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Direct Democracy in the Baltic States

Institutions, Procedures and Practice in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania


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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VII. Conclusions


A. Rich in instruments, moderate in use, poor in performance

Independently of the grade of direct democracy, referendums in all three Baltic states have been helpful tools in carrying the transition trough peacefully and in legitimising nation-building decisions after the fall of the Soviet Union in the beginning of the 1990s. All three countries showed how democracy could be peacefully restored with various forms of direct democracy, in accordance with international law. After the Soviet trauma, the people not only elected their representatives but also decided on fundamental policy issues with regard to independence, the constitution, the re-establishment of statehood and accession to supranational organisations, such as the European Union. One may note that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are currently the only EU member states that were formerly republics of the Soviet Union.

Currently, the Baltic states have a large number of direct democratic instruments that were set up in difficult circumstances. Thanks to direct democratic tools with binding results, the citizens are partly introduced into the legislative process as one additional veto player, whose agreement is needed for a change in the legislative status quo. Following the conceptualisation of direct democratic mechanisms, many different types of referendums have been determined that are constitutionally provided in these three republics. Despite common experiences in the interwar, as well as in the immadiate post-war period, the overview of their referendum rights has illustrated that all three Baltic states have established direct democratic mechanisms to different extents...

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