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Latvian President Valdis Zatlers announced on Saturday a dissolution of the country’s parliament (Saeima), to dissolve parliament after it blocked a corruption probe of a top lawmaker and businessman, attacking “political scheming and lies” and saying he wanted to rein in local oligarchs.
Zalters accused the parliament of lying and maintaining interests of oligarchs. Earlier Saeima rejected Latvian anti-corruption office to search a house of an MP Ainars Slesers, suspected of corrupt dealings.
He called it “an alarm that points to a split between the legislative and judicial branches of government.”
Under the Latvian constitution a national referendum must vote on the issue. If it votes in favor of Zalters’ decision then Saeima will be dissolved and elections will be scheduled. However, if it is not approved, the president must step down.
Latvia will hold presidential elections in early June. Latvians online said Zatlers described his decision “as radical and one that likely will ruin his chances for re-election.”
In one of the most historic speeches the small Baltic state has seen since it quit the former Soviet Union in 1991, President Valdis Zatlers said he wanted to give people the power to decide after they made big sacrifices in a recent recession.
His decision sets the Baltic state on course for a political crisis, just as the country has begun to recover from a recession caused by the 2008 global financial meltdown and only seven months after the last elections in October.
“Parliament showed disrespect and mistrust of the competency of the judicial authorities,” Zatlers said in a live television and radio address, announcing his decision to start the process which could lead to new elections or his resignation.
“I have taken a decision to act in a radical way,” Zatlers said. Under the constitution, a referendum will be held on whether or not to back his decision to sack parliament.
Baltic news agency BNS quoted the head of the election commission as saying the referendum would likely be on July 31.
New parliamentary elections will be held if Zatlers wins the vote. If he loses, he must leave office.
Latvians have for long spoken of having their own oligarchs, a small group of well connected men, who have allegedly used political office to enrich themselves and influence government.
The anti-corruption office last week said it had launched an investigation into unnamed state officials for money laundering, bribery, abuse of office and false tax returns.
The prosecutor’s office several years ago launched a case against Aivars Lembergs, the mayor of a western port town who is also a senior figure in one of the current coalition parties.
He has denied charges of corruption and money laundering. The case is still going through the courts. Zatlers is already facing a vote on his re-election in parliament next week, but that vote will likely not go ahead.