Dual citizenship in limbo if referendum in Lithuania fails

DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

A poll commissioned by news agency ELTA and carried out in early May by pollster Baltijos Tyrimai has revealed that 20 percent of Lithuanians would completely approve and 42 percent would rather approve than disapprove of dual citizenship. However, 7 percent would completely disapprove and 20 percent rather disapprove than approve of dual citizenship. Meanwhile, 11 percent did not have the opinion on the matter. To summarise the results of the poll, 62 percent of the polled agree with legalisation of dual citizenship while 27 percent disagree.

The Lithuanian Parliament should decide in its 2016 spring session whether to hold a referendum on dual citizenship together with parliamentary elections that will take place on 9 October 2016.

A poll conducted by pollster Baltijos Tyrimai has revealed that if the referendum on dual citizenship was to take place the next Sunday, 57 percent of the respondents would vote for dual citizenship, 32 percent would vote against, while 11 percent would not have an opinion on the matter.

Political scientist Algis Krupavičius says the idea to hold the referendum with the parliamentary election is the only viable way to solve the issue if people’s opinion is to be taken into account. In order for the Constitution‘s provision on citizenship to be amended, no less than 50 percent of people included in the electoral roll would have to cast ballots, and half of those would have to vote in favour of dual citizenship. 12 referendums have been held in Lithuania since 1991 and 7 of them failed due to insufficient voter turnout. For the last time a referendum separately from elections was held in 2003, when people had to decide on Lithuania’s accession to the European Union.

“At the time, special rules were created for the referendum, voting took place for two days and mass campaigning was being carried out which encompassed all institutions. It may not be enough only for the liberals to campaign for the dual citizenship this time. In order to muster voters of certain parties, a vote “against” is also needed. The Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) probably has many such voters,” Krupavičius told news agency ELTA.

According to the political scientist, if the referendum is held together with elections, it is likely that the needed turnout would be achieved. However, in order to legalise dual citizenship, all major political parties in Lithuania must agree on the matter and campaign explaining the pros, the cons and the consequences of such a step.

“A political pact between the major parties would have to be made and leaders would have to clearly form the position. It was done so when Lithuania was accessing the EU – all primary political powers had agreed and clearly told the public that it was the right move. If such political pact is made, it will be easier to convince the public,” said Krupavičius.

The political scientist believes that if the referendum is organised but subsequently fails, the issue of dual citizenship will be forgotten for quite some time in the Lithuanian politicians’ agenda. Therefore, all possible measures of legalising dual citizenship should be given a try. First of all, the Constitutional Court could return to the question. In 2006 it ruled that dual citizenship could be granted to people who emigrated from Lithuania after 1990 only in rare and exceptional cases. In 2013 the Constitutional Court judged that more possibilities as regards citizenship could be provided only if the Constitution was amended.

Chair of the Central Electoral Commission (VRK), Zenonas Vaigauskas, believes that the issue of dual citizenship can be solved only in a referendum. According to him, even though voter turnout has been growing, there is always a possibility that enough votes will not be collected for a referendum to be successful – especially if Lithuanians residing abroad are not provided an opportunity to vote. In the first round of parliamentary elections in 2004 voter turnout was 36 percent, in 2008 – 48 percent, in 2012 – 52 percent, then referendums on the construction of a nuclear power plant took place as well.

“We have citizens abroad who not always vote or not always have an opportunity to vote. Meanwhile, not all of our citizens in Lithuania are active. The votes of those people who participate in polls may not be enough. The most convenient way would be voting via the internet,” Vaigauskas told news agency ELTA.

Based on the calculations of the chair of the VRK, if the referendum was to take place in 2016, it could cost nearly EUR 1 million.

President Dalia Grybauskaitė, Parliament Speaker Loreta Graužinienė, Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius have expressed their support for the referendum on dual citizenship. However, the conservatives (TS-LKD), who are currently in the Opposition, have opposed this idea.

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