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Saturday 21.10.2017 | Name days: Severīns, Urzula

Option to abstain from vote proposed to be liquidated to reduce possibility of hiding opinions

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUOn Monday 18 September, a citizens’ initiative will be submitted to the Saeima to liquidate the option to abstain from votes in the parliament. representative Annija Emersone notes Saeima deputies were elected to make decisions, not avoid them. The current order in the Saeima allows deputies to not only vote in favour and against decisions, but also abstain from votes entirely.

The co-author of the initiative, Ir journalist Pauls Raudseps emphasizes that this option is wrong and misleading. This is why it is proposed to be liquidated. «It is deputies’ job to represent the nation in the decision-making process – in the development of laws, approval of officials and in other matters. Abstaining means admitting one’s inability to handle duties and misleading voters about any opinions the deputy may have.»

It is stated in the Constitution that the Saeima forms its opinions with the absolute majority of votes from deputies. This means ‘abstaining’ votes are not counted as votes ‘against’. This means there is a possibility of decisions being declined even if the vote was attended by all 100 deputies, of which 50 vote in favour and the other 50 abstain, note representatives.

Authors of the initiative also say that experience shows that deputies often use the option to abstain from important state votes. In 2011, for example, then the Latvian President Valdis Zatlers initiated Saeima vote after members of the parliament did not permit a search in Ainārs Šlesers’ home. The outcome of the vote was as follows: «35 in favour, 7 against and 37 abstained. This means deputies voted in favour five times more often than against. However, the matter was decided by deputies who abstained from the vote. They basically voted against, but hid their decision behind supposed neutrality.»

«Abstaining from the vote could have far-reaching consequences, which can be seen from the Saeima’s decision to save Šlesers from the search,» notes supporter of the initiative, Ir magazine editor in chief Nellija Ločmele. «Materials of the oligarch talks have caught society’s attention. Those talks were the main reason for KNAB to request a search in Šlesers’ home. Perhaps some valuable evidence would have been obtained otherwise. This means the vote of Saeima’s abstaining deputies can be considered a major obstacle for the investigation, the failure of which is currently being evaluated by Saeima’s committee. This is why the option to abstain from votes still affects Latvia’s society six years later.»

In many parliaments of the world, including countries with long-standing democratic traditions, deputies do not have the option to abstain from votes. This applies to parliaments in the UK, USA, Austria, Ireland, Canada, Malta, Netherlands, Slovenia and Australia. Members of parliaments in Denmark and Sweden have the option to abstain, but the final decision is decided only by votes in favour and against.

«Some may object that there are votes in which it would not be ethical to participate. For example, if the matter in question affects their personal interests. But even now deputies can simply not attend such votes. The current option to abstain does not resolve the problem,» says Raudseps. «It does exactly the opposite, because it misleads votes, since abstaining from the vote basically means the same as voting against.»

This is why authors propose crossing out words ‘or abstained’ from the last sentence of the first part of Section 139 of Rules of Procedure of the Saeima – «The Members who have voted “for” or “against” or “abstained” shall be regarded as having participated in the vote». This would mean all decisions made by the Saeima would be decided by the majority of votes either in favour or against.

If deputies are denied the right to abstain from votes, the possibility of them misleading voters and hiding their opinions would be made non-existent. This would increase deputies’ responsibility before their voters, representatives say.


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