Last March, Lithuania held municipal elections in which voters were for the first time electing mayors directly.
Opinion polls suggest that, one year on, the scheme has had a positive effect on the public’s trust in their local authorities.
“In 2015, trust in municipal governments went up almost 3 points, compared to 2014,” says sociologist Vladas Gaidys. “To be fair, it has been growing six years in a row, 1-2 points annually.”
A public opinion poll by Vilmorus suggests that 31.1% of Lithuanians trusted municipal governments in March, up from 28.1% in February. The figure peaked last October when 35.2% of respondents said they trusted local governments.
“I have no doubt that direct mayoral elections had a great effect on growing trust. Direct election is a valuable thing and the institution only wins from it,” he adds. “The role of parties could have weakened, but people value direct elections of mayors.”
Meanwhile political scientist Ainė Ramonaitė of the Institute of International Relations and Political Science at Vilnius University says that the new scheme has inherent problems, like pre-programmed impasses.
“If the mayor comes from one party and the majority at the council comes from another, there is no clear way to resolve [the potential impasse,” Ramonaitė tells BNS. “Everyone thought that the problem will solve itself, but it is clear now that the problems are coming to the surface.”
The Supreme Administrative Court is hearing a precedent-setting case this week in which the Council of Raseiniai wants to depose the mayor, saying that he ignores the council’s decisions.
While previously municipal councils could remove mayors with a vote, they now need a court to rule that the mayor broke the law or the oath of office.