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Sunday 16.12.2018 | Name days: Alvīne
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Seimas paves way for dual citizenship, Constitutional Court hurdle ahead

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Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

The Lithuanian legislature, Seimas, has lowered the threshold for the adoption of constitutional amendments on a dual citizenship referendum.

In a vote this week, 67 legislators voted for the amendments to the Referendum Law, three were against and 16 abstained the amendments remove the requirement for more than half of all Lithuanian citizens entitled to vote to say «yes» in a referendum to amend Article 12 of Chapter 1 of the Constitution defining citizenship.

The same requirement will apply to all binding referendums, i.e. a proposal would be deemed as approved if more than half of voters who turned out, but at least one-third of all citizens with the right to vote, voted in favour.

The only exception that would remain in place would be the requirement for least three-fourths of all citizens with the right to vote to say «yes» to amending Article 1 of the Constitution that reads, «The State of Lithuania shall be an independent democratic republic».

The Referendum Law changes are thought to create a situation of a «winnable referendum» on dual citizenship. Lithuania’s officials say that it could be held in tandem with next year’s presidential election next year.

The leaders of Lithuanian expats praised the decision, calling it a possible breakthrough in the long quest to adopt dual citizenship through plebiscite, however the opposition politicians expressed their disapproval.

«In light of the emerging political consensus to solve the citizenship question with a referendum, the decision by Seimas to equate citizenship regulation to other human rights protected by the Lithuanian Constitution is sensible and reasonable. By passing the amendment of the Referendum Law, Seimas has used its constitutional right to pass laws and showed the responsibility to tackle the decades long citizenship problem with a winnable referendum,» Rimvydas Baltaduonis, Chairman of the Joint World Lithuanian Community and Parliamentary Commission and Doctor of Social Sciences, Associate Professor in the Economics Department, Gettysburg College (Pennsylvania, USA), told BNN.

Naglis Puteikis, a Lithuanian MP, told BNN that the amendments were «logic», following a recent ruling on dual citizenship by Lithuania‘s Constitutional Court, however, cautioned that their enactment will be again up to the Court as Ramūnas Karbaukis, who spearheaded the legislation changes, assured that the ruling Farmers and Greens Party (LVZS) will ask the Court to opine on the Constitution amendments.

«The change of the rules which set out ways of changing our Constitution is complex and, often, can be threat to Lithuania. We just cannot be sure that the ruling majority with the instrument (of changing the Constitution) in hand won’t come up with new proposes. The promises that the amendments are made only for the issue of dual citizenship do not sound very credible to me,» Gabrielius Landsbergis, chairman of the Lithuanian Conservatives (Lithuania’s Homeland Union- Lithuanian Christian Democrats, TS-LKD), said. «We just cannot create a separate law for one case and then say that we will not be applying it in other cases,» he emphasised.

The Seimas Chancellery‘s Law Department also warned against the drawbacks of the amendments.

«The reducing of the legislative safeguards of the Constitution‘s Chapter 1 is rather dangerous,» said Ona Buišienė, a representative of the Department.

Counter-arguing, Antanas Vinkus exhorted all to support the changes which, he believes, will help the emigrants to maintain ties with their homeland.

«Let‘s the civil spirit fly high and let‘s hear the pleas of those departed – not to take away their Motherland from them,» the parliamentarian spoke emotionally.

Meanwhile, Eglė Verseckaitė-Grzeskowiak, Senior Lecturer at ISM University of Management and Economics, in her interview to the LRT television programme LRT Forum last week argued that discrimination is «inevitable» if the amendments take effect.

«There was a time when it was relatively easy for Lithuanians to obtain dual citizenship. There was only one exception to the rule: representatives of Lithuania’s ethnic minorities who repatriate from their ethnic homeland were not entitled to dual citizenship. However, the Constitutional Court ruled this exception to constitute ethnic discrimination,» Ms Verseckaitė-Grzeskowiak pointed out.

According to her, one of the ways to avoid discrimination is to remove the words «in individual cases» from the current wording.

However, Verseckaitė-Grzeskowiak believes that most of the public and even politicians would like to revert to the previous wording, which makes it possible to choose who is granted the Lithuanian citizenship and who is not.

«Unfortunately, this is bound to produce ethnic discrimination, one way or the other. Of course, we will find a separate word for it, restrict it. We may insert words like «friendly countries» or modify the notion in other ways, but a law would offer far more opportunities than such a generalised decision», Verseckaitė-Grzeskowiak argued.

However, Vytautas Sinkevičius, constitutional law expert, claimed in the TV programme that the state has full discretionary power to decide on matters of citizenship, therefore, the subject of discrimination is not even worth talking about.

In his words, the problems faced today offer not only new challenges, but new opportunities, too.

«Lithuania currently ranks among the Member States that have the most restrictive regulation on dual citizenship in the EU», he noted.

Ramūnas Karbauskis, the LVŽS leader, believes the parliament can turn to the Constitution Court on the constitutionality of the adopted amendments as early as the start of the Seimas’ new session in the fall.

Currently, people who left Lithuania after it regained independence in 1990 cannot hold dual citizenship, apart from a few exceptions. That provision can only be amended by referendum.


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