Saeima, Freedom Union, legal successor, administrative courts, Peace program
The present republic of Latvia is a legal successor to the independent republic of the same name that existed from 1918 to 1940. The 1922 constitution, which was fully restored in 1993, is recognized as the country’s supreme legal document.
The national legislature of Latvia, called the Saeima, is a unicameral (single-chamber) body composed of 100 members elected by popular vote to four-year terms. The legislature elects the president of Latvia by secret ballot. The president may serve no more than two consecutive four-year terms. (Until 1999 the president’s term was three years.) With the approval of the legislature, the president selects a prime minister and a cabinet of ministers, who carry out the day-to-day operations of the central government. For purposes of local government, Latvia is divided into 33 administrative districts (26 counties and 7 municipalities). All citizens of Latvia age 18 and older may vote. In October 1998 the country held a general election in which six parties won representation in the Saeima by securing the required threshold of 5 percent of the vote. A newly formed conservative party called the People’s Party won the largest number of seats (24). Latvia’s Way won the second largest number of seats (21), followed by the Fatherland and Freedom Union (FFU), a right-wing nationalist party, and the People’s Movement for Latvia, also known as Siegerists’s Party, which promoted extreme nationalist and anti-Russian policies. Latvia’s Way and FFU formed a ruling coalition with a small third party, excluding the People’s Party from the cabinet. The Democratic Party Saimnieks, which won the largest number of seats in the previous election in 1995, failed to gain enough votes to win representation in 1998.
Latvia’s judicial system consists of the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, regional and district courts, and administrative courts. The Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal. The Constitutional Court was established in 1996 to ensure that legislation is in conformity with the constitution. Most judges are appointed for life with the confirmation of the Saeima. The members of the Constitutional Court are appointed by the Saeima for ten-year terms.
When it was a Soviet republic, Latvia had no defense forces apart from those of the USSR. Since becoming independent in 1991, Latvia has developed its own armed forces, which now include an army of 3,100 troops, a navy of 840, and an air force of 210. There is also a border guard and a home guard reserve consisting of volunteers. Conscription for military service is mandatory for all males for a period of 12 months, beginning at age 18.
Latvia is a member of the United Nations (UN), the Council of Europe, and the Partnership for Peace program of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Latvia’s relations with Lithuania and Estonia are loosely coordinated through the Baltic Assembly, an intergovernmental body created in 1991. Consisting of members of the three countries’ parliaments who are designated to meet occasionally, the assembly has accomplished little beyond occasional declarations. Like its Baltic neighbors, Latvia is not a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose political alliance of most of the former Soviet republics.
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