Lithuania

Consolidated Democracy
77
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 77.38 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 5.64 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
77 100 Consolidated Democracy
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

header1 Score changes in 2020

  • Electoral Process rating improved from 6.00 to 6.25 due to a row of smoothly organized elections with few irregularities and the fact that, unlike in the case of the 2015 local elections, there was no need for re-runs.
  • As a result, Lithuania’s Democracy Score improved from 5.61 to 5.64.

header2 Executive Summary

By Ieva Petronytė-Urbonavičienė

After celebrating the centennial of its restored independence in 2018, Lithuania continued to mark important national anniversaries during 2019, including those of the Lithuanian freedom fighters’ Declaration of February 16, 1949, and the 1989 Baltic Way demonstration against Soviet occupation. However, these commemorations were often overshadowed by electoral campaigns. Municipal councils and mayors were elected in March, presidential and European Parliament (EP) elections as well as two referendums were held in May, by-elections for three national parliament seats took place in September, and the upcoming 2020 parliamentary elections prompted various strategic decisions and controversies later in autumn. The approaching elections not only had a direct impact on coalition formation at the local and national levels, but also affected public discourse and the work of state institutions, preventing deeper discussion on certain issues and distorting regular processes.

A number of new political actors emerged during the year, mostly in the form of “public electoral committees” (PECs) created before the local and EP elections, but also in form of new parties. Among them were more radical right-wing competitors, but these drew little support: presidential candidate Arvydas Juozaitis received 4.69 percent of the vote, and the PEC “Vytautas Radžvilas: susigrąžinkime valstybę!” (“Vytautas Radžvilas: Let’s take back the state!”) took 3.17 percent in the EP balloting.1 While the popularity of the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS)—the lead party in the governing coalition—was clearly in decline according to surveys and its electoral results, traditional parties like the Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) and the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) performed comparatively well. Nevertheless, their results were also modest overall, particularly given their current status as a parliamentary opposition. This underscored Lithuanian voters’ admiration for nonpartisan politicians. For example, newly elected president Gitanas Nausėda enjoyed a rarely seen rise in popularity, with 82.5 percent of survey respondents viewing him favorably by October,2 and Kaunas city mayor Visvaldas Matijošaitis was reelected with a crushing 79.59 percent of the vote in the first round.3

Nausėda’s central campaign theme, strengthening the welfare state, became an increasingly prominent issue for the year, influencing not only budget proposals but also the names of new or repackaged parties and parliamentary factions.4 Among other issues, the legislature worked on expanding social benefits; changing the tax system (with plans to introduce or modify taxes on pollution-causing used cars, real estate, bank profits, and supermarkets); searching for a national agreement on education; attempting to increase the transparency of lobbying, state and municipal enterprises, and the national broadcaster; and, toward the end of the year, considering electoral reforms such as a lower vote threshold for proportional representation in the parliament. However, various parliamentary investigations, personal contention, and the LVŽS’s efforts to secure its majority dominated the public discourse. A persistent fire at a tire-recycling factory in Alytus became a serious challenge for the government in October. Ineffective coordination among state institutions and over-bureaucratized procedures were criticized for playing a role in the episode, and an online petition called for the resignation of the interior minister.5

Corruption remained one of Lithuania’s most important problems in 2019. Respondents to a survey conducted at the beginning of the year ranked it fourth in importance, after low wages, high prices, and emigration.6 Although positive change was visible at the societal level, for example regarding petty bribery, cases of high-level corruption continued to emerge. Even as older political scandals received ongoing public attention, new ones arose in local and state institutions. The biggest scandal of the year implicated not only politicians and businessmen, but also attorneys and high-level judges.

The authorities have taken some anticorruption measures, like enforcement of a new whistleblowers’ law. At the same time, other actions by the ruling parties seemed to undercut anticorruption efforts, including initiatives to limit the publicly available information on politicians and restrict media freedom. Minister of Transport and Communications Rokas Masiulis was replaced as part of a new coalition agreement after the presidential election, but the move fueled public suspicion and resentment, as Masiulis was considered to be one of the government’s most effective ministers, and he claimed that his dismissal was an LVŽS leader’s revenge for his anticorruption work.7

Examples in public discourse as well as new survey data from the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary indicated that some judges and prosecutors are critical of their institutions’ independence and have experienced undue pressure from their managerial officers. The scandal concerning judicial corruption that emerged during the year seemed to confirm the deficiencies of the system, though the revelations also represented a form of progress. The ultimate outcome of these and other cases would signal whether meaningful improvements were in fact underway.

Besides the successfully organized series of free and fair elections, perhaps the most positive feature of Lithuania’s democracy during 2019 was the performance of civil society. Though the sector still faces challenges, civil society organizations (CSOs) engaged in productive advocacy on important legislation, and the country’s law on CSOs was finally amended in December. The main problem for the sector remained its poor financial situation. However, the amended law established a national fund for CSOs, and the call for funding applications from the European Economic Area (EEA) Grants program for 2019–24 was set to be announced in 2020.

The topical issues of 2020, including the pandemic and the government’s ability to deal with it will influence the LVŽS’s chances of staying in power after the parliamentary elections in October. Given that the LVŽS’s main competitor will likely come from the center right and center left, Lithuania’s domestic politics will not change dramatically in the coming years. Still, the 2020 elections could demonstrate whether Lithuania’s emerging radical right has a chance at success.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 5.255 7.007
  • Three election campaigns—local, presidential, and EP—dominated the Lithuanian political landscape during first half of 2019, affecting the routine work of government institutions. The approaching elections led to superficial or demonstrative policy discussions, personal clashes between those running for office, and a decline in the general efficiency of the parliament and government.1 However, the second half of the year was similarly influenced by the upcoming 2020 parliamentary elections, as parties seeking to please their potential voters focused on and began to discuss the national budget for 2020.
  • The largest parliamentary party, LVŽS, faced continuing difficulties in maintaining a governing majority in 2019. In February, three lawmakers left the party’s faction in the Seimas (parliament), leaving the LVŽS-led coalition with just 70 out of 141 seats.2 In May, after weeks of negotiations, a reorganized coalition—consisting of LVŽS, the Lithuanian Social Democratic Labor Party (LSDDP), and the Order and Justice Party (TTP), with support from the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania–Christian Families Alliance (LLRA-KŠS)—signed an agreement and formed a majority of 77 members.3 However, in September the TTP faction collapsed,4 and the speaker of the Seimas officially left the LVŽS.5 While nearly all TTP members agreed to regroup and reenter the governing coalition,6 a lengthy and ultimately unsuccessful effort to recall the speaker revealed the fragility and disunity of the LVŽS. This general instability resulted in many decisions being made without a formal majority,7 and various actors, such as opposition parties,8 the speaker,9 and even the prime minister,10 raised the possibility of early elections. Nevertheless, the opposition remained unable to present a constructive political alternative in the existing parliament.11
  • Meanwhile, additional competitors entered the scene during the year, responding to voters’ preferences for “new” or nonpartisan forces and contributing to the fragmentation of Lithuania’s political landscape. A new liberal party, the Freedom Party (LP), was founded in June by parliament member Aušrinė Armonaitė and Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius, both prominent former members of the Liberal Movement of the Republic of Lithuania (LRLS).12 Three separate radical right-wing groups also publicly declared their plans to establish new parties at the end of the year and to participate in the 2020 elections. While all three claimed to defend Christian morality, Lithuanian identity, national sovereignty, and the pursuit of social justice, attempts to form a united right-wing party proved fruitless.13
  • Membership decreased in the larger parties with parliamentary representation, with the exceptions of the governing LVŽS and LSDDP. The most numerous groups remained the LSDP, TS-LKD, the Labor Party (DP), and the TTP.14
  • After a period of strained relations between outgoing president Dalia Grybauskaitė and the governing parties in the Seimas,15 the parliament’s relationship with newly elected president Gitanas Nausėda, who took office in July, was initially warm. Nausėda emphasized the need for and importance of inclusive political dialogue, and this call was mirrored by the parliament.16 LVŽS leader Ramūnas Karbauskis remained optimistic even after a few presidential vetoes.17 The first sharp confrontation did not develop until December, when the president openly declared his lack of confidence in the minister of transport and communications, and the prime minister and parliament refused to recall the minister, effectively diminishing the president’s authority.18 The leader of the opposition TS-LKD, Gabrielius Landsbergis, had previously expressed disappointment with the president’s reduced supervision of domestic affairs.19
  • Although Lithuania had one of the fastest-growing economies in the European Union (EU),20 and the country continued to improve its business environment,21 socioeconomic issues remained the most important concerns for the Lithuanian public.22 Experts noted a high level of persistent social exclusion.23 This context made the politicians’ focus on strengthening the welfare state very appealing. Both the president and the government agreed that the national budget for 2020 should seek to diminish social exclusion.24
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 6.256 7.007
  • Well-organized elections for municipal councils, mayoralties, the presidency, the EP, and three vacant parliament seats took place in Lithuania during 2019.
  • All of the national elections proceeded smoothly and were generally considered to be competitive, free, and fair, with only minor infringements reported.1 Civil society groups recommended future improvements in the regulation of political advertisements and the work of local electoral commissions.2 More infringements were reported during the municipal elections, and as a result police launched more than 15 investigations.3 However, only two local council candidates lost their mandates as a result, and contrary to the previous municipal voting in 2015, no rerun elections were needed.4
  • Of the national elections held during 2019, the presidential contest drew the most public attention, with 57.37 percent of voters turning out in the first round and 53.88 percent in the second.5 Nine candidates participated in the first round of the election, and three—economist Gitanas Nausėda, parliament member Ingrida Šimonytė, and Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis—were seen as competitive.6 While all three main candidates formally declared their independence from political parties, Šimonytė and Skvernelis were openly supported by and closely tied in the public’s eyes to the center-right TS-LKD and center-left LVŽS, respectively. Skvernelis had an opportunity to garner extra media coverage as head of the government, but this ultimately worked against him, as he committed several gaffes that were widely discussed and ridiculed.7
  • Šimonytė and Nausėda led the first round of the presidential vote, collecting 31.31 and 30.94 percent, respectively, and leaving Skvernelis, with 19.58 percent, out of the runoff.8 Although Nausėda identified his political position as center-right, nearly all the largest parties supported his candidacy.9 Broad support for the two leading candidates was also offered by prominent citizens and independent political figures, including former president Valdas Adamkus, who backed Nausėda,10 and outgoing president Grybauskaitė, who praised both.11 In the end, Nausėda won the second round with 65.68 percent of the votes.12
  • The EP elections, held concurrently with the presidential runoff, were completely overshadowed by it,13 but the combination resulted in relatively high voter turnout (53.48 percent). Ten parties, one multiparty coalition, and—for the first time in Lithuania—five PECs participated in the EP elections.14 The results were favorable for the traditional parties in the current national parliamentary opposition: TS-LKD and LSDP won three and two mandates, respectively, out of a total of 11. Support for LVŽS shrank considerably, as the governing party gained only two mandates. Four other parties took one seat each.15
  • By-elections for three Seimas seats were held in September, with similar results: two seats for TS-LKD and one for LSDP.16 However, voter turnout was low at 19.95 and 18.88 percent in first and second rounds, respectively.17
  • Two constitutional referendums were also on the ballot during the presidential election’s first round. The first, which would have allowed Lithuanians to hold dual citizenship, failed to meet the threshold for support (measures required more than 50 percent support from all registered voters), while the second, which would have reduced the number of Seimas members from 141 to 121, failed due to lack of voter participation (with the turnout of 47,8 percent).18
  • Preparing for the 2020 parliamentary elections, the Central Electoral Commission generated a new map of single-member constituency boundaries, including new constituencies for Vilnius and citizens living abroad.19 Meanwhile in December, the governing parties—after several alternative proposals, heated discussions, and general criticism—managed to pass legislation that would lower the threshold to win seats by proportional representation from 5 to 3 percent of the vote. However, the initiative was vetoed by the president.20 Separately, the chairman of the Constitutional Court sparked a discussion by publicly advocating a system based solely on nationwide proportional representation rather than the current mixed system.21
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 6.006 7.007
  • Lithuanian civil society in general remained relatively passive during 2019, but some CSOs—despite serious financial challenges—were becoming more visible, trusted, and professional, and stronger in organizational capacity, service provision, and advocacy. These improvements contributed to the passage of long-awaited legal amendments during the year, and stem largely from the continued functioning of support mechanisms for CSO umbrella organizations and the inclusion of CSO representatives in various government and ministry working groups. In 2019, a CSO representative also was for the first time included on the Chief Official Ethics Commission (COEC). 1
  • About one-third of the population does not participate in any political or civic activity, and there is a widespread perception that civic activism is socially risky and ultimately ineffective at influencing social and political life in the country.2 However, there have been some positive trends in the attitudes and behavior of Lithuanian society. For example, between 2012 and 2018, the proportion of the population that participated in volunteer activity rose from 18 to 27 percent.3
  • Near the end of 2019, the parliament adopted legal amendments that were important for the CSO sector. It established a more precise definition of CSOs and created a long-awaited national CSO fund and database. As national CSOs had long advocated for these measures,4 the amendments were celebrated in the CSO community, though last-minute changes to the legislative text reflected tensions between national CSO representatives and the Catholic Church.5
  • Several major civil society campaigns and events took place during the year. Some focused on environmental issues,6 while the LGBT+ community organized its 10th Baltic Pride parade (the fourth in Vilnius), which drew an estimated 10,000 participants.7 Separately, in response to 2020 budget deliberations and signs that the government’s promises to raise salaries would not be kept, public employees including teachers, university academics, and firefighters organized high-profile demonstrations and protest actions.8
  • Some CSOs also took an active role in the election period. One of the most visible examples was the youth initiative “Learn Before You Vote” (“Žinau, ką renku”), which organized mayoral candidates’ debates in all but three of 60 municipalities; 89 percent of the candidates participated. The initiative also sponsored a series of regional debates featuring EP candidates and similar events for the three parliamentary by-elections.9
  • While illiberal movements remained fairly quiet in 2019, acts of intolerance were reported against Roma, LGBT+ people, people with disabilities, and the Jewish community. In all cases, human rights CSOs, politicians, and state institutions reacted quickly, criticizing the acts.10 During the Lithuanian independence day parade in March, after nationalists chanted “Lithuania for Lithuanians,” organizers publicly argued that the slogan did not mean “only for Lithuanians.”11 According to recent surveys, Lithuanian society remains somewhat intolerant of perceived “others” such as Roma, people with disabilities, former prisoners, LGBT+ people, and Muslims.12
  • The legal environment for the LGBT+ community further improved after the Constitutional Court decided in January that, contrary to previous practice, Lithuania has to recognize and permit residency for the foreign same-sex spouses of Lithuanian citizens, even though the country has yet to legalize same-sex marriage on its own territory.13 The court noted that the concept of family in the constitution is gender-neutral.14
  • The Active Citizens Fund, financed by the EEA Grants program, was launched in October. The fund will offer €9 million ($10 million) for CSO projects in 2019–24 aimed at strengthening active citizenship and empowering vulnerable groups.15 The CSO community welcomed the fund’s role, as available domestic resources were scarce and funding remained the main challenge for the country’s CSOs.
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 5.756 7.007
  • Independent media operated in a generally favorable environment on the national level in 2019, regulated by laws that protect media freedom. However, experts stated that Lithuania stood out in the region for its excessively bureaucratic media supervision system.1 The governing parties continued to draft legal amendments during the year that would further strengthen this system, sometimes approaching actual restrictions on media freedom.
  • Two of the most notable initiatives came in January. First, the government sought to change the Law on Public Information by introducing a prohibition on publishing any information that would distort Lithuanian historical memory; stimulate distrust and dissatisfaction with the Lithuanian state and its institutions, democratic regime, and national defense; strengthen national and cultural divisions; weaken national identity and citizenship; weaken citizens’ determination to defend the state; or is otherwise intended to exert influence on the country’s democracy, electoral processes, and party system against the interests of Lithuania's national security.2 This was widely perceived as an attempt to restrict media freedom and criticized by media experts, parliamentary lawyers, the Ethics Commission for Public Information, and the president. The effort was ultimately rejected in March.3
  • The second initiative aimed to change the law regulating the national broadcaster, Lithuanian Radio and Television (LRT), by reforming its management and governing bodies and prohibiting advertisements on the LRT website, among other changes. While the draft amendments were presented as a modernization and depoliticization effort, media experts, the parliamentary opposition, and LRT itself criticized the legislative push as rushed and opaque, and expressed concern that the changes would actually increase political control over the broadcaster.4 As discussions continued, no final legislative decisions were made in 2019. In response to the proposed amendments, however, LRT voluntarily made some of the requested changes, like renouncing advertisement on its website.5 In May, the Constitutional Court ruled that the parliament’s attempts the previous year to control LRT through investigations and increased oversight were unconstitutional.6
  • The media environment, at least at the national level, can be considered pluralistic.7 In September, TVP Polonia opened a branch in Lithuania, known as TVP Wilno, and began daily news broadcasts specifically aimed at the country’s ethnic Polish community.8 However, the financial situation for the media, especially for local and regional outlets, remains frustrating. Lawmakers had previously sought to support regional media by reducing the value-added tax rate for print outlets from 9 to 5 percent starting in January 2019.9 However, this was unlikely to significantly change the dependence of some regional media on local politicians.10 Research showed that since 2015, a third of the funds spent by municipalities on publicity campaigns had gone to media outlets linked to politicians.11
  • Investigative journalism strengthened further in 2019, and most of the main media companies have separate branches for such activity, winning awards and collaborating with colleagues in other countries.12 However, in May one leading investigative journalist was revealed to have abused his position by supplying data and analysis to a private party, specifically a public relations agency associated with a consultant to the prime minister. The journalist was fired and deprived of a presidential award, but police declined to open a criminal investigation.13
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 5.756 7.007
  • Overall, local democratic governance did not change significantly in 2019. International and national experts agree that although Lithuanian laws uphold the core principles of local democratic governance, several shortcomings persist in practice. These include overly centralized power, large self-government units, restricted municipal discretion, insufficient resources for state-delegated municipal functions, and low citizen engagement in the local decision-making process.1
  • The mayoral and municipal council elections in March 2019 were the year’s most important event for local governance. For just the second time, Lithuanians could vote directly for mayors, and PECs—not just political parties—could participate in the council elections. The races in general were highly competitive, with 410 candidates for 60 mayoral posts and 13,635 candidates for 1,442 council seats.2 The elections were also well covered in the media, and 47.9 percent of voters turned out to cast ballots.3 In a sign of the fragmentation of the political landscape, a total of 87 PECs participated in the elections, up from 58 in 2015. Only about 10 of them clearly stated a link with former committees from 2015, though many ostensibly new groups embraced former members of other parties or committees.4
  • Despite postelection victory speeches by nearly all parties, experts found that no group could be called a true winner nationwide.5 Voters’ preferences for new or nonpartisan candidates were demonstrated by the fact that 65 PECs collectively won the largest share of municipal council votes (26.76 percent). Among the traditional parties, TS-LKD and LSDP won the most support, with 16.05 and 13.24 percent of the vote, respectively. Support for LVŽS, at 11.16 percent, fell far short of the 21.53 percent the party received in the 2016 parliamentary elections.6
  • The direct mayoral elections accelerated the tendency toward personalization of politics. Of the 60 incumbent mayors, 38 were reelected.7 In some cases their respective coalitions won absolute majorities in the municipal council as well. The most notable example was Kaunas City, Lithuania’s second-largest city, where the mayor’s electoral committee won 32 out of 40 council mandates.8 While such victories for incumbents can signify people’s satisfaction with the existing leadership, they may also indicate the dominance of specific political forces and the suppression of opposition voices.9 Another notable trend was the number of mayoral candidates with prior legal troubles and convictions. Some 5.6 percent of the mayoral candidates had a previous conviction,10 and five mayors were reelected despite formal concerns from law enforcement agencies about prior corruption and abuse of office.11
  • After the elections, governing coalitions had to be formed in most of the local councils. These often featured ideologically unlikely combinations, such as one in Vilnius that included a PEC, TS-LKD, DP, and a Polish-Russian alliance,12 or another in Alytus that joined the LSDP, TS-LKD, LVŽS, LRLS, and an electoral committee.13 Some coalitions incorporated direct opponents from the electoral campaign, as with an agreement among LSDP, LVŽS, and DP in Marijampolė.14 Such arrangements naturally present challenges for the coalitions’ stability and effectiveness.
  • Examinations of municipalities’ websites carried out before the 2019 local elections showed a gradual improvement in the local governments’ online transparency and accountability.15 However, although the law provides residents with various means to participate in local government decision-making, such involvement remains limited in practice in most municipalities.
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 6.006 7.007
  • Data on Lithuania’s courts that was released during 2019 revealed an improvement in judicial efficiency and quality over the previous year, partly as a consequence of reforms launched in January 2018.1 The courts’ workload stabilized, the hearing of cases accelerated, only 1.71 percent of court decisions were amended or repealed, and a number of open-justice and anticorruption programs were initiated.2 However, scandals shook the court system in 2019, pointing to long-standing problems pertaining to pressure on judicial independence. While these problems persist, there seems to be more of an emphasis on bringing them to light.
  • The February 2019 arrest of eight judges in connection with a scandal involving bribery, trading in influence, and abuse of power (see Corruption section) had a notable influence on public trust in the courts. After eight years of gradually increasing trust,3 the share of survey respondents who did not trust the courts rose significantly, from 21 percent in February to 43 percent in March, by which time only 11 percent expressed trust in the courts.4 Though trust figures started to recover slowly in the subsequent months, the balance remained negative at year’s end, with 20 percent trusting and 30 percent not trusting the courts as of December.5
  • An international survey in 2019 revealed that Lithuanian judges themselves have reservations about their profession’s and their own independence, giving average ratings of 7.7 and 8.3, respectively, on a 10-point scale, with 0 indicating “not independent at all” and 10 the “highest possible degree of independence.” A number of the judges, 13 percent, acknowledged experiencing at least some inappropriate pressure. These findings were all worse than the EU average,6 and the survey results were reinforced by individual judges’ public statements about inappropriate pressure during the year.7
  • The chairman of the prosecutors’ union, Julius Rėksnys, said during an April interview that the leaders of the prosecutor’s office had abused their posts, becoming too dependent on the president and other politicians and serving their own political interests.8 The prosecutor general denied the accusations and went to court seeking to demote Rėksnys, while President Grybauskaitė interpreted the story as an attempt to pressure law enforcement, noting that the chief editor and coowner of Lietuvos rytas, in which the interview was published, was facing corruption charges.9
  • In March, the parliament passed a new law allowing individuals, after exhausting all other available legal remedies, to apply directly to the Constitutional Court over laws or legal acts by the parliament, president, or government that allegedly violate their constitutional rights or freedoms.10 In the first two months after the law came into force in September, about 30 complaints were received.11 The change was welcomed as an effective instrument to protect human rights, increase public involvement in governance, reduce the number of applications before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and strengthen the influence of the Constitutional Court over other national courts. However, some observers raised concerns that the mechanism could create tensions between the doctrines of the Constitutional Court and the ECtHR, or lead to public disappointment stemming from misunderstandings of Constitutional Court procedures and decisions.12
  • Also in March, complying with an ECtHR decision, the parliament adopted a legal amendment allowing reviews and possible early releases for those sentenced to life in prison.13 The Ministry of Justice meanwhile prioritized the expanded use of noncustodial sentences and a greater emphasis on resocialization for those convicted of crimes.14 However, government investment plans reportedly continued to direct most funds to prison infrastructure.15 While the number of prisoners decreased further in 2019, it was still one of the highest per capita in the EU.16
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 4.505 7.007
  • Lithuania’s government, business sector, and general public continue to see corruption as a threat. There are some signs of improvement: 12 percent of survey respondents in 2018 reported paying a bribe in the previous 12 months, marking the lowest such figure since 2007.1 Civil servants, businesspeople, and the public generally registered a decline in perceived corruption,2 and the Special Investigation Service (STT) has noted an increase in reports from residents on alleged corruption, suggesting reduced societal tolerance.3 However, there is far less optimism with regard to high-level corruption.
  • The most significant corruption-related event of 2019 occurred in February, when the president suspended the authority and lifted the immunity of eight experienced judges following a pretrial investigation by STT and the Prosecutor General’s Office. The judges were arrested and accused of large-scale bribery, trading in influence, and abuse of power. In addition, five attorneys and 13 other people were arrested. Investigators eventually made allegations against more than 50 people, including prominent politicians and businesspeople. The case was recognized as a blow against both corruption and the reputations of the judiciary and the country as a whole.4
  • Not surprisingly, the perceived level of corruption in judicial and political entities remains high. Institutions such as the parliament, the courts, and municipalities are named as the most corrupt other than the health sector.5 The need perceived by the public for improvement in the prohibition of arbitrariness and penalties for corruption in Lithuania is among the highest in Europe. For example, 96 percent of respondents agreed that improvement was necessary in the proper investigation and prosecution of corruption involving public officials and politicians.6
  • Public corruption scandals in Lithuania often last several years and receive extensive media coverage. In addition to the judicial corruption matter, major cases during 2019 included the ongoing case concerning the influence of the business group MG Baltic on political parties and politicians.7 The year also marked the partial resolution of the long-running Vijūnėlė Manor scandal,8 as the illegally built manor was demolished, though some related episodes of bribery emerged in the judicial corruption case.9 Other cases that drew attention in 2019 included one involving police corruption in Kaunas County,10 and a scandal over a dubious government decision to pave a road near the prime minister’s house.11
  • Former and current mayors of cities including Visaginas,12 Anykščiai,13 Druskininkai,14 and Panevėžys15—as well as members of local councils and administrations in municipalities such as Mažeikiai and Jurbarkas16—also faced accusations of corruption and abuse of office. Susceptibility to various kinds of corruption at the municipal level may be enhanced by the risk of nepotism; the STT has found that an average of 17 percent of municipal employees are related by kinship with other employees.17
  • Legal amendments intended to improve anticorruption mechanisms were adopted or discussed in the parliament during the year. However, they received mixed reviews, with critics emphasizing ill-considered or counterproductive provisions, such as an increase in the scope of politicians’ and civil servants’ discretion in reporting their private interests, which was passed into law.18
  • A more clearly positive development was the new law on whistleblower protection, which came into force in January. Rasa Kazėnienė, who in 2017 reported abuse, waste, and possible corruption in the prison system, became the first to receive legal whistleblower status.19

Author: Ieva Petronytė-Urbonavičienė, PhD, is an Assistant Professor and Researcher at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius University and Director at Civil Society Institute, Lithuania.

NOTE

The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0–100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

On Lithuania

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

See More
  • Global Freedom Score

    91 100 free