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Latvian government stands behind controversial municipal reform

Municipalities are unhappy, parliament is divided – what's next for the controversial reform?
  • 17 oktober 2019 14:30
  • Author Anton Stoyanov
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Källa: Saeima [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Earlier this week, the government of Latvia approved a hotly debated municipal reform which is bound to completely reshape the country’s political landscape.

Massive in its ambitions, the reform aims to completely redo the way administrative divisions are handled in the country. By cutting down the number of municipalities and republican cities, the Latvian government hopes that it will remove a great burden on officials and citizens alike.

In specifics, the reform envisions the following changes:

  • Reducing the number of municipalities from 119 to 39
  • Reducing the number of republican cities from 9 to 5
  • Establishing 34 counties

Littered with controversies

The most controversial aspects of this reform has proven to be the merger of many municipalities with some local authorities claiming that said mergers are not only nonsensical but also might prove harmful to their municipalities’ economies.

Furthermore, the withdrawing of the status of republican city from Jēkabpils‎, Valmiera, Jelgava and Ventspils has also drawn the ire of their respective local authorities.

Despite opposition to the bill, the government of Latvia is confident that the Parliament will also support the proposals. They hope that should an impasse be reached, the situation could be resolved by May 2020. With local elections coming in May 2021, that should provide ample time for citizens and authorities to grow accustomed to the changes.

The issue of voting has also been a hot topic, with residents of smaller municipalities fearing that they might not be represented following a merger with larger and more populated areas. Latvian authorities have attempted to reassure citizens that it shan’t come to such a problem, yet the fear persists with The Association of Regions of Latvia claiming that around 90,000 citizens might be left without representation following the reform.

The government is facing the start opposition of the local governments of Jelgava and Ventspils who believe that their cities perfectly match the criteria for republican cities and yet are being denied the privilege.

With so many issues piling up, the Latvian Parliament is heading into a dangerous fight with local authorities should it decide to push ahead with the reform despite opposition. Nonetheless, MPs have stated that they are eager to hear proposals and ideas from local governments and remain open to feedback. 

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