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EACEA National Policies Platform


5. Participation

5.1 General context

Last update: 23 February 2024
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  1. Main concepts
  2. Institutions of representative democracy

Main concepts

The Civic Empowerment Index in Lithuania uses the specific terminology related to civic participation that capture distinctive understandings and aspects of the situation in the country and facilitate the comprehension of its main features. The Civic Empowerment Index consists of the following four dimensions: civic activeness, potential civic activeness, conception of civil society’s influence, and civic activity risk assessment. The Civic Empowerment Index was started by Civil Society Institute in 2007 as the longitudinal study named aimed at measuring the dynamics of civic and political engagement of Lithuania’s population. The Civic Empowerment Index consists of five components each measuring different aspects of civic and political engagement on the scale from 0 to 100: 1) the index of interest in public affairs reveals how involved people are in following the news about the political, economic and cultural life of the country; 2) the index of actual civic participation is based on the data about the participation of respondents in fifteen civic and political activities during the last twelve months; 3) the potential of civic engagement is measured as an attitude towards organizing or joining activities aimed at solving local or national level problems in three hypothetical situations; 4) the external civic efficacy index shows how much people believe that ordinary citizens can have an influence on the decision-making processes and 5) the index of risks of civic engagement measures to what extent people see active civic and political participation as related to various threats for their personal well-being (see webpage of Civil Society Institute for a more detailed description of methodology of the Civic Empowerment Index).

Institutions of representative democracy

Lithuania is a semi-presidential republic. Lithuania declared the restoration of its independence on 11 March 1990 and has maintained strong democratic traditions. On March 11, 1990 it also adopted a provisional constitution - the Provisional Basic Law. The Provisional Basic Law established a framework for the new state, guaranteeing democratic rights and establishing rules of democratic process. However, the government was still structured similarly to its Soviet predecessor: legislative and executive functions were combined under the parliament and the judiciary branch was not independent. The government function was performed by the presidium of the Supreme Council and the chairman of the presidium became the chairman of the parliament and the Head of State. As this soviet model proved to be unsuitable at the end of 1991 the Supreme Council established a commission tasked to prepare a draft constitution. The new constitution was approved by the Supreme Council in October 1992 and approved in a referendum on October 25, 1992. There were intense debates concerning the constitution, especially the role of the president. A separate referendum was held on 23 May 1992 to gauge public opinion on the matter and 41% of all the eligible voters supported the restoration of the President of Lithuania which meant that a semi-presidential system was settled.

The Lithuanian head of state is the President, directly elected for a five-year term and serving a maximum of two terms. The president’s main policy functions include foreign affairs and national security. The president is also the commander-in-chief of the military. The President appoints the Prime Minister and, on the PM's nomination, the rest of the cabinet, as well as a number of other top civil servants and the judges for all courts. The judges of the Constitutional Court (Konstitucinis Teismas), who serve nine-year terms, are appointed by the President (three judges), the Chairman of the Seimas (three judges), and the Chairman of the Supreme Court (three judges).

The Lithuanian parliament, the Seimas, is a unicameral institution that has 141 members who are elected to four-year terms. 71 of the members of this legislative body are elected in single member constituencies, and the other 70 are elected in a nationwide vote by proportional representation. A party must receive at least 5% of the national vote to be eligible for any of the 70 national seats in the Seimas.

The current administrative division of the republic was established in 1994 and modified in 2000 to meet the requirements of the European Union. Lithuania has a three-tier administrative division: the country is divided into 10 counties (apskritys) that are further subdivided into 60 municipalities (savivaldybės) which consist of over 500 elderships(seniūnijos).

Municipalities are the most important administrative unit. Each municipality has its own elected government. The election of municipality councils takes place every four years. The council appoints elders to govern the elderships. Mayors are elected directly since 2015 (before 2015 they were appointed by the municipality council). Elderships, numbering over 500, are the smallest units and do not play a role in national politics. They provide necessary public services close to their homes (e.g. register births and deaths; identify needy individuals or families and distribute social benefits or organise other forms of social suport for local residents). Elderships have a potential of becoming a source of local policy initiatives to tackle local problems but they have no real political power. There exist rather stron political pressure to introduce direct elections of elders but these initiatives have not been implemented.  

Voters in Lithuania elect members of the parliament, the president, members of the municipal councils and mayors, as well as delegates to the European Parliament. Lithuanian citizens can also vote in mandatory or consultative referendums.  Voting in elections is not compulsory.

71 of the members in the 141-seat parliament, elected to a four-year term, are elected in single-seat constituencies, in a majority vote. The remaining 70 members are elected in a nationwide election based on proportional representation. The structure of the elections means that a large number of parties is represented in the parliament and coalition governments are common. To be eligible for election, candidates must be at least 25 years old on the election day, not under allegiance to a foreign state and permanently reside in Lithuania. Persons serving or due to serve a sentence imposed by the court 65 days before the election are not eligible. Also, judges, citizens performing military service, and servicemen of professional military service and officials of statutory institutions and establishments may not stand for election. In addition, the Lithuanian law stipulates that a person who has been removed from office through impeachment may not be elected for four years after their removal.

The head of the state - the president - is elected to a five-year term in a majority vote, with the president eligible for up to two terms in office. To be eligible for election, candidates must be at least 40 years old on the election day and reside in Lithuania for at least three years, in addition to satisfying the eligibility criteria for a member of the parliament. The president is elected in a majority vote if the voter turnout is at least 50%. If the voter turnout is less than 50%, the candidate is declared a winner only if they get the votes of at least 1/3 of all eligible voters. If there are more than two candidates and no candidate wins in the first round, a second round of voting is held in two weeks after the first round. The two leading candidates from the first round are eligible for the second round of voting and the candidate that gets more votes in the second round is declared a winner.

More than 1500 municipal council members are elected in local elections to four-year terms, with the majority of the seats allocated using proportional representation and the mayors elected directly by residents in a majority vote.  Each municipality in Lithuania is governed by a municipal council and a mayor, who is a member of the municipal council. The number of members, elected on a four-year term, in each municipal council depends on the size of the municipality and varies from 15 (in municipalities with fewer than 5,000 residents) to 51 (in municipalities with more than 500,000 residents). 1,524 municipal council members were elected in 2015. Members of the council, with the exception of the mayor, are elected using proportional representation. Starting with 2015, the mayor is elected directly by the majority of residents of the municipality. Ordinary elections take place on a date proclaimed by the parliament no earlier than two months and no later than a month before the end of the current term. To be eligible for election, candidates must be at least 20 years old on the election day and permanently reside in the respective municipality. Persons serving or due to serve a sentence imposed by the court 65 days before the election are not eligible. Also, residents performing military service, and servicemen of professional military service and officials of statutory institutions and establishments may not stand for election.

The Lithuanian representatives in the European Parliament, currently numbering 11, are elected using proportional representation every five years. To be eligible for election, candidates must be at least 21 years old on the election day, citizen of Lithuania or citizen of another EU country permanently residing in Lithuania. Candidates are not allowed to stand for election in more than one country. Persons serving or due to serve a sentence imposed by the court 65 days before the election are not eligible. Also, judges, citizens performing military service, and servicemen of professional military service and officials of statutory institutions and establishments may not stand for election. The seats are allocated to the participating political parties or lists proportionally to the share of vote received. Parties or lists receiving less than 5% of the vote are not eligible to receive any seats, unless the remaining eligible parties received less than 60% of the vote

13 referendums have been organized in Lithuania, initiated by either citizens or the parliament. Of these, only five have seen the referendum question approved in a referendum deemed to have taken place.

Voting in elections is generally open to all citizens of Lithuania who are at least 18 years of age. Citizens of other European Union countries that permanently reside in Lithuania can vote in the Lithuanian elections to the European Parliament. Voting in municipal elections is open to all residents of Lithuania, regardless of their citizenship.

Voting process is organized by the Central Electoral Commission and subordinate electoral bodies and is monitored by local and international observers. The voters vote in a secret ballot and the elections have generally been assessed as free and fair, although allegations of irregularities have been common.