A long-awaited day at the Seimas: direct elections of mayors legalised, the Paksas issue resolved, 21 and over in Parliament

With the end of the state of emergency, the Seimas on Thursday finally cast the decisive votes for the final adoption of three different amendments to the Constitution. All of them were approved.

Seimas<br>Ramūnas Danisevičius
Seimas<br>Ramūnas Danisevičius
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Lrytas.lt

Apr 25, 2022, 9:52 AM, atnaujinta Apr 25, 2022, 1:14 PM

Direct election of mayors was legalised

The vote on the legalisation of direct election of mayors in the Seimas was unanimous. „135 Members of the Seimas voted in favour of the amendments, while there were no votes against or abstentions.

The amendments provide that the right of self-government „shall be exercised through the respective municipal councils and mayors,“ and mayors shall be elected for a four-year term based on universal, equal and direct suffrage and secret ballot.

„Looking at the entire period of Lithuania's independence, it would probably be difficult to find another change in the electoral system that has proved so successful as the direct election of mayors and its introduction. With the direct election of mayors, the politics of self-government has been reborn, and people's interest in self-government and involvement in solving the issues of their towns and cities has increased.

This, of course, has an impact on the actions of politicians and their better governance,“ said Ieva Pakarklytė, a representative of the Freedom Group.

Viktoras Fiodorovas, the elder of the Labour Party group, noted that there is no room for political games on this issue and that people have the right to choose who will lead their city or district.

Direct mayoral elections have been held in Lithuania since 2015, but the Constitutional Court ruled in April that they were illegal without amending the Constitution in April last year. It only provides for the election of municipal councils.

As a result, the Seimas has started to amend the country's basic law and have drawn up a new model of self-government. It will be enshrined in law.

The final decision on the so-called Paksas amendments

Parliament has also brought more than a decade of debate on the so-called Roland Paksas amendment to an end. „135 Members of Parliament also voted in favour of this amendment to the country's basic law, with no votes against and no abstentions.

It was decided to abolish the prohibition for a person who has lost their office through impeachment, never to be allowed to stand for Parliament or any other office for which the Constitution requires an oath.

Article 74 of the Constitution will be supplemented by a separate paragraph stating that such a person will not be eligible to run for office in question until ten years after the impeachment in Parliament. This means that Paksas will be able to run again for the office of President, Member of the Seimas or Member of the Government.

„Andrius Mazuronis, a Workers' Party member, recalled that the impeachment of President Paksas had been carried out in 2004, and no decisions had been taken during that time.

„For 18 years and 15 days now, there has been a mood of revenge, political revanchism and fear of political competition, which was the main reason for the fact that today we have a sanction that does not exist in the Criminal Code for any other offence – not for murder and the like.

There is no better time than now to correct the mistake, to put aside political grievances and political revanchism, and to correct what should have been corrected much earlier,“ Mazuronis said.

Conservative Jurgis Razma pointed out that the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) forces the European Court to set a time limit for a person to run for office after impeachment.

„I think that none of us is impressed with who we are going to vote for now. When it was the political will of the Seimas, uninfluenced by the ECtHR, we voted for an indefinite limitation on the ability of a person who has broken his oath to stand for Parliament.

We took the oath-taking very seriously, but today we have a different legal situation, and we must respect the ECHR's decision. (...) I hope that today's vote will put an end to this story,“ the conservative said.

The ECtHR ruled back in 2011 that the current lifetime ban on the resigned President Paksas from the Seimas elections is disproportionate.

The Seimas have repeatedly attempted to adopt amendments to the Constitution to open the way for Paksas to run for the presidency but have always fallen short of the votes.

The age bar has been lowered

The proposal to lower the age bar for parliamentary candidates from 25 to 21 also received the least support. „101 MPs voted in favour of the constitutional amendments, four voted against, and 22 abstained. The amendment was opposed by part of the opposition.

Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, the initiator of the project, said that such a change would bring more diverse views into Parliament and allow for better and more balanced decisions in the long term, as well as a more focused representation of young people and a greater focus on youth policy issues on the Seimas agenda.

„I am very pleased that from now on, we will open the door more widely for young people to actively participate in political life, not only by helping in elections but also by standing as a candidate themselves, by taking part in the political process from the age of 21,“ said Ms Čmilytė-Nielsen after the vote.

The lowering of the age bar for running for Parliament was criticised by opposition peasants, who said that young people of this age have too little experience and education to be able to „shoulder the enormous responsibility of running the country“.

„A 21-year-old who has seen nothing in real life would, at best, start running the country after finishing high school. I believe that running a country requires at least a minimum of life experience. Young people of that age should perhaps first serve in the army, graduate from university and then go to parliament. Parliament is not a place to learn,“ said Mr Jarutis.

Marius Matijošaitis, 29, a member of the Freedom Group and currently the youngest MP, said that lowering the age limit for running for Parliament would lead to a more focused representation of young people and „more attention to youth policy issues on the Parliament's agenda“.

He pointed out that the age limits for the European Parliament and the Councils of Local Authorities are even lower – 21 and 18 years, respectively.

Aurelijus Veryga, for his part, believes that it is in local government that young people could gain experience. He also pointed out that even now, there is only one parliamentarian in the Seimas under the age of 30, although it is still possible to stand for election from the age of 25.

„What is more important for a young person, perhaps, is to have fun, perhaps have more leisure time, get drunk, and so on. Are these responsible decisions? In my opinion, no, because at that age you still think you will live forever, that the sea is at your knees and so on.

Age has a certain meaning, not because of biological changes, but because of experience,“ said the politician.

Vytautas Mitalas, the Freedom Party group leader, said that Veryga „should also remember the other things young people have done“.

„I think that young people are interested in other very important things, such as education, the possibilities of a free economy – there are a lot of things that young people are interested in and it is very good that one day they will be able to implement these ideas in the parliament,“ said Mitalas.

At least 94 out of 141 MPs had to vote in favour of each of the constitutional amendments in order for them to be adopted.

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