Lithuanian 2014 referendum results (analysis) | True Lithuania
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Lithuanian 2014 referendum results (analysis)

2014 06 29. The votes of the Lithuanian referendum on the direct democracy and land ownership issues have been counted.

While 72,84% voted "YES" and only 27,16% voted "NO", 14,97% turnout was well below the 50% needed for the referendum to be recognized officially, thus the referendum is considered invalid.

Pre-referendum polls shown that the majority of voters (~55%) supported the proposed legal changes, 20% have been against while the rest had no opinion. In every Lithuanian municipality, there were more "YES" votes cast than "NO" votes, the "YES" percentage ranging from 58,26% to 82,04%.

Preposition of the 2014 Lithuanian referendum

The referendum, if successful, would have reduced the number of signatures necessary to invoke referendum from 300 000 to 100 000, make the laws adopted by referendum to be revocable only by another referendum as well as reintroduced the recently-scrapped limitations on buying freehold land for non-Lithuanian nationals.

Lithuania will thus continue to have one of the toughest referendum laws in the democratic world, requiring 13% of total voters sign a special document in order to invoke a referendum - this percentage increasing every year as the population numbers fell rapidly (by 20% since 1990) but the 300 000 signature number remained fixed.

Campaigns "for" and "against" the referendum

While this referendum was the first citizen initiative in 20 years to have passed the necessary 300 000 signatures threshold it has been later stalled by politicians. While the attempts to stop the referendum from taking place altogether have failed, it was moved to summer (instead of being held on the same date as presidential and European parliament elections) this both increasing costs (by 12 million Litas) and effectively killing a possibility of a positive turnout (only the "dual elections" still surpass the 50% turnout due to high emigration and lack of interest in politics and summer ballots tend to have especially low turnouts). Ironically while a 50% turnout is required for referendums (direct democracy) it is not required for elections (representative democracy) where under-30% turnouts are common in by-elections and non-dual European parliament elections.

The largest political parties campaigned against "Yes" vote and most opponents have called not to vote in the referendum (which is an effective solution under the Lithuanian system as e.g. 650 000 voting "YES" under a 51% turnout would mean a successful referendum (on most issues) but the same number voting "YES" in a 49% turnout would mean referendum not recognized, making it more useful for someone against the proposition not to cast ballot at all rather than voting "NO"). Referendum proponents accused the ruling parties of not willing to respect the will of the people where it contradicts their opinions, especially on the necessity of further EU integration.

Dispute on voters' right to question further reductions of Lithuanian sovereignty

Whatever the result of the referendum the fact that 300 000 have been collected for the first time seemingly made the major political parties more nervous that their decisions might be nullified by people. An attempt to initiate another referendum on the retention of Litas currency (due to become replaced by Euro in 2015 01 01) was blocked in its infancy as the State Electoral Commission (which is appointed by the major political parties) refused to give out the signature papers. This decision is currently disputed at a court of law. Polls show that the majority of Lithuanians would prefer not to adopt Euro on 2015.

The proponents of further European Union integration claims that by joining European Union Lithuania agreed to further integration (including adopting Euro) and could not refuse it even if 100% of the population would think otherwise. The opponents of this idea point out that constitutionally the "sovereignty belongs to the nation" and other EU nations have successfully opted out of various EU measures when their population instructed to do so (e.g. Sweden, Denmark, and the United Kingdom chose not to adopt the Euro).

The current referendum became controversial in the pro-EU integration camp as allowing EU nationals to buy up Lithuanian land is required by EU rules, unless an opt-out is negotiated. Referendum proponents claimed such an opt-out is necessary due to extreme cultural bond to land by Lithuanians, traditionally an agricultural nation (see Home and Away: Lithuanian public and personal space), among a multitude of other reasons. It should be noted that even with such an opt-out foreigners could have obtained leasehold land in Lithuania or get a freehold after naturalization.

It should be noted that when a 2003 referendum on European Union membership was held the laws were specifically amended for that single referendum alone, allowing a 2-day vote and curbing the threshold. Furthermore, free goods had been given out to all the voters to ensure them coming.

The memories of these controversial 2003 events created some ire this week, as some voters in today's referendum protested that this time the government does everything that it could to reduce the turnout while back then it was vice-versa, and both times legally dubious measures have been employed to achieve a government-supported result.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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