Voters Slam Russian as State Language; Referendum Turnout Sets Records

By Andris Straumanis (February 19, 2012)

Preliminary results show voters in Latvia and abroad turned out in record numbers to resoundingly reject a Feb. 18 referendum that would have made Russian the country’s second official language.

With balloting results reported in all but 21 voting districts abroad, 74.8 percent of Latvian citizens were pret, or against, the constitutional amendments.

The amendments, proposed by the Russian-oriented Dzimt? valoda (Native Language) organization, would have changed five paragraphs of the constitution that specify Latvian is the sole official language.

More than 1.09 million people—70.73 percent of all those eligible—voted in the referendum, according to provisional results compiled by the Central Election Commission in R?ga. That’s the highest turnout for any national referendum so far.

Voters abroad also turned in great numbers. All together, 39,763 citizens participated in the referendum in 85 voting districts abroad, according to the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That’s more than double the previous record turnout set in 1993, when 18,413 citizens abroad voted in the 5th Saeima election.

The nine voting districts set up in the United Kingdom drew 40 percent of the total vote abroad—a turnout of 16,040. Voters in London alone numbered 5,086, with many standing in line after the official close of polling.

Voters in Ireland totaled 4,864, of whom 3,527 participated in the referendum in Dublin, which was the second-busiest voting district abroad.

Polls in Latvia and abroad were open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time.