Local Government in Lithuania

Author:Angel-Manuel Moreno

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1. Brief historical evolution

Self-government in Lithuania dates from the 14th century. Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, obtained the right to self-government in 1387 through the Magdeburg Rights, which spread throughout Lithuania. Such self-government established the right of towns (in the fight with feudal lords) to have their own figure of authority (the magistrate) and a separate court consisting of a jury elected by the townspeople.

In 1795, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was divided among Austria, Russia and Prussia. The greater part of Lithuania went to the Russian Empire. Governance was quickly reformed to follow the Russian model. In 1808, Lithuanian cities (Vilnius, Kaunas) began to be governed by dumas (councils). The functions of the dumas were not extensive: they were to maintain order, stimulate business and care for city property. Some problems related to city management were solved by other institutions, e.g., the governor, the police, etc. In 1876, ordinances which replaced the order of elections to the self-government organs entered into force. The city council or duma, which was elected for a four-year term of office, was chosen not by the representatives of social castes but by the owners of property. City residents being 25 or older who owned real estate in the city and paid taxes to the city treasury had the right to vote. In 1892, Czar Alexander III affirmed new city regulations that limited the rights of city self-government somewhat, and the number of electors having the right to vote decreased.

In 1861, the occupied Lithuanian territory was divided into administrative territorial units or townships, each having a caste-based form of self-government with an assembly, a council and a court. Only peasants belonged to the township municipalities. The nobility solved its matters separately: from 1566 to 1863, its institutions of local self-government functioned in county assemblies of noblemen.

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Following World War I, the sovereign state of Lithuania was restored in 1918. Administrative divisions remained similar to the previous ones: counties were subdivided into townships. Self-government existed at two levels: both county and township councils were elected. Depending upon their size, cities belonged to either counties or townships. In 1919, the Municipalities Act was adopted, establishing modern, democratic self-government. Local self-government was provided for in 1922, in 1928 and in 1938 in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania.

In 1940, when Lithuania was occupied and incorporated into the Soviet Union, the constitutional institution of local self-government was abolished. Local governments followed the directives of a single legally-operating communist party.

In 1990, the independence of Lithuania was restored. The territorial administrative network remained the same as the one under the Soviet regime, except that the elections to the institutions of local self-governance were democratic. Through the Basic Act on Local Self-government, a two-tiered system of municipal organization and authorization of municipal institutions was established, with a higher tier consisting of 44 districts and 12 towns of the Republic and a lower tier consisting of 80 district towns, 19 settlements of town’s type (villages) and 427 wards. Councils of wards, districts and towns were elected, and an executive government was formed. The Council of Ministers had the right to contest the decisions of higher-tier councils contradicting the law.

The system of local autonomous bodies established in 1990 functioned until 1995. In July 1994, a new statute on Territorial Administrative Units and their boundaries replaced the former system of 581 administrative units with a new system consisting of 66 territorial units: 10 counties and 56 municipalities (44 municipalities of districts and 12 municipalities of cities and towns). For the first time in Lithuania, a single-tier system of self-government was created. With the abolishment of the lower tier of self-government and the establishment of a new model of administrative structure of state territory, local government was distanced from the people.

In 1994, a proportional election system was instituted. This system wanted to provide the conditions to strengthen parties, as well as allowing for the preconditions for the creation of party coalitions. As of 2011, not only parties but also independent candidates may participate in the elections.

In 2003, the model of institutional structure changed: boards were eliminated (previously, each board had been elected by the council members and managed by the mayor), the mayor became chairman of the council and the director of municipal administration became the executive manager.

For what concerns counties, in 1995 they became de-concentrated State authorities, headed by centrally-appointed governors who controlled their own administration. In 2010, another county reform was carried out and the admin-

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istrations of counties’ principals were dissolved. Counties now exist as territorial administrative units.

In the future, it is planned to form four or five regions out of the 10 existing counties and, at the municipal level, to provide more independence to the wards; in addition, there are discussions regarding the inception of the model of a directly-elected mayor.

2. Basic facts and figures

In compliance with the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, there are two types of territorial authoriries: municipalities ([c56][c44][c59][c4c][c59][c44][c4f][c47][c5c][c45][c13]) and «higher territorial units» or counties ([c44][c53][c56][c4e][c55][c4c][c57][c4c][c56]).

The county is the highest territorial administrative unit of the Republic of Lithuania, the administration of which is organised by the government of the Republic. As of 1995, there are 10 counties in Lithuania. They were established from municipalities having common social, economic and ethno-cultural interests. They vary in size, from four to eight municipalities. The largest county has a population of 850,000 and the smallest, 135,000 with the average being 350,000. The majority of Lithuanian counties have populations of 150,000 to 200,000 citizens.

In Lithuania, local self-government comprises a single-tier level of bodies: municipalities, which are territorial administrative units of the Republic. They are governed by municipal institutions, which are elected by the local community in accordance with the Act on Local Self-government of the Republic of Lithuania (1994) and other statutes. The main criteria to determine the establishment of a municipality are its readiness to care for its environment, the strength of its economy, its ability to provide services for its residents and to pursue other functions. As of 2000, there are 60 municipalities in Lithuania.

A municipality possesses its oun boundaries, a centre and a specific category. There are different categories of municipalities: «city municipalities» (mies-[c57][c52][c03][c56][c44][c59][c4c][c59][c44][c4f][c47][c5c][c45][c13]), «district municipalities» ([c55][c44][c4d][c52][c51][c52][c03][c56][c44][c59][c4c][c59][c44][c4f][c47][c5c][c45][c13]) and just simple «municipalities» ([c56][c44][c59][c4c][c59][c44][c4f][c47][c5c][c45][c13]), to which neither the «city» nor «district» label is applied and which is usually smaller than a district municipality. For example, Vilnius is a city municipality ([c39][c4c][c4f][c51][c4c][c44][c58][c56][c03][c50][c4c][c48][c56][c57][c52][c03][c56][c44][c59][c4c][c59][c44][c4f][c47][c5c][c45][c13]), Raseiniai is a district municipality ([c35][c44][c56][c48][c4c][c51][c4c][c5f][c03][c55][c44][c4d][c52][c51][c52][c03][c56][c44][c59][c4c][c59][c44][c4f][c47][c5c][c45][c13]) and Rietavas is just a municipality ([c35][c4c][c48][c57][c44][c59][c52][c03][c56][c44][c59][c4c][c59][c44][c4f][c47][c5c][c45][c13]). There are seven city municipalities, 43 district municipalities and 10 simple municipalities. All municipalities have the same status, competences and institutional structure, although they differ in terms of size, needs and problems. The scope of competences is the same for any type of municipality, regardless of its size.

The largest municipality consists of over 550,000 citizens; the smallest, of 2,400. The average municipality has a population of 56,722, with the majority having from 20,000 to 40,000.

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Lithuanian municipalities are relatively greater in size and population than those of other European Union countries. A large majority of municipalities
(66.7%) have between 10,000 and 50,000 residents.

Population distribution among Lithuanian municipalities can be summarized as follows:

Under 1,000 1,000-5, 000 5,001-10, 000 10,001-50, 000 50,001-100,000 Over 100,000
Percentage of population residing in each:
0 1.7% 1.7% 66.7% 21.6% 8.3%

Municipal councils have the right to divide municipal territories into wards ([c56][c48][c51][c4c][c57][c51][c4c][c4d][c44]). As only administrative subdivisions of the municipalities, wards do not have any form of local autonomy. At present, 524 wards exist, with each municipality having eight to nine wards. These are subdivided into elderships ([c56][c48][c51][c4c][c57][c51][c44][c4c][c57][c4c][c4d][c44]), in...

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