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Monday 09.12.2019 | Name days: Sarmīte, Tabita

To increase parties’ independence, Saeima decides to boost support for them

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budget 2020, transparency, law, independence, oligarchs, party funding, SaeimaIn the final reading, Latvia’s Saeima approved controversial amendments to the Law on Financing of Political Organizations, significantly boosting state support for political parties.

Debates and discussions about this legislative draft on Thursday, 14 November, during which the Saeima decided on the next year’s budget, transpired without involvement from opposition deputies. Nevertheless, the absence of the opposition did not contribute to a unified vote from the coalition – 53 deputies voted in favour of amendments, three voted against and one parliamentarian abstained in the vote.

Two KPV LV party members – Kaspars Ģirģens and Ieva Krapāne – voted against the legislative draft. Non-party deputy Inguna Rībena also voted against it. KPV LV faction member Ivars Puga abstained in the vote, vice-chairman of the party’s chairman Ēriks Pucens did not take part in the vote. Approximately one-third of KPV LV faction deputies did not vote together with their colleagues and the coalition. After the decision was made, Pucens mentioned that he made a mistake in the vote. Saeima Praesidium was asked to change his vote. With that, a total of 54 deputies voted in favour of amendments.

Read also: With 57 deputies present, Latvia’s Saeima adopts state budget for 2020

The previously expected heated debates about amendments to the law fell through because members of the opposition had left the hall. Only Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš and Finance Minister Jānis Reirs climbed the tribune. Both mentioned that state funding for parties should be increased, adding that it should have been done sooner.

But even without the opposition the coalition was less than united – Interior Affairs Minister Sandis Ģirģens and New Conservative Party member Juta Strīķe, whose party member Justice Minister Jānis Bordāns was the one who proposed the initiative. Prior to the vote, Ģirģens climbed the tribune to announce that «New Conservative Party’s interior affairs minister will not dictate to him what he can and cannot say». «I have the right to state my opinion!» announced Ģirģens, adding that Strīķe disapproved of his desire to stand on the tribune.

The minister did not read a long speech. He only said the millions of euros will not guarantee objectivity, adding the problem should be resolved differently. A similar opinion was voiced by the minister’s brother – Saeima deputy Kaspars Ģirģens. According to him, to fulfil the promises given to voters, «parties don’t need four million euros».

The law dictates the total state budget funding for a single party will not be allowed to exceed EUR 800 000. Parties will be allowed to use this money to finance political and economic operations.

By allocating bigger state funding, maximum permitted donations from private persons and other donations will be reduced in exchange. At the same time, it has been decided that the total funding for parties will not be allowed to exceed 1 950 minimal wages until the end of 2022. As minimal wages increase, so will the funding for political parties.

Political parties that have overcome the 2% barrier in Saeima elections will be paid EUR 4.5 per vote and EUR 0.5 per vote in municipal elections and EUR 0.5 per vote in European Parliament elections.

Until now state budget funding for political organizations that passed the 2% barrier in Saeima elections were paid EUR 0.71 per vote in each calendar year.

This means each party will be paid 6.3 more state budget money than before.

On top of that, political parties that receive more than 5% of votes in previous Saeima elections will be paid additional state budget funding of EUR 100 000 a year.

State budget funding will be paid to political parties for a period of four years, starting with the year after Saeima elections. Money will be paid twice a year – by 15 January and by 15 July. Following elections of all types the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau will re-calculate funding amounts in accordance with election results.

According to amendments, budget funding will not be allocated for votes cast for candidate lists submitted by voter associations or at least two registered parties that are not joined as registered party unions.

It is also stated in the law that KNAB will be able to halt funding for parties if it is caught illegally spending EUR 30 000.

Parties will have to submit budget funding use reports to KNAB once a year.

Party unions have the right to divide state funding among its political organizations under the conditions that all of them were part of the union prior to Saeima elections. Amendments also state that parties are to cover their debts within three years.

Amendments of this law had previously caused a great deal of unrest among residents and the parliament, who proposed excluding the proposed norms either partially or at least applying new rules to the next Saeima.

Authors of the legislative draft stress the increase of state funding for parties will help raise the quality of democracy in Latvia and pull parties from influence of money paid by oligarchs. The opposition, on the other hand, says funding for parties should not be increased without also fulfilling Saeima’s previously adopted laws, including the one that governs the increase of wages for doctors.

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