On the 10th of July, the Central Electoral Commission of the Republic of Lithuania adopted a new electoral district boundaries. The commission’s decision changed the boundaries of several constituencies in Vilnius, Kaunas, Kelme and Vilnius region. Two of them, dominated by Poles (Suzonys and Skirlenai), were incorporated into the „Lithuanian“ Svenchioniu-Moletu constituency. The commission justified its decision claiming that demographic indicators have changed – in some constituencies the population has greatly increased, in others – decreased.
The European Foundation of Human Rights believes that the main purpose of this amendment is to „weaken“ the Polish electorate and to lessen the chances of Poles being appointed to Seimas.
The European Foundation of Human Rights emphasizes that „weakening“ of Polish voters is against the rules of international law.
The 3rd article of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms says: ‘The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature’. This protocol, providing free expression of opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature, is valid in the Republic of Lithuania.
Equally important is the 16th article of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, ratified without objections by Lithuania on the 17th of February 2000. According to it, ‘The Parties shall refrain from measures which alter the proportions of the population in areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities and are aimed at restricting the rights and freedoms flowing from the principles enshrined in the present framework Convention’. The Explanatory Report to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in points 81-82 explains that the 16th article is against activities which aim to alter the proportions of the population in areas inhabited by people belonging to national minorities and to restrict their rights and freedoms that arise from this Framework Convention. Changing the administrative boundaries aiming to limit the use of these right and freedoms (called ‘gerrymandering’) is one of examples of such actions.
On the 18th-19th of October 2002, the European Commission for Democracy developed, under the Venice Commission, a Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters. According to these guidelines and to the explanatory report, the seats should be evenly distributed among the constituencies (point 2.2), and a maximum derogation from the norms should not exceed 10%, and definitely it should not be greater than 15% – except in special circumstances, including protection of minority concentrations. In addition, it is emphasized that the adjustment of electoral boundaries should be done without harm to national minorities. From a procedural point of view, the representatives of national minorities should have a chance to influence the making of a new division of constituencies. Similarly, a representative of national minorities should be a member of the Central Electoral Commission (point 3.1).
The aforementioned facts show that the decision of the Central Electoral Commission is against the rules of international law and limits the national minority’s possibility to have their representatives in the Parliament.
Therefore, the European Foundation of Human Rights support the OSCE‘s decision on observation of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Lithuania by observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Translated by Ewelina Zarembska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.