Electoral participation of third-country nationals. National policy brief - LATVIA
The National policy brief is prepared in the framework of o project „Fostering political participation and policy involvement of migrants in 9 Central and Eastern EU countries” (Agreement No. HOME/2013/EIFX/CA/ CFP/4234) supported by the European Commission's Fund fo the Integration of Third Country Nationals. The project is co-funded by the European Union.
Promote political participation, which is based on the principle of equal opportunities, of the permanently staying third country nationals, including non-citizens, through initiating discussion on electoral rights and facilitating the naturalisation process.
As to January 2014, 83.62% of the Latvia’s population were citizens of Latvia, 12.97% were Latvian non-citizens, and the remaining 3.41% were foreigners, including third country nationals. There were 48 137 foreigners with permanent residence permits, and 23 857 with temporary ones. In the beginning of 2014, there were still 9,000 non-citizens’ children, whose parents have not taken the advantage of the opportunity to register them as Latvian citizens.
The right to take part in the parliamentary elections and referendums is reserved only for Latvian citizens. Legislation in force grants the Latvian citizens and the citizens of other EU Member States the right to vote and stand for municipal and European Parliament elections in Latvia. Non-citizens and other third-country nationals do not have any right to vote and to stand for election. However, non-citizens, along with the Latvian citizens and the citizens of other EU member states, can be members of political parties with limitation that if the total number of party members exceeds 400, at least half of them should be Latvian citizens.
According to a research conducted at European level, MIPEX, Latvia’s immigrant integration policy has been marked as less favourable among 31 European and North American countries, which were covered by the research. According to the latest Migrant Integration Policy Index (2011), Latvia has projects but no comprehensive policy for migrant integration and “by keeping foreigners outside democratic life, Latvia has not addressed the need to build public trust”. It is noted that not all residents in Latvia have equal political liberties and they face restrictions on political associations and parties.
Political discussion and public discourse in EU and Latvia
The issue of electoral rights of third-country nationals has been increasingly debated in Europe. Although the opportunities and restrictions with regard to electoral rights differ a lot among the states, some or all categories third-country nationals have the right to vote in local election in 16 EU member states; candidacy rights are in 10 EU member states. Democracy and integration arguments to the large extent have facilitated the legislative changes in many European states.
The Latvian government is concerned that granting electoral rights to non-citizens would undermine the integration policy aiming at facilitating the naturalisation process. At the same time, representatives of international organisations, above all, the Council of Europe, and the EU institutions believe that the non-citizens’ voting rights at local level would facilitate integration, strengthen democracy and encourage their participation in Latvia’s social and political life. The parliamentary opposition has several times proposed the legislative amendments, which would allow non-citizens to vote in municipal elections. According to some surveys, the population at large has not so clearly opposed to such rights (the opponents are than a half of the total respondents Latvian citizens). However, the electoral rights of non-citizens and other third country nationals have not been publicly discussed in Latvia.
Recommendations the government, municipalities, political parties and NGOs:
- Initiate public debate on granting electoral rights to permanently staying third-country nationals, including non-citizens) at local level
- Learn good practices and benefits of immigrants’ political participation, including electoral rights
- Raise awareness on the benefits of being a Latvian citizens, particularly among non-citizens parents and their children
- Promote Latvian language training for non-citizens to facilitate naturalisation and political participation
- Political parties should create a dialog with non-citizens and foreigners
Raise awareness among foreigners on social and political processes in Latvia; conduct training for leaders of immigrant associations on pol
 Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (hereinafter - OCMA), Statistics on the residents’ legal status, available at: http://www.pmlp.gov.lv/lv/sakums/statistika/iedzivotaju-registrs/
 OCMA, Statistics on Residence Permits (01.01.2014.), available at http://www.pmlp.gov.lv/lv/sakums/statistika/uzturesanas-atlaujas.html
 Information provided by the Naturalisation Board to the LCHR on 3 April 2014.
 Latvijas Republikas Satversme (The Constitution of the Republic of Latvia), Article 8, Article 9; Saeimas Vēlēšanu likums (Law on Saeima Elections), Article 1, Article 4
 Republikas pilsētas domes un novada domes vēlēsanu likums (Law on Elections of the Republic City Council and Municipality Council), Article 5, available at: http://www.likumi.lv/doc.php?id=57839
 Politisko partiju likums (Law “On Political Parties”), Article 26 (2)
 British Council and Migration Policy Group (2011), Migrant Integration policy index, Latvia, Areas of Integration: Political Participation, available at: http://www.mipex.eu/latvia
 Arrighi, J-Th., Bauböck, R. , Collyer, M., Hutcheson, D., Moraru, M., Khadar, L. and Shaw, J). (2013), Franchise and electoral participation of third country citizens residing the European Union and of EU citizens residing in third countries (Brussels: European Parliament/Directorate General for Internal Policies), Study 474.411., available at; http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/etudes/join/2013/474441/IPOL-AFCO_ET%282013%29474441_EN.pdf
 Comments of the Government of Latvia on the Second Opinion of the Advisory Committee on the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities by Latvia (received on 3 January 2014), available at: http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/minorities/3_FCNMdocs/PDF_2nd_Com_Latvia_en.pdf
 Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Second opinion on Latvia, adopted on 18 June 2013, available at: http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/minorities/3_FCNMdocs/PDF_2nd_OP_Latvia_en.pdf; The Baltic Course (07.02.2012), Muiznieks: Council of Europe will continue to demand that non-citizens in Latvia be permitted to participate in municipal elections, available at: http://www.baltic-course.com/eng/legislation/?doc=52721; Recommendation 317 (2011) of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities on Latvia of October 2011, available at: https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?id=1857271&Site=COE
 Kvantitatīvs un kvalitatīvs pētījums par sabiedrības integrācijas un pilsonības aktuālajiem aspektiem (2008) Rīga, AC Konsultācijas, p. 19, available at: http://izm.izm.gov.lv/upload_file/jaunatne/petijumi/Cela_uz_pilsonisku_sabiedribu_06112008.pdf;