Lithuania – A different type of presidential power

Continuing the theme of presidential powers and/or (non-)powers, here is an example from Lithuania.

In early January President Dalia Grybauskaitė refused to grant Lithuanian citizenship to an American ice skater who wanted to compete for Lithuania in the Winter Olympics. This is an interesting power in itself. For example, it could be a factor in who can or cannot stand at elections.

Anyway, following her decision, President Grybauskaitė then asked the Constitutional Court for guidance as to when she could grant citizenship, and whether the rules can be loosened by way of a simply law or whether a constitutional amendment is required. Lithuania Tribune now reports that the Court has agreed to accept the motion filed by President Grybauskaitė.

Now, these presidential powers are constitutional. Art. 84 (21) states that the president has the power to “grant citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania according to the procedure established by law”. Arts. 106 and 107 provide circumstances in which the president can petition the Court, though it is not clear from the president’s website which clause has been invoked.

I like this example because it is a case of a president using the law to identify the boundaries of certain powers, including presidential powers. But I also like it in the context of Lithuania’s current period of de facto cohabitation and the President Grybauskaitė’s desire to establish her own prerogatives in opposition to the government. Any Court ruling is unlikely to expand the president’s power significantly, but it may put pressure on the government either to change the law or even the constitution and there may be political costs to the government in doing so.

So, the ‘non-partisan’ president may find that her powers are slightly increased; she certainly keeps herself in the public eye; and she may cause some difficulty to the government down the line. That’s good presidential politics.

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