It took five days of heated debate but on March 13 the Saeima finally got through its work agenda dating from March 5 and passed the government’s contentious regional administrative reform plans in a second reading.
The vote only narrowly achieved a parliamentary majority with 52 deputies voting for and 12 against, with 19 no-votes. Proposals for the third and final reading will be open until 27 March.
As a result the current 119 municipalities of Latvia are on track be reduced to 40, including 5 of the largest cities (Daugavpils, Jūrmala, Liepāja, Rēzekne and Rīga) which will be urban municipalities.
In fact lawmakers had only worked through 145 of the 316 propo sed amendments to the legislation, but on Friday opposition parties decided to withdraw their proposals in response to the coronavirus emergency rather than press on with what until that point had been dogged resistance. The Harmony party did not participate in the vote but the Greens and Farmers Union deputies did oppose it.
However, they signalled they would return to the fray when the bill is presented for its third and final reading at a future date.
“The Saeima demonstrated constructive co-operation at this critical time with a state of emergency declared. Administrative territorial reform is necessary, but at the same time it is important to take care of the health of the population. I am pleased that the Saeima supported the law at second reading in order to ensure a more balanced development of the country. Let’s continue the discussions in the commission and the Saeima as the third reading of the bill,” said Arturs Toms Plešs (Development/For!), chairman of the Administrative Territorial Reform Commission, which is responsible for advancing the bill.
The biggest municipality on the redrawn map will be Jelgava county with 88,000 inhabitants and budget of 141 million euros. The smallest will be Līvāni county with a population of 10,800 and a budget of approximately 14 million euros.