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Inauguration of the Constitutional Assembly of Latvia, 1 May 1920


The Constitution of Latvia ( ) is the fundamental law of the Republic of Latviamarker. It was adopted by, as it states itself, the people of Latvia, in a freely elected Constitutional Assembly, on 15 February 1922 and came into force on 7 November 1922. It was influenced by ideas of the Weimar Constitution and Swiss Federal Constitution. Although the initial bill consisted of two parts, the second part, which regulated citizens' rights and obligations was voted down; a chapter on Fundamental human rights was added only by amendment in 1998. After the 1934 coup d'etat a declaration was passed which assigned functions of the parliament to the Cabinet of Ministers until a new constitution could be drafted, thereby partly suspending the constitution. A new constitution was never drafted and during World War II Latvia was anexed by the Soviet Unionmarker. In 1990 the parliament of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic declared the anexation of Latvia illegal, as it was acted out ignoring the Constitution of Latvia and both the Constitution and Republic of Latvia still existed de jure thereby restoring independence of Latvia. The constitution, except for the articles 1, 2, 3 and 6 was suspended by the same declaration in order to be reviewed, the constitution was fully reinforced upon the first assembly of the 5th Saeima in 1993. The constitution establishes six bodies of government, it consists of 116 articles arranged in eight chapters.

Etymology

In Latvian, satversme is a synonym of Constitution (konstitūcija). The term was coined by Atis Kronvalds, one of the leaders of Latvian romantic nationalism in the 19th century. The movement was trying to promote Latvian culture after centuries of Baltic German influence and encourage use of Latvian. Kronvalds and like-minded individuals introduced several new terms intended to be used over loanwords in everyday use. He derived the term "satversme" from -tver- ("to hold"), combining it with the prefix "sa-", indicating something longlasting and strong, the -sm- suffix, and a feminine ending, -e, to illustrate how a constitution holds together all other laws.

History

The Constitution was drafted by the Constitutional Assembly of Latvia (Satversmes sapulce), which consisted of 150 members elected in general elections. The initial bill was elaborated by a Constitutional committee (Satversmes komisija) and consisted of two parts. It was influenced by ideas of Weimar Constitution and Swiss Federal Constitution. The first regulated the state's institutions; the second, citizens' rights and obligations. The committee presented its work on 20 September 1921. The first part of the bill was passed on 15 February 1922, while the second part was voted down on 5 April 1922. On 20 June 1922 a law was passed that set the new constitution to come into force at 12 a.m. on 7 November 1922.On 15 May 1934, a coup d'etat led by Kārlis Ulmanis took place; the subsequent cabinet of Ulmanis passed a declaration that gave the functions of parliament to the Cabinet of Ministers until a new constitution was drafted, which never happened. During World War II a Soviet government was established and a parliament called the "People's Saeima of Latvia" was elected. The legality of this parliament and its decisions is questioned–Soviets considered that the constitution was nullified by Ulmanis' coup d'état, so the People's Saeima never formally annulled it. However, Latvian lawyers and historians observe that the constitution was still in effect, since Ulmanis' declaration only assigned the functions of the Saeima to the cabinet and did not cancel any part of the constitution, and that the People's Saeima was elected in accordance with the constitution of Russian SFSR, not in accordance with that of Latvia, and thus it had no legal rights to legislate, and by declaring accession to the Soviet Unionmarker, it broke the first article of the Satversme. After declaring accession to the USSR, the People's Saeima drafted a Constitution of LSSR on the basis of the Constitution of the Soviet Union. It was adopted a month after, on 25 August 1940. On 18 April 1978 the government of the LSSR adopted a new constitution. On 4 May 1990 the Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia declared Latvia independent and adopted articles 1, 2, 3 and 6 of the constitution of 1922. The rest of the constitution remained in abeyance until it was reviewed to fit the modern situation, thus the constitution was fully reinforced by 5th Saeima on 6 July 1993 in accordance to 14 article of law "On organisation of job of Supreme Council of Republic of Latvia"

Overview

The Constitution of Latvia is a codified constitution and currently consists of 116 articles arranged in eight chapters:
  • Chapter 1: General Provisions (articles 1-4)
  • Chapter 2: Saeima (articles 5-34)
  • Chapter 3: The President (articles 35-54)
  • Chapter 4: The Cabinet (articles 55-63)
  • Chapter 5: Legislation (articles 64-81)
  • Chapter 6: Courts (articles 82-86)
  • Chapter 7: The State Audit Office (articles 87-88)
  • Chapter 8: Fundamental human rights (articles 89-116)


Thus the constitution establishes five government bodies - the Saeima, the President, the Cabinet, the Courts and the State Audit Office.

Key principles

Articles 1, 2, 3 and 6, which establish the legal basis of the state's political system, were the first to be adopted after the restoration of independence. These articles, along with articles 4 and 77, can only be amended if submitted to a national referendum:

Saeima

The Saeima, the parliament of Latvia, consists of 100 members, designeted by the constitution as representatives of the people. It is elected in general, equal and direct elections for a term of four years, by secret ballot based on proportional representation of voters in each electoral district. The Constitution describes in general how the Saeima should work, noting that the Saeima should also establish rules of order to regulate its internal operations and order.

Executive branch

Executive power is vested in the President and the Cabinet of ministers. The President however is not politically responsible for carrying out his duties and all his orders have to be signed by the Prime Minister or by the appropriate Minister who thereby becomes responsible for this order. There are two exceptions to this rule - the President can single-handedly decide to dissolve the Saeima and when a new government is formed it is up to him to choose a new Prime Minister. The cabinet is formed by the Prime Minister.

Courts

The Constitution establishes district (city) courts, regional courts, the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court, and rules that, in the event of war or a state of emergency, military courts can also be established. Judges are to be appointed by the Saeima and this decision is irreversible, the Saeima can forcibly remove a judge from office only upon a decision of the Judicial Disciplinary Board or a judgment of the Court in a criminal case.

Legislation

Under the constitution, the right to legislate has been granted to the Saeima. Draft laws may be submitted to the Saeima by the President, the Cabinet or committees of the Saeima, by more than five MPs or by one-tenth of the electorate if provisions to do so, set out in the Constitution, are met. Laws are to be adopted by the Saeima and proclaimed by the President.

The State Audit Office of the Republic of Latvia is an independent collegial supreme audit institution, a key element in the State’s financial control system serving public interest by providing independent assurance on the effective and useful utilization of central and local government resources.

State Audit Office

The Constitution establishes the State Audit Office as an independent collegial institution and describes the process of appointing Auditors General - the procedure is essentially the same as when appointing judges, with the exception that Auditor General has a fixed term of office. The State Audit Office controls how the state financial resources are used.

Fundamental human rights

Although the constitutional bill included a chapter that was to regulate citizens' rights and obligations this was not originally adopted. The chapter on human rights was added as part of constitutional amendment in 1998.

Amendments

Provisions for amendments are stated in articles 76-79 of the constitution. Amendments to most articles can be made by the Saeima. Articles 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 77 and exceptions, as article 77 requires a referendum to amend these articles. During the interwar period amendments were rare–only one amendment was made and one major amendment was almost passed, but was never adopted due to the coup. Since the renewal of independence, however, eight amendments have been made. In 1994 the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. In 1996, the Constitutional Court was established. In 1997, major changes to the articles regulating the process of elections and the functions of Saeima, the President and the Cabinet were made. In 1998, aside from adding chapter eight (fundamental human rights) to the constitution, official status was granted to the Latvian language, the requirement for a referendum to change articles 4 and 77 was made, and article 82 was fully changed; it now defines types of courts in Latvia. In 2002 requirement for members of Saeima to give a solemn promise to acquire their mandate. Official status for the Latvian language was further secured by making it the working language of state and municipal structures. In 2003 several amendments were made in order for Latvia to join the European Union. In 2004 amendments to certain rights of the president and citizens were made. In 2006 an amendment that defined that marriage as the union of one man and one woman was added.In 2007 article 40 was amended and article 81 was abolished.

References and notes

  1. Atis Kronvalds (retrieved on 2007-05-26)
  2. Politics in Latvia (retrieved on 2007-05-26)
  3. The Constitutional Assembly: The first elected parliament of Latvia (Retrieved on 24 December 2006)
  4. Freibergs J. (1998, 2001) Jaunāko laiku vēsture 20. gadsimts Zvaigzne ABC ISBN 9984-17-049-7
  5. Resolution of Five senators of Senate of Latvia on validity of Constitution of Latvia and authority of Saeima in conditions of occupation (Retrieved on 24 December 2006)
  6. Editorial board of chief editorial office of encyclopedias (1987) Politiskā enciklopēdija Chief editorial office of encyclopedias
  7. Declaration of independence of 4 May 1990 (Retrieved on 24 December 2006)
  8. First sitting of 5th Saeima (transcript) (Retrieved on 2 January 2007)
  9. Law "On organisation of job of Supreme Council of Republic of Latvia" (Retrieved on 2 January 2007)
  10. Constitution of the Republic of Latvia with amendments and revisions (Official english translation) (Retrieved on 24 December 2006)
  11. About the State Audit Office (Retrieved on 3 January 2008)
  12. Originally, article 82 stated that all citizens of Latvia are equal before the law and the courts. Article 9 now makes a similar statement but, unlike the original article 82, it refers to all human beings in Latvia and states that human rights should be enforced with no discrimination


External links



Homepages of constitutional government bodies of Latvia




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