×

HOW TO PROMOTE THE DEVELOPMENT OF LATVIAN POLITICAL CULTURE AND PARTIES

The authors of the article are Olafs Grigus, a researcher, and Agnija Birule, an advocacy and project manager, at the Transparency International Latvia (Delna) especially for the LV portal.

Will the amendments to the Law on Financing of Political Organisations (Parties) announced by the President of Latvia on 15 March 2022 strengthen political parties and political culture in Latvia? In order to implement the successful development of political parties, in the opinion of Transparency International Latvia (Delna) it is necessary to initiate a discussion not only between members of the Latvian Parliament (Saeima) and parties that have entered the Saeima, but also be able to involve less important and regional parties, as well as the the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) and political party experts. Decisions that will contribute to the viability of political parties must be taken in cooperation with the responsible institutions, experts and the public.

 

Overview

  • According to Delna, amendments to the Law on Financing of Political Organisations (Parties) do not solve the problems related to the activities and development of political parties that have been established so far.
  • Changes in the law can have a positive impact on electoral listing practices by excluding people whose loyalty to a political organisation might be questionable.
  • In the Saeima Election Law, it is necessary to impose an obligation on the organisation which submits the list, to provide information on the political party affiliation of candidates.
  • Voters should be given the opportunity to see how long a particular candidate has been in the party. It could also motivate “single-election celebrities” to be included less frequently on the list.
  • The amendments were examined in an urgent matter, limiting discussions between experts and exchange of views among the public.
  • When thinking about the development of the system of political parties, it should be remembered that in addition to parties at the national level, regional parties also operate.
  • Delna supports the directions of action highlighted in the commentary of the President of Latvia. In its view, improvements are also needed with regard to the availability of related data in machine-readable format, not only for funding, but also for members. The criteria for calculating the funding to be allocated to parties should be evaluated so that they stimulate meaningful party activity including the inter-election period.

 

When members of the Saeima adopt and the President announces amendments to the Law on Financing of Political Organisations (Parties), state funding is reduced for those parties whose parliamentary factions cease to exist or lose two thirds of the members.

Delna has previously expressed the view that these amendments are a failed attempt to close the loopholes in the amendments to the law adopted in 2020 and do not address the problems identified so far in relation to the activities and development of political parties. For example, when assessing the adopted amendments to the law, Delna does not see a convincing justification for the President’s assumption that changes in the composition of the Saeima faction are a threat to the viability of a political party. At the same time, Delna does not exclude the possibility that the amendments initiated by the President of Latvia may have a positive impact on the practice of drawing up election lists. In particular parties should not list people whose loyalty to a political organisation might be questionable. It should be noted that in circumstances where the number of active members in political parties is still small, incentives to list persons with weak links to the organisation remain high.

According to Delna, work in this direction should be continued, considering the issue also outside the scope of the particular law. In other words, it is necessary to make changes to the Saeima Election Law, obliging candidates to provide information on their political activities, in addition to other information. The Central Election Commission by compiling and publishing information on the candidate’s existing and former political parties, should give voters the choice of whether or not to vote for candidates who are considered to be a stable part of a particular political organisation, rather than being a “locomotive” for the party’s participation in a single election.

 

There is no justification for the urgency procedure

Another problem is that the amendments were dealt with in a matter of urgency, limiting discussions between experts and exchanges of views among the public. These amendments were promoted by the Budget and Finance (Tax) Committee of the Saeima, headed by Mārtiņš Bondars, and the members of the committee could not justify the need for an urgency procedure.

Thus, when assessing the content aspect, the forwarding of amendments has been ill-considered, and the procedure for their examination has led to a situation where proposals that are in conflict with the purpose of the draft law are incorporated into the draft law.

In our view, setting out the urgency procedure by proposing it to members, who at the same time submitted very controversial proposals and withdrew them after fierce criticism from the public and experts, is a dishonourable attempt to change the regulation in a way that suits them. If the specific proposal of deputies Juris Pūce and Juris Jurašs namely, to exclude Section 7.4, Paragraph 1.2 of the Law, which stipulates that a political party for ensuring its political and economic activity, which also includes political communication, can use no more than 60 percent of the state budget funding received in a given year, would be supported, then parties could act more freely with the state allocated funding in the future, for example, without investing it in meaningful development of the organisation. Such a move would have contradicted the original intention of the President of Latvia.

Coalition members also submitted proposals to change the formula for calculating funding from fixed amounts to coefficients linked to the level of the national minimum wage. The Saeima supported these proposals. Given the expected increase in the minimum wage, this step can be seen as an increase in funding for political parties. Like most of the opposition member proposals, the proposal to link funding to the national average pay level was rejected by members without spending enough time on it. According to Delna, the opposition’s proposal would have ensured that party funding was less tied to specific political decisions affecting changes to the minimum wage.

 

What to do to strengthen political parties and develop political culture in Latvia

The electoral law requires the organisation submitting the list to provide information on the party affiliation of the candidates. By making such amendments to the Saeima Election Law, situations could be prevented when voters, expressing their intention to support a party, actually support candidates whose party affiliation is different from the organisation that submitted the list without their knowledge. It would also potentially prevent situations when popular people are attracted as “locomotives”, which drop the mandate after the election and thus mislead voters about the desire to work in the Saeima. Voters must be given the opportunity to see how long a particular candidate has been in the party. It could also motivate “single-election celebrities” to be included on the lists less frequently. The Central Election Commission should provide information on which political parties have submitted a specific list (e.g. by merging into association). This would raise voters’ awareness and also raise awareness of the activities of political parties.

Delna agrees with the President’s assessment and also emphasises the need to promote the accountability of political parties and to monitor the target groups for which funding is spent. In relation to this necessity, the public policy think tank PROVIDUS during the viewing of the recently announced amendments already submitted seriously considerable proposals to members of the Saeima for evaluation.

When thinking about the development of the system of political parties, it should be remembered that in addition to parties at the national level, regional parties also operate. Efforts should be made to find an answer to the question of whether and to what extent regional parties are motivated to join party alliances and to qualify for public funding through an umbrella organisation. Respectively, is it essential for regional parties to become a kind of “vassal organisation” under the authority of a national party?

In announcing the amendments adopted in a matter of urgency, the President also provided a broader comment and emphasised the need to further differentiate the state budget funding allocated to parties, providing additional criteria that would stimulate meaningful party activity and activity also in the inter-election period. The President additionally emphasised other directions for future improvements, namely, the need to improve the reporting of political parties on the use of the state budget financing, specifying more specifically to whom and to what extent the political party is entitled to use the funds received from the state budget, as well as by providing for the availability of funding also for those parties whose primary purpose is not to stand in the Saeima elections, but in local elections.

 

Delna’s recommendations

According to Delna, the following steps should be taken to strengthen political parties.

  • Evaluate the criteria for calculating party funding, considering less emphasis on election results and including criteria that stimulate meaningful party activity and activity in the inter-election period.
  • The public needs free access to downloadable data in machine-readable form, not only on party funding and use, but also on the number of members considering the publication list of party members, similar to how it is happening currently in Estonia.
  • Changes in the electoral law, requiring political organisations to indicate the party affiliation of candidates when submitting information on candidates. The Central Election Commission should provide information on its website on the parties that form part of the associations of parties that have submitted the list.
  • It is necessary to apply the restriction on state funding expenditures set by the Law on the Financing of Political Organisations (Parties) to various target groups, including each individual party belonging to an association of political parties.

 

This article has been produced with the assistance of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants programme “Active Citizens Fund” and it reflects the opinion of the Transparency International Latvia (Delna).

 

Pievienot komentāru

  •  

    Screen Shot 2018-01-22 at 16.07.52