Lithuania: the Constitutional Framework

The Lithuanian Constitution was passed by a referendum on 25 October 1992. The Basic Provisional Law (Laikinasis Pagrindinis Įstatymas), passed by the Supreme Council-Constitutive Assembly on 11 March 1990, had regulated the political system between 1990 and 1992. The Provisional Law was in fact a revised version of the Constitution of the Lithuanian Socialist Soviet Republic, but without references to the Soviet Union. Up until the adoption of the constitution, Lithuania was formally a parliamentary republic, but due to the extraordinary political circumstances of this period, the central figure in Lithuanian political life was not the Prime Minister, but the Chairman of the Supreme Council-Constitutive Assembly (who was Speaker of Parliament de jure, but Head of State de facto). Lithuania introduced a system of partial separation of powers as a consequence of political compromises in the summer and autumn of 1992. The Constitution foresees a directly elected president partly due to personal ambitions and partly as a safeguard against hung parliaments. Lithuania is regarded as a semi-presidential republic due to power balance between the President and the Parliament (Seimas).

The Parliament

The Parliament (Seimas) (1) debates and enacts amendments to the Constitution; (2) legislates; (3) decides on holding referenda; (4) announces presidential elections; (5) establishes state institutions as provided by law, and appoints and dismisses their chief officers; (6) approves or rejects a candidacy for Prime Minister proposed by the President of the Republic; (7) considers the programme of the Government submitted by the Prime Minister, and decides on its approval; (8) upon the recommendation of the Government, establishes or abolishes ministries of the Republic of Lithuania; (9) supervises the activities of the Government, and may express no confidence in the Prime Minister or in individual Ministers; (10) appoints judges and Chairs to the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court; (11) appoints (and dismisses) members of the Office of State Controllers and the Chair of the Board of the Bank of Lithuania; (12) announces elections to the councils of local government; (13) forms the Central Electoral Committee and changes its composition; (14) approves the State budget and supervises the implementation thereof; (15) introduces taxes and other obligatory payments; (16) ratifies or rejects international treaties to which the Republic of Lithuania is a party, and considers other issues of foreign policy; (17) establishes administrative divisions of the Republic; (18) establishes state awards; (19) grants amnesty; and (20) imposes direct administration and martial law, declares state of emergency, announces mobilization, and decides on the use of the Armed Forces.

The Seimas, the Government, the President and the signatures of at least 50,000 citizens have the rights to take legislative initiative, which can either be adopted or rejected by the Seimas. A law is adopted when a majority of parliamentarians who participate in the sitting vote in favour. Constitutional laws are adopted when more than 50 per cent of all parliamentarians vote in favour. Amendments of Constitutional laws must be approved by at least three-fifths of all members of the Seimas. The President must sign laws that are passed. Unless the President either signs or returns the law to the Seimas for reconsideration, the Chairperson of the Parliament signs the law. In order for the Seimas to enact a law that has been vetoed by the President, an absolute majority of parliamentarians must vote in favour (three-fifths in the case of a constitutional law). Provisions of the laws may also be adopted in a referendum.

In case of gross violations of the Constitution, breach of oath, or upon the disclosure of a felony crime, the Seimas may remove from office the President, the Chair and judges of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, as well as Seimas members, by a three-fifths majority vote of all parliamentarians. The Seimas may also dismiss other appointed or elected officers by a simple majority vote of all mps. The parliament may dissolve itself if three-fifths of all Seimas members vote in favour.

The President

The President officially promulgates laws passed by the Seimas, but has also the right to veto. He or she can return laws to the Seimas, which in turn may override the presidential veto (see above). The President names the Prime Minister who, upon investiture by the Seimas, forms the Government. The Ministers are either appointed or dismissed by a presidential decree, upon the request of the Prime Minister. Only the Seimas can effectively censure or dismiss Ministers and the Government. The President may dissolve the Seimas if the Government is defeated in a vote of no confidence in the Seimas, but only if the Government asks the President to call early elections. The President may also call early parliamentary elections if the Seimas fails to make a decision on the Government's programme within 30 days, or if it rejects the Government's programme twice within 60 days from the day the programme was first submitted to the Seimas.

The President nominates the Chairman and judges of the Supreme Court and the Appeals Court; lower-level judges, three (out of nine) judges and the Chairman of the Constitutional Court, the Chairman of the State Control Office; and the Chairman of the Board of the National Bank. All these appointments have to be confirmed by the Seimas. The President also appoints (and dismisses) the Commander of the Armed Forces, Prosecutor General and the Head of the Security Services - all upon the approval of Seimas. The President can issue decrees, but in order to be valid some of them must be signed by the Premier or an appropriate Minister.

Under normal circumstances, early presidential elections can be called when the President dissolves the Seimas and at least three-fifths of the newly elected parliament call for early presidential elections. The powers of the President are terminated either upon the expiry of his/her term; upon holding pre-term presidential elections; upon the President's resignation or death; in the case of the Parliament removing the President from office via impeachment procedures; or when the Seimas, taking into account conclusions of the Constitutional Court and a three-fifths majority parliamentarian vote, conclude that the President cannot fulfil his or her duties for health reasons.

The constitutional set-up and political practice suggest that Lithuania is what Shugart and Carey (1992) would classify as a premier-presidential state, leaning towards parliamentarism. All presidential powers are matched by countervailing powers vested in the Seimas. In the areas where separation of powers is not very clearly stated, presidential supremacy is assumed (e.g. in foreign policy domains), but according to the constitution, both the President and the parliament can take the initiative and, hence, the personality of the President becomes a decisive factor. For instance, President Brazauskas chose to keep a low profile, staying out conflicts even when his former party held the majority in the Seimas. The Chairperson of the Seimas, Vytautas Landsbergis, heavily influenced foreign and defence policies in this period. However, Mr Brazuaskas profile was more visible towards the end of his presidential term. By contrast, Valdas Adamkus, Brazauskas' successor, was far more active, enjoying considerable respect among the public. His moral authority allowed him to unseat Conservative Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius in 1999 in spite of the Conservative-dominated Seimas. The period after the presidential election of 2003 confirms that, without great legitimacy in the face of the public, the authority of the President is limited. Adamkus' successor, Rolandas Paksas, has held the office since February 2003. At the time of writing, it is too early to assess his abilities to exercise influence, but during the first months in office, he was largely overshadowed by a strong Premier with wide support in the Seimas.

The Government

The Government consists of the Prime Minister and Ministers. The President appoints and dismisses the Prime Minister with the approval of the Seimas. The President also appoints Ministers upon the nomination of the Premier, who presents the members of the Government and the programme to the Seimas within 15 days of his or her appointment. A new Government is installed when the Seimas approves its programme by a majority vote of participating MPs. The Government returns its mandate after parliamentary and presidential elections. When more than half of the Ministers are being replaced, the Government must be reinvested with authority from the Seimas, or resign. The Government must also resign if the majority of all MPs express no confidence in the Government or in the Prime Minister in a secret ballot, or if the Prime Minister resigns or dies. A Minister must resign if more than half of all MPs express no confidence in him or her in a secret ballot. Resignations are to be accepted by the President. Upon the request of the Seimas, the Government or individual Ministers must account for their activities.

The Government of the Republic of Lithuania: (1) runs the affairs of the country; (2) protects the inviolability of its territory, and safeguards national security and public order; (3) implements laws and Seimas resolutions (concerning Government implementation of laws) and presidential decrees; (4) coordinates the activities of the ministries and other governmental institutions; (5) prepares drafts of state budgets and submits them to the Seimas; implements state budgets and reports to the Seimas on the implementation; (6) drafts bills and submits them to the Seimas for consideration; (7) establishes diplomatic relations and maintains relations with foreign countries and international organizations; and (8) discharges other duties prescribed by the Constitution and other laws.

The Government resolves affairs of the state administration. Government decisions must be passed by a majority vote of all members of the Government. Government directives are signed by the Prime Minister and the responsible Minister, but the Government is collectively responsible to the Seimas. Ministers are responsible to the Seimas and the President and are directly subordinated to the Prime Minister within their sphere of competence.

A member of the Seimas may be appointed Prime Minister or Minister but may not take up other posts, whether private or public. Members of the Seimas have the right to submit inquiries to the Prime Minister, individual Ministers, and the heads of other state institutions formed or elected by the Seimas. These persons or bodies must respond orally or in writing at a Seimas session. A group of no less than one-fifth of the Seimas deputies may ask for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister or in a Minister. After having considered the response of the Prime Minister or the Minister to such a motion, the Seimas may, by an absolute majority vote of all MPs, express no confidence in the Prime Minister or a Minister.

The Constitutional Court

The Constitutional Court consists of nine judges appointed for a non-renewable nine-year term. The Parliament appoints three candidates. Every three years, one third of the Constitutional Court is reconstituted. The Seimas appoints all candidates. The President, Chairperson of the Parliament, and the Chairperson of the Supreme Court each nominates three candidates. The Parliament also appoints the Chairperson of the Constitutional Court, who is nominated from among the judges by the President.

The Constitutional Court decides whether laws and other legal acts passed by the Seimas conform with the Constitution, and whether legal acts adopted by the President and the Government violate the Constitution or laws. The Constitutional Court also decides: (1) on the legality of presidential elections or elections to the Seimas; (2) whether the health of the President of the Republic is limiting his or her capacity to continue in office; (3) whether international agreements conform with the Constitution; and (4) on the compliance with the Constitution of specific actions of MPs or other state officers against whom impeachment proceedings have been instituted. The Government, one-fifth of all parliamentarians and the courts (the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, district courts, and local courts) can address the Constitutional Court concerning the conformity of parliamentary laws with the Constitution. At least one-fifth of MPs and the courts can address the Constitutional Court concerning the conformity of presidential acts with the Constitution and laws. At least one-fifth of MPs, the President and the courts can address the Constitutional Court concerning the conformity with an act of the Government with the Constitution and laws. If the Seimas and the President turn to the Constitutional Court to investigate the conformity of an act with the Constitution, the applicability of the act is suspended. The Seimas can request a conclusion from the Constitutional Court. The President can also request a conclusion in cases regarding parliamentary elections and international agreements. Laws and acts adopted by the Seimas, the President and the Government are not valid from the day of official promulgation of the Constitutional Court if the act in question, or parts of it, is inconsistent with the Constitution. Decisions of the Constitutional Court on issues assigned to its jurisdiction are final and cannot be appealed.

Source: Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania [Lietuvos Respublikos Konstitucija], Valstybės zinios, 1992, Nr. 33-1014; Amendments included.

Acknowledgement: The authors are grateful to Darius Zeruolis for his permission to include sections of his description of the constitutional framework and electoral system of Lithuania, published in the first edition of the Handbook of Political Change in Eastern Europe, in this edition.

Adapted from: Berglund, Sten, Ekman, Joakim, and Aarebrot, Frank H., 2004. The Handbook of Political Change in Eastern Europe. Second Edition. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Composition of Lithuanian Government

Partisan composition of governments and the cause of their termination since 1990

  Premier: Government parties: Political orientation: Cause of termination:
March 1990 - 10 January 1991 Kazimiera Danutė Prunskienė Sajūdis, LKP and non-party ministers Oversized rainbow coalition government No confidence in the Supreme Council/ Constitutive Assembly
10 January 1991 - 13 January 1991 Albertas Šimėnas Sajūdis, LKP and non-party ministers Oversized rainbow coalition government Soviet intervention in Vilnius and 'disappearance' of the premier
January 1991 - July 1992 Gediminas Vagnorius Sąjūdis Right-wing, majority government Lack of confidence in parliament
July 1992 - December 1992 Aleksandras Algirdas Abisala Sąjūdis Right-wing, caretaker government Pre-term parliamentary elections
December 1992 - March 1993 Bronislovas Lubys LDDP Left-wing majority government Lubys refused to continue after the presidential elections
March 1993 - February 1996 Adolfas Slezevičius LDDP Left-wing majority government Lack of confidence in parliament
February 1996 - December 1996 Laurynas Mindaugas Stankevičius LDDP Left-wing majority government Parliamentary elections
December 1996 - June 1999 Gediminas Vagnorius TS[LK]; LKDP; LCS (de facto) Right-wing majority government Vagnorius criticised by President Adamkus and steps down
  June 1999 - November 1999 Rolandas Paksas TS[LK]; LKDP Right-wing majority government Dispute over privatization of oil company and Paksas steps down
November 1999 - October 2000 Andrius Kubilius TS[LK]; LKDP Right-wing majority government Parliamentary election
October 2000 - June 2001 Rolandas Paksas LLS, NS Centre-right minority government with support from smaller parties Internal strife; NS quits after failure to change prime minister
June 2001 - Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas LSDP, NU(SL) Centre-left majority government  

Adapted from: Berglund, Sten, Ekman, Joakim, and Aarebrot, Frank H., 2004. The Handbook of Political Change in Eastern Europe. Second Edition. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

FOR UP-TO-DATE DETAILS, see the web site of the Government of Lithuania.

Top of Page