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Latvians Create their Own Parliamentary Bills Online

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, April 10 2013

Riga, capital city of Latvia (credit: Leif Sobremonte/Flickr)

The social initiative platform ManaBalss — "my voice" — offers Latvian citizens the opportunity to get directly involved in their government. Already, ManaBalss points out, two new laws have been passed because of this initiative. This might be a turning point for Latvia, which generally has one of the lowest levels of political engagement and trust in government in the European Union. According to the New York Times, until recently Latvia’s “national politics were largely controlled by a handful of business tycoons…and who are said to have chosen Latvia'ss last president in a secret meeting in a zoo.

ManaBalss was started by some Lativian youths in 2010, but after its launch in July 2011, Valdis Zatlers, the outgoing president, made a public appeal to use Within a week the parliament of Latvia decided to vote on the first of initiatives, according to an article by Kristofs Blaus, one of the site founders. The parliamentary rule — the first taken up because of ManaBalss — states that initiatives with more than 10,000 signatures from citizens 16 or older must be addressed by the parliament. The second citizen initiative made into law is that the state should know the names of beneficiaries of offshore holdings. Two more, regarding traffic law and the burden of payment for hepatitis C treatment, are currently under consideration by Parliament, according to the New York Times.

Latvia's foreign minister explains how his country's open government initiatives work.

In March, techPresident reported on a Finnish petition for legal recognition of same sex couples that garnered more than 50,000 signatures. Under a system in Finland called the Citizens Initiative Act, a legislative proposal with morethan 50,000 signatures gathered within six months can be submitted to parliament for consideration. The petition for same sex couples crossed the 50,000 signature threshold within 9 hours.

Although Americans might draw a comparison between ManaBalss and the US government’s petition system called We the People (which now requires 100,000 signatures within 30 days), there are twokey differences: petitioning the US government will result in, at best, an official response from the administration’s policy experts, not the introduction of an initiative to parliament, and there are thresholds built into ManaBalss to prevent gag initiatives like the American petition to construct a Death Star by 2016.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.