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Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The supreme legislative authority now resides with the Parliament (Seimas), as a result of the Republic of Lithuania reclaiming its statehood on March 11, 1990. It no longer recognizes itself as the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. Political life was unstable for more than a year following Lithuania's independence because of the delineation of powers within the parliament.

The Parliament contains 141 seats, 71 of which are directly elected by popular vote, 70 of which are elected by proportional representation; each member serves a four-year term. The Supreme Court judges, as well as the Court of Appeals judges are appointed by the Parliament. Laws can be adopted by either referendum or a vote in the Council of Ministers. The prime minister, deputy prime minister, and cabinet are all accountable to this council. For administrative purposes, Lithuania is divided into 10 districts.

In this parliamentary democracy, there is a chief of state, President Valdas Adamkus (since February 26, 1998). The executive branch is comprised of a premier, Andrius Kubilius (since November 12, 1999) and a council of ministers that is appointed by the president on the nomination of the premier. The premier of Lithuania is appointed by the president contingent upon the approval of the Parliament. The most recent election (1997) resulted in Valdas Adamkus receiving 50.4 percent of the vote, narrowly defeating Arturas Paulauskas and consequently becoming Lithuania's current president.

Lithuania houses a wide range of political parties some of which include the Christian Democratic Party (LKDP), the Democratic Labor Party of Lithuania (LDDP), the Democratic Party (DP) and the Homeland Union/Conservative Party (TS) (CIA 2000).

Russia's military continues to be a dominant force in Lithuania. Thus, the government's most pressing foreign policy issue remains the quest to diminish Russia's presence in the country. The antiaircraft network that extends from Estonia to Lithuania is the only base of strategic importance to the Russians. However, an estimated 23,000 officers and soldiers, as well as Russia's only paratroop training base remain near Kaunas, Lithuania. In addition, Russia's only access to their military region of Kaliningrad is via the 188 mile (303 kilometers) border they share with Lithuania.

Lithuania's recent political history begins with the approval of a constitution by 53 percent of eligible voters in a national referendum on October 25, 1992. As a result of this election, the majority of parliamentary seats were handed to the Democratic Labor Party (LDDP), headed by leader Algirdas Brazauskas. Brazauskas won the presidential election of February 1993 over a non-LDDP coalition led by the independent candidate, Stasys Lozoraitis.

Since that time, Lithuania's government has worked diligently to become more congruent with Western requirements. A populist referendum in favor of the indexation of peoples' savings was defeated in August 1994 by the successful lobbying of the LDDP government. Democratic Labor Party candidates were defeated, however, by the opposition in the nationwide elections of March 1995. The significant issues leading to the defeat were noted as the lack of effort in promoting prosperity and combating corruption and organized crime.

Lack of supervision and regulation over the banking sector of Lithuania were the primary causes of the bubbling financial crisis in December 1995. This consequently led to the resignation of Adolfas Slezevicius as Prime Minister and LDDP Chairman in February 1996. The replacement, Mindaugas Stankevicius, spearheaded the comprehensive banking sector bailout plan. However, these measures were not enough to convince voters in the 1996 rounds of parliamentary elections. The Conservative Party gained 70 of the 141 seats, with another 16 seats going to its coalition partner, the Christian Democrats. This coalition established a new government in early December 1996 and won a sizeable majority in the nationwide elections held in March 1997. The President, Valdas Adamkus, elected by popular vote, was sworn in on February 25, 1998. The president is elected for a five-year period, with a maximum of two consecutive terms. The next elections will be held in 2003 (U.S. Department of State 1998).

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