chapter  7
24 Pages

Lithuanian parliamentary elites after 1990: dilemmas of political representation and political professionalism

ByIRMINA MATONYTĖ, GINTARAS ŠUMSKAS

Brief overview of the inter-war (1918-1940) Lithuanian parliament The Lithuanian parliamentary tradition dates back to the sixteenth century. The Polish-Lithuanian Republic, which existed from 1569 to 1795, was a parliamentary monarchy that practiced the famous liberum veto, the highest expression of democracy available for each parliamentarian/nobleman. However, this tradition has had little impact on the development of legislative structures and processes in contemporary Lithuania. The inter-war period (1918-40) was witness to a failed parliamentary experiment and authoritarianism prevailed. The façade of democratic institutions was only tolerated until 1926. The Second Parliament (1923-26) was the only term in which democratically elected representatives served their full mandate. After the adoption of the Constitution, the first democratic parliamentary elections in Lithuania took place in the autumn of 1922. Due to interparty clashes, the first parliament failed to form a stable government and was dissolved by the president after three months of operation. The next parliament (1923-26) was the only term where democratically elected representatives served their full terms. The following parliament, which was elected in the spring of 1926, was dissolved in 1927, shortly after a coup d’état occurred in December 1926. The last inter-war parliament (1936) cannot be regarded as a democratic representative institution as electoral choice was limited by the preelected deputies. The main difference between the party families in the parliaments of interwar and post-communist Lithuania is the relative strength of Agrarian parties in the inter-war period (up to 38 percent in 1926, compared with a mere 2-3 percent in the post-communist Seimas). Moreover, the ethnic minority parties had higher visibility in the inter-war parliament than they did in the postcommunist Lithuania, where they only achieved 3 percent representation. In 1920, ethnic minority parties held 10 out of 112 seats in the Seimas (three Poles, six Jews, and one German). In 1922 they had five mandates, in 1923 they held 14 seats out of 78 (seven Jews, four Poles, two Germans, and one Russian), and in 1926 they held eight out of 85 seats.1