Dainius Žalimas: The Lithuanian electoral system is difficult to reconcile with the logic of the Constitution
The problematic issues of choosing an electoral system, the importance of citizens’ participation in legislation, ensuring media independence, legislative standards in today’s Poland, the legitimacy of the imprisonment of parliamentarians from the Catalonia (Spain) region are just some of the topics that will be discussed by constitutional judges and legal scholars from more than 25 countries.
The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania, together with Professor Rainer Arnold from Regensburg University (Germany), is organising the XXII International Congress on European and Comparative Constitutional Law “The Concept of Democracy as Developed by Constitutional Justice” in Vilnius on 4–5 October.
According to the President of the Constitutional Court, Dainius Žalimas, this congress is unique because it deals in practice with contemporary European issues on the basis of concrete examples.
“One of the topical issues is the problems arising from the questionable electoral systems established in various countries. Lithuania is a concrete example. Our mixed electoral system is questionable, I would say, even hard to reconcile with the logic of the Constitution. On the one hand, as the Constitutional Court has stated, the Seimas has the discretion to choose the electoral system. On the other hand, as the Constitutional Court has repeatedly held, under the Constitution, the status of a member of the Seimas as a representative of the entire Nation means that a member of the Seimas may not represent a certain territorial community or constituency, but must represent the entire Nation. It is therefore clear that, in practice, members of the Seimas elected in single-member constituencies become hostages to the electoral system, facing a conflict between the constitutional duty of a parliamentarian to represent the entire Nation and the need to protect the interests of the respective territorial communities or constituencies. In other words, almost half of the members of the Seimas face the risk of breaching their oaths, for example, when making proposals in approving the budget or being asked to mediate on granting or increasing funding for objects in their constituency,” the President of the Constitutional Court says.
A proportional electoral system, according to Dainius Žalimas, would be more in tune with the concept of pluralist democracy, would more correctly reflect public sentiment, and would address many of the problems currently arising in electoral practice.
“I think it is time to acknowledge what is obvious: abandoning elections in single-member constituencies, leaving only the proportional system of elections to the Seimas and the right to cast preferential votes would allow all Seimas members to be elected by all Lithuanian citizens, wherever they live, and the votes of all electors would be equally important. At present, in the constituency voting, the votes of supporters of the unsuccessful candidate virtually disappear, or we can say that they are unrepresented. Thus, in my opinion, a proportional electoral system would be the most logical and most appropriate to the status of the members of the Seimas as representatives of the entire Nation and would in itself eliminate one of the potential conflicts of interests of the members of the Seimas. Besides, the problem of low voter turnout (which is now less than 20 per cent) in the re-election of a member of the Seimas after a vacant position of the member of the Seimas becomes available would be solved, and there would be no need to establish constituencies solely for Lithuanians living abroad,” Dainius Žalimas says.
Finally, the proportional electoral system is also recommended by the Council of Europe’s Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) as a better and more equitable electoral system – such a system is in place in many European countries or they are moving towards it.
The congresses on European and comparative constitutional law, organised on the initiative of Professor Rainer Arnold, have a unique format. The essence of the XXII Congress is not to present the jurisprudence of the constitutional courts and insights of legal scholars from different countries, but to raise issues and seek their solutions, as well as to test the validity of proposed solutions.
Almost ninety constitutional court judges and constitutional law scholars from Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Kosovo, Luxembourg, Moldova, Spain, USA, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, and other countries will attend the XXII International Congress on European and Comparative Constitutional Law “The Concept of Democracy as Developed by Constitutional Justice”, which will take place in Vilnius. It is the largest international event organised by the Constitutional Court after 2017 – in the same year, it hosted the 4th Congress of the World Conference on Constitutional Justice in Vilnius, which attracted more than 400 representatives from 91 constitutional justice institutions from various countries of the world.
The XXII International Congress on European and Comparative Constitutional Law will be held in Vilnius at Arkangelo Conference and Art Centre on 4–5 October 2019.