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Direct Democracy in the Baltic States

Institutions, Procedures and Practice in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania


Edited By Evren Somer

Over the last decades, provisions for direct democracy have increasingly been added to new constitutions around the world, including in the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Using a comparative legal approach, this book identifies a large set of direct democratic instruments in the Baltics that are being activated either automatically, by public authorities or by the citizens. Although direct democracy should empower the people to share state power and to take political decisions over the heads of their representatives, the results of its practical use between 1991 and 2014 do not confirm these assumptions. Besides informal aspects there are many procedural obstacles in each country that restrict not only the use of such tools but also the chance that the referendum will pass.
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V. The legal framework and practice of direct democracy in Lithuania


A. Direct democratic instruments in Lithuania

Lithuania is a unitary state with a parliamentary system. The unicameral parliament is composed of 141334 deputies, who are elected to a four-year term. The Lithuanian electoral system is a combination of majoritarian and proportional representation. Half of the parliament’s members are elected in each of 71 districts according to majoritarian rule, the other half according to proportional representation.335 The president of the state is also elected through a popular vote, but for a term of five years.336 Direct election ensures the president a great degree of legitimacy as the head of state. This is also apparent in the presidential functions, which are more than representative ones. In particular, the president’s strong position becomes especially clear in foreign policy,337 which is why some scholars characterize Lithuania as a parliamentary-presidential system.338 However, the president’s decision-making competencies are dependent on the consensus of the government and on a strong parliament (Seimas).339 Therefore, Lithuania could also be referred to as a semi-presidential system dominated by the parliament.340

In addition to the government and parliament, there is an additional important political body that can be involved in the legislative process, namely the Lithuanian people. As article 4 of the constitution341 states, ‘the nation shall execute its supreme power either directly or through its democratically elected representatives’.342 The Lithuanian representative democracy is completed by a system of decision-making on public issues in which citizens over 18 years can ← 109 | 110 → directly...

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