citizens are people belonging to national minorities.

Footnote 41 306,400 non-citizens were of voting age at the time of elections. Data from the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, Ministry of Interior.

Footnote 42 Article 26, paragraph 3 of the Law on Political Parties states that only parties in which there are not less than 200 citizens of Latvia may operate in Latvia, and in a party with more than 400 members, not less than half of all the members shall be citizens of Latvia.

Citizenship may be obtained through registration for children under 15 whose parents are noncitizens, and by adults through a naturalization process.43 Since 2006, the naturalization rate of noncitizens has dropped significantly.44 Reasons cited by OSCE/ODIHR LEOM interlocutors for the low naturalization rate include difficulties with the examinations, objections to having to undertake the naturalization process, and pragmatic reasons such as non-citizens’ ability to travel visa-free throughout the European Union and to Russia. The absence of public policies to engage non-citizens into the naturalization process was also cited as a reason.

Footnote 43 Naturalization requirements include continuous residence in the country for at least five years, passing of exams in Latvian, and knowledge of the country’s constitution and history. Facilitation measures, such as a simplified exams, are available for certain groups such as persons over 65.

Footnote 44 The number of naturalizations in 2006 was 16,439; in 2007 it was 6,826; in 2008: 3,004, in 2009: 2,080, and in 2010: 2,336. Data from the Office from Citizenship and Migration Affairs, Ministry of Interior.

In a positive development, regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers were approved in July 2011 that streamlined procedures for the registration of non-citizen children as citizens of Latvia at the time of birth. On 1 February 2011, former President Zatlers proposed several changes to the Citizenship Law to the parliament, including a provision to provide automatic citizenship to the newborn children of non-citizens, unless the parents refuse. The proposal was still under discussion in the previous Saeima at the time of its dissolution.45

Footnote 45 The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and UNHCR expressed support for this proposal. The statement by OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities to the OSCE Permanent Council of 16 June 2011 is available at http://www.osce.org/hcnm/78915. The OSCE HCNM also encouraged Latvia to grant citizenship to all non-citizens born in Latvia since 1991.

The Constitution provides for the right of national minorities to preserve and develop their language and their ethnic and cultural identity, but Latvian is the only official language. While free Latvian language courses are sometimes available for certain groups such as the unemployed, OSCE/ODIHR LEOM interlocutors indicated that demand for such opportunities exceeds supply.46

Footnote 46 For example, Riga city authorities informed the OSCE/ODIHR LEOM that free language courses organized by the city in the summer and fall of 2011 filled up quickly.

Authorities interpreted the Official Language Law as prohibiting voter education and information materials in languages other than Latvian, thus potentially disadvantaging voters with a low proficiency in the Latvian language.47 The CEC website featured basic information about the election in English and Russian. According to the Official Language Law, all official communication must be either in Latvian, or accompanied by a certified translation (with some exceptions).48 In some polling stations visited by the OSCE/ODIHR LEOM observers on election day, PSC members said that they were prepared to assist voters in Russian if needed.

Footnote 47 The UN Human Rights Committee, for example, recommends that “information and materials about voting should be available in minority languages.” See General Comment 25 on Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Paragraph 32.5 of the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document states that “persons belonging to national minorities have the right […] to disseminate, have access to and exchange information in their mother tongue”.

Footnote 48 Most MECs asked by the OSCE/ODIHR LEOM indicated willingness to accept complaints in Russian.

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XIII. RECOMMENDATIONS

The following recommendations are offered for consideration by the authorities, political parties and civil society of the Republic of Latvia, in further support of their efforts to conduct elections fully in line with OSCE commitments and other standards for democratic elections. These recommendations should be read in conjunction with past OSCE/ODIHR recommendations that remain to be addressed.
OSCE/ODIHR stands ready to assist the authorities of the Republic of Latvia to further improve the electoral process and in following up on the recommendations contained in this and previous reports.

Priority recommendations
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2. Consistent with the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, the Saeima should continue to review lustration provisions with a view to bringing them to the end.

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4. Latvian authorities should consider a more flexible approach to the provision of official voter information in minority languages, which would be consistent with international human rights standards and send a positive message of inclusion to people belonging to national minorities.

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National minorities and non-citizens
16. Latvian authorities should consider measures to accelerate the naturalization rate, such as exempting people over 65 from all examinations, conducting public campaigns to encourage naturalization, and expanding access to free Latvian language courses. On the other hand, civil society organizations and minority community representatives should undertake efforts to encourage non-citizens to actively engage in civic and political affairs, including through completing the naturalization process.

17. The newly elected MPs should take up the proposals under discussion in the previous Saeima to automatically grant citizenship to the newborn children of non-citizens, as this will help prevent the issue of non-citizenship from continuing into the future.


Document data: adopted 19.12.2011 Link: https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/86363?download=true 

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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