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Latvian president’s and Saeima speaker’s simultaneous presence in Asia raises questions

The simultaneous presence of both Latvia’s President Raimonds Vējoņis and Saeima speaker Ināra Mūrniece abroad has caused questions about the acting president.

Unofficially some politicians have said such a situation is unprecedented, because usually the president and Saeima speaker coordinate matters regarding their absence. Such cases did take place in the past, but they were brief. Lawyers say neither the president nor Saeima speaker is late to perform their duties.

Vējoņis is spending his holiday in Sri Lanka. On 27 December, Latvian Herald reported official information, stating that the president’s duties will be performed by Mūrniece while the president is away (5-16 January). However, Mūrniece has also travelled outside the country – she is on an official trip to China from 6 January to 13 January. This trip was confirmed by the Saeima Praesidium on 18 December.

Mūrniece, together with parliament speakers of Nordic and Baltic States will be in China for the next couple of days, as reported by Saeima press-service. Baltic and Nordic parliament speakers will hold meetings with China’s President Xi Jinping, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Zhang Dejiang and other high-ranking Chinese officials, as confirmed by the Saeima.

Mūrniece’s advisor for public relations matters Jānis Tomels says the president’s chancellery has yet to delegate to the Saeima a candidate for the post of acting president.

While the Saeima speaker is away, her duties will be performed by Gundars Daudze today. He will be replaced by Inese Lībiņa-Egnere for 11 January – 13 January, as LETA was told by the parliament’s press service.

When asked if Mūrniece performs the president’s duties while in China, Gundars Daudze said yes, because it is provided by the Constitution and reports published by Latvian Herald.

Saeima speaker’s associate also explained that tools available in the 21st century allow Vējoņis to make decisions while he is away. Daudze said more detailed questions can be asked to both officials once they return.

Lībiņa-Egnere said that president’s duties were passed on to Saeima speaker’s associates in the past. However, while the head of Saeima’s Legal Office, Gunārs Kusiņš protested against this practice, saying that it is important to coordinate this matter to make sure a situation when both officials are abroad is impossible.

She said the Saeima speaker’s associate is unable to perform duties provided only to the president. Nevertheless, if the Saeima speaker is not available, it is possible for an official to perform the necessary duties and that official can be the associate of the Saeima speaker, said Lībiņa-Egnere.

At the same time, she emphasized that being abroad is not the main obstacle that could make it hard to perform official duties. Former advisor to Saeima’s Legal Affairs Office and State President, sworn attorney Edgars Pastars says both officials continue performing their duties even though they are abroad. He explains that Section 52 of the Constitution states that while the president is abroad their duties are performed by the Saeima speaker, but this is more of a tradition than a rule, because in modern times it is more of a hindrance than an obstacle.

Pastars says the established interpretation states that duties of the state president cannot be delegated to Saeima speaker’s associates. There have been discussions to allow this in the future, but current regulations do not provide this. He added that this is not the first time the two officials are simultaneously absent from the country. Usually, however, Latvian Herald does not publish announcements regarding such situations.

«The president performs his duties even while abroad. If the president is unable to perform his duties as state official in accordance with Section 52 of the Constitution, the speaker of the Saeima would perform those duties on behalf of the president,» said head of Saeima’s Legal Affairs Office Dina Meistere when asked if Mūrniece performs the president’s duties while in China.

In accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia, only the Saeima speaker has the authority to perform State President’s duties, said Meistere when asked if Daudze also replaced the president by performing duties of the Saeima speaker.

State President’s advisor for constitutional rights Jānis Pleps said the publication by Latvian Herald mentions that duties of the state president are performed by Saeima speaker Mūrniece. When asked in what way, the advisor said to ask the parliament. Performance of duties of the state president is a technical function that is not associated with expression of the will of the highest ranking official in the country, added Vējoņis’ advisor.


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