In the last parliamentary elections, one of the biggest promises of the Farmers and Greens Union was to reduce the number of members in the Seimas.
There's no doubt that at that time, this promise was an encouragement to vote for the Farmers and Greens Union. After the elections, this promise was somewhat side-lined on the policy agenda but already in spring this year with the efforts of the Seimas chairman, it's made a return to policy discussions.
Is reducing the number of Seimas members nothing but simple populism?
The issue of the number of members in the Seimas is actually more complex than it seems at first glance.
On one hand, one can assume that the public would appreciate such a move. It's just that there's been no analysis on it. On the other hand, the attitudes in the parties in this regard seems ambiguous. This is especially the case for those parties that aren't sure if they'll get into the Seimas on their proportion of votes in the election, even those who just made the 5% threshold and wouldn't have the seven members necessary to form a bloc in the Seimas.
More importantly, some Seimas members will inevitably have to come to terms with the prospect of their parliamentary careers ending earlier than hoped simply because of reduction of the number of members. Then again, the debate on reducing the number of Seimas members has been going on for the past ten years.
This issue has been discussed in Ireland, the Netherlands, UK, France, Portugal and Japan amongst others. There are also countries, which have significantly reduced the number of members in their parliaments.
One of the best examples is Hungary where since 1999, 199 members of parliament out a former 386 remain; Ireland has symbolically reduced its number of parliament members – from 166 to 158. In all cases, it's not only in Lithuania that the size and number of members of parliament are being discussed and this is by no means empty talk.
Since the 20th century, two factors have often determined the size of a parliament:
a) The size of the population and stemming from it the number of members of parliament calculated using the cube root rule, and
b) The economic well-being of the country – wealthier countries and ones that have gone through less economic crises can afford to have a large number of members of parliament.
The abovementioned two factors are still valid for the number of members in a parliament today.
Using the cube root rule only based on the total population may warrant changing to a total number of voters as it reflects more accurately citizen representation.
In ageing societies like Lithuania, the ratio of voters is generally higher compared with younger societies like Egypt where the proportion of voters is lower compare to the total population.
Due to the fact that in more than a quarter of a century since the restoration of independence, Lithuania's population has decreased from 3,7 million to 2,8 million or by 25%, the population argument for a reduction in the members of the Seimas is relevant.
It must also be remembered that the number of voters in Lithuania is decreasing much more slowly than the total population because of the ageing society.
If in 1991 there were 2.6 million voters and in 2016 2.5 million, the difference is slight. If the cube root rule is used by population, then the number of members in the Seimas corresponds exactly.
There is however one 'but'. No country has over the last three decades transformed its parliament by setting a lesser number of members of parliament than required by the cube root rule.
Slovenia has less than 285 members of parliament than Latvia at 23% could have. Slovakia has 15%, Czech Republic and Austria have 9% and Estonia 8%.
If the above example and precedents set by other countries are a guide, then based on the cube root rule, a reduction in the number of Seimas members can be the subject of debate in Lithuania.
A reduction in the number of Seimas members based on economics would probably be a bit more difficult because the Seimas budget in 2018 was 30,5 million, for the Government – 14,1 million and the President's institutions – 5,4 million euro. The Government and the Presidency therefore cost taxpayers far more than the Seimas.
Why a reduction to 121 members?
There are other ways to reduce the number of Seimas members in addition to the abovementioned. One of them is to reduce in proportion to the decline in population. In other words by 25% or from 141 to 105 members.
The other way would be with the cube root rule by applying it to the number of voters. That would be a cosmetic reform and would therefore reduce the number of members to almost 136. This would have hardly any impact because there wouldn't even be symbolic reform.
Yet another way would be by the number of voters that constantly take part in the country's main elections – the Seimas and Presidential elections.
This number is stable for the time being and above all secures proportional representation. These voters number around 50% or approximately 1.3 million.
Based on the cube root rule therefore, there'd be about 110 or 111 Seimas members that would form the majority of the odd number of members of parliament.
This number is clearly a far cry from the 101 promised by the Farmers and Greens Union but the latter figure is obviously "from nowhere" and chosen because it "looks good, so this is more a ballpark figure.
The final compromise is to find the average in the number of general voters (2.5 million) and active voters (1.3 million) which would work out to around 122 Seimas members. Due to the odd number of members, however it could stay at 121.
In this way, the number of Seimas members would be reduced by about 15% based on the current number. This would already be quite a significant reform of the size of the Seimas and could remain so for several decades to come.
Incidentally, the numbers in the interwar democratic Lithuanian parliaments (1920 to 1927) were also smaller than those based on the cube root rule.
What do people think of a reduction in the Seimas?
As noted, there has been no analysis on a reduction in number of Seimas members. It was first mentioned in a poll taken at the end of July, which showed that 84.3% approved of or agreed completely to a reduction of Seimas members to 121.
Only 5.4 % did not approve this can be considered universal approval. What's good is that it was only on 9 February 1991 in a universal poll on the restoration of independence where approval was greater – over 90%.
In 1992 in a referendum on the Constitution, 75% voted 'yes' which means that this time people have a very clear opinion in the number of Seimas members.
In terms of age groups, there were fewer supporters among respondents aged between 18 and 29 years whereas 87% of older respondents approved.
One variance is difficult to explain - 79% of males approved of a reduction in the Seimas and even 88.6% of females. There may be lots of explanations for this with each one being convincing.
There was no big difference in terms of education level of the respondents. In terms of place of residence, there was less support – 76% to 81% - in Šiauliai, Kaunas and Vilnius.
There is a large consensus on reducing the number of Seimas members even among supporters of different parties. The biggest reduction in the size of the parliament is held by the supporters of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, the Social Democratic Labour Party and the creators of the initiative – the Farmers and Greens Union where support is over 90%.
There is less support - about 80% - among the sponsors of the Order and Justice, the Labour Party and the Homeland Union. Even among those without no clear party affiliation and about half of those surveyed - almost 87% - were in favour of reducing the number of Seimas members.
Parenthetically, public opinion is also a factor to be considered in determining the size of parliaments.
Current politicians therefore have a clear mandate from the people to reduce the number of Seimas members. Will they use it? They should, but in the rainy country, nothing is certain because public opinion is more often needed for manipulation and not making decisions.