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Latvians back dismissal of parliament in vote
Almost 95 per cent of those who voted support dissolution, following earlier attempt by ex-president to curb corruption.
Last Modified: 23 Jul 2011 22:38
The referendum was called for in May in a move by the former president to stop corruption [AFP]

Latvians have overwhelmingly voted in favour of dissolving parliament in a referendum called to combat the power of oligarch businessmen, early results of the poll showed.

With more than 57 per cent of ballots counted, 94.8 per cent of voters supported the legislature's dissolution, according to Central Election Commission data released on its website on Saturday.

"Overall voter participation in the referendum was good," election commission chairman Arnis Cimdars told a news conference. The referendum will lead to a snap election in September.

Only a simple majority was needed to sack the parliament, regardless of voter turnout. Commission data showed that around 44 per cent of registered voters participated.

It was the first such referendum since the Baltic country of 2.2 million people broke away from the Soviet Union 20 years ago.

Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said he voted for sacking the legislature, the Saeima, since a new election would be an "opportunity to ensure that forces supporting the rule-of-law would have a majority" in a
new legislature.

The referendum was called for in May when former President Valdis Zatlers used his presidential power to dissolve the parliament - a decision that must be supported by a majority of voters.

'Ruled by lies'

Zatlers was angered that MPs had blocked an anti-corruption probe involving top legislators and businessmen.

The following week, Zatlers lost his re-election bid when legislators - who in Latvia elect the president every four years - opted for challenger Andris Berzins, a millionaire lawmaker.

Zlaters hammered home his message on the eve of the referendum, saying: "I got fed up of living in a country ruled by lies, cynicism and greed".

"I have opened the door to change. Now it is up to you to step through it and feel that you can take control of your own destiny," he added.

Many Latvians share Zatlers' concerns that wealthy businessmen-politicians, or oligarchs, have too much influence in politics through their personal and business links with legislators, or by getting into the parliament themselves.

Latvia is also emerging from a deep recession that in three years cut nearly one-fourth of economic output.

In December 2008 the European Union and the International Monetary Fund stepped in to rescue the country from bankruptcy, but the aid did little to alleviate widespread discontent as the government slashed spending and raised taxes.

Unemployment eventually reached nearly 25 per cent, and tens of thousands of people left the country to find work in Sweden, Britain and Ireland.

Politicians anticipated the parliament's demise, and in recent weeks have entered a campaign mode.

Two right-wing nationalist parties - For Fatherland and Freedom and All for Latvia! - have agreed to create an alliance, and on Saturday the ex-president officially formed his own organisation, Zatlers' Reform Party,
that intends to participate in September's election.

Source:
Agencies
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