Lithuania – President weighs in to the debate about government formation

The president of Lithuania is a relatively insignificant office. The institution has some powers, including the power to initiate legislation and to veto legislation. Indeed, by my calculations, the incumbent president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, has vetoed 24 bills since she came to office in July 2009. Overall, though, the Lithuanian president is not as strong a figure as, say, the French President, but more resembles the presidency in countries such as Portugal and Poland.

Just over a week ago the second round of the parliamentary election in Lithuania was held. A three-party coalition quickly agreed to form a majority government. These are the Social Democrats, who will provide the PM, the Labour Party, and the right-wing Order and Justice Party. In addition, the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania may also join the coalition to form a surplus majority coalition.

The problem is that President Grybauskaitė believes the Labour Party should not be in government. She is reported as saying that “the government should not involve a party, which is suspected of black bookkeeping and leaders of which are charged with fraudulent bookkeeping”. According to a long-standing Constitutional Court ruling, the president plays no independent role in government formation. So, President Grybauskaitė has no formal powers in this regard. Instead, her comments seem intended to try to force a new coalition agreement, presumably including the former ruling party, the Homeland Union, whom she seems to support, even though she is an independent.

Last week, President Grybauskaitė took the situation a stage further by appealing some of the election results to the Constitututional Court. The Central Electoral Commission had previously issued a final report, confirming the results of the election but noting various violations of the electoral law and ordering one constituency election to be repeated. In her appeal, President Grybauskaitė drew attention to the result in seven single-seat constituencies and one multi-member constituency.

There is speculation as to why the president took this decision. However, it almost certainly has something to do with the Labour Party and government formation. The Labour Party is currently under criminal investigation and there is the possibility that its leader may be found guilty and/or that the party will be suspended or disbanded. So, the president may be playing for time in an attempt to ensure a different coalition in the end.

Over the weekend the Constitutional Court made its decision. There were criticisms of the Labour Party and vote buying, but the result of the election was not questioned. Even so, President Grybauskaitė interpreted the decision as vindicating her belief that the Labour Party was not fit for office.

The new parliament met for the first time yesterday. So, there is no question of the election being invalidated and the proposed coalition will almost certainly be approved including the Labour Party and possibly the Polish party.

Overall, while Lithuania is not formally entering a period of cohabitation because the president is an independent, there is likely to be a difficult relationship between President Grybauskaitė and the government if the Labour Party is indeed in power.

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