Parties can't monopolize municipal elections 's Lithuanian Constitutional Court

  • 2007-02-14
  • By Arturas Racas

LAYING DOWN THE LAW: The court's ruling paves way for non-party candidates, but the Feb. 25 elections won't be postponed.

VILNIUS - Political parties do not have a monopoly in nominating candidates in municipal elections, the Lithuanian Constitutional Court decided in a ruling on Feb 9. The court said that the Lithuanian Law on Municipal Elections, which bars people from standing in local elections without backing from parties, violates the country's constitution and should be corrected.

"The content of the constitutional right for free association in political parties embodies the right to join the parties, to take part in their activities and also the right not to be a member of any political party and to secede from it. But nobody can be forced to belong to any community, political party or association," the court said.
The law, as currently written, provides that only parties may register lists of candidates in municipal elections. Based on that legislation, the Election Commission has refused to register several individual candidates and non-political groups that wanted to run in the Feb. 25 elections.

Petras Ragauskas, a member of opposition Conservative Party and one of those who had been barred from registration, brought the case to the Administrative Court, which in turn passed it to the Constitutional Court.
"I believe this law contradicts both the Lithuanian Constitution and international human rights conventions, which ensure the rights for direct elections and for equal treatment of all citizens," Ragauskas told The Baltic Times before the court's decision was announced.

"Our constitution also says that no one should be forced to become a member of any party and does not entitle parties to be mediators in the elections," he added.
The court later agreed with his stance. It stressed that the legislature should ensure that members of the local community have the opportunity to be elected to municipal councils not only via party lists, but also via lists nominated by other organizations or individuals.

But the court also said that despite the fact that the law on local elections violates the constitution, the public interest requires that the Feb. 25 elections not be canceled.
"There is no legal background to claim that the local citizens have no possibility to use the passive election right and that elections due on February 25 will not be free and democratic only because Article 34 violates the constitution," the court said.
"If the elections were canceled or delayed just because the Law on Municipal Elections violates the constitution, the damage to voters, as well as to the stability of local authorities and the entire system of public governance would without a doubt be much greater," the court added.

"I am very happy that I trusted the wisdom of the Constitutional Court. It proved that my efforts were not a waste," Ragauskas told journalists after the court's decision was announced.
"I am convinced that it is very important for the development of civic society that people have the right to participate in the elections," Ragauskas said.

He also stressed that the court's decision not to cancel elections is also very important.
"I would feel bitterness if the elections were stopped," Ragauskas said.
Liudvikas Ragauskis, the representative of the Vilnius City Association, which was also barred from registration in municipal elections, was not so enthusiastic about the court's decision.

"It is sad that people who do not belong to the parties are not allowed to run in the coming elections. Associations like ours should hold basic positions in the local governance in the future," Ragauskis said.
Zenonas Vaigauskas, chairman of the Chief Election Commission, could not say whether Ragauskas and other individual candidates will be registered for the Feb. 25 elections after the court's decision.
"The decision on whether to register them or not should be taken by the Administrative Court which investigated their appeal," Vaigauskas told The Baltic Times.