News2019.12.10 14:23

Lithuanian parliament lowers electoral threshold in second attempt

BNS 2019.12.10 14:23

The Lithuanian Seimas voted on Tuesday to lower the parliamentary election threshold to 3 percent for parties and 5 percent for party coalitions.

Sixty MPs voted in favour of the change, one opposed and eight lawmakers abstained.

In the previous attempt to pass the bill last week, opposition MPs walked out of the vote, depriving it of the necessary 71-member quorum.

The amendment was backed by members of the ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union, the Social Democratic Labour Party of Lithuania, the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance, the political group ‘For Lithuania’s Welfare’, and several non-affiliated MPs.

The opposition conservative Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats, the liberals and the social democrats did not vote.

During the final bill adoption stage, the Seimas of Lithuania gave its backing to the proposal by the Farmers and Greens leader Ramūnas Karbauskis and Naglis Puteikis, leader of the Centre Party, to reduce the current election thresholds to 3 percent for political parties and to 5 percent for party coalitions.

Currently, to be awarded seats parties need to get at least 5 percent of the vote in the multi-member constituency. Party coalitions had to clear a 7-percent threshold.

Half of the members in Lithuania's 141-seat legislature are elected via a proportional representation system.

In the 2016 general election, six parties cleared the 5-percent mark. Two more lists would have been awarded seats under the new rule.

Proponents of the amendment argued that a lower threshold would ensure more democratic representation, while critics maintained it would lead to more fragmented parliaments.

Several ruling coalition partners, including the Social Democratic Labour Party, would not clear the 5-percent threshold, polls suggest. The opposition insist that the measure is aimed at helping them win seats in next year's general election.

Read more: Lithuanian parliament backs lower electoral threshold, opposition warns of ‘chaos’

More instability

The lower threshold will bring about more political instability in Lithuania, and its initiators themselves could lose votes, says professor Ainė Ramonaitė of the Institute of International Relations and Political Science at Vilnius University.

“We've had a very unstable party system so far and many parties in the parliament, and now we are likely to have an even more unstable system and even more parties in the parliament,” she told BNS.

More than six parties currently have support of between 2.5 and 5 percent in public opinion polls, she noted. Moreover, a lower threshold might encourage voters, who would otherwise vote strategically for bigger parties, to vote for smaller parties, leading to even greater fragmentation.

The incumbent ruling parties might be among those who could lose mandates after this amendment, Ramonaitė says. A higher threshold meant that more seats would be distributed among leading parties.

A higher threshold for getting into parliament is an incentive for political parties to merge or at least not to split. Now, when victory is easier with fewer votes, the expert says, there might be a greater wish to establish new parties, split or change names.

“The public will hardly be happy with such changes as people are already complaining about the abundance of parties with similar names, which makes it difficult to make sense,” she said.

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