VILNIUS, June 29, /ITAR-TASS/. Lithuania’s referendum on sales of farmlands to foreigners is marked by a very low turnout of voters, Zenonas Vaigauskas, the chairman of the Central Electoral Commission told reporters Sunday afternoon.
By 14:00 hours East European Summer Time (11:00 hours GMT), only 6.45% registered voters came to the polls. All in all, Lithuania has a population of around 3.0 million, including 2.53 million people with franchise.
This means that overall number of citizens, who came to the polls by middle of the day, was a mere 3.1%. If the situation does not improve by the end of the day, the referendum runs the risk of being deemed invalid.
“The voters’ activity is several dozen percent lower than it was by the same hour at the presidential election in May,” Vaigauskas said. “A total of 26.96% voters came to the polling stations by 15:00 hours back then.”
He recalled a provision of the national law, which says a plebiscite is declared valid if no less than 50% registered citizens of the country cast ballots in it.
Along with this, Vaigauskas said the voting was progressing smoothly and no serious violations of the procedures had been reported.
The referendum on sales of farmlands to foreigners is held pursuant to a popular initiative. For the first time ever, public activists managed to gather 300,000 signatures in support of the idea and the authorities had to accept it.
However, initiators of the motion say the government has done everything in its power to doom it to failure.
“Information (about the referendum) was hushed up and blocked in any imaginable way from the very beginning,” Pranciskus Sliuzas, a member of the steering committee of the referendum told reporters.
The initiators insisted that it was to be held simultaneously with the presidential election but the country’s political leadership did not agree to it citing procedural formalities.
Lithuania pledged to open its market of farmland in full when it joined the EU in 2004 but it managed to get a delay, which expired May 1, 2014.
Lithuanian society is split over a possible authorization of sales of land to foreigners
“Any competitiveness of our farmers, who get incomparably smaller direct subsidies per hectare of land than the farmers in ‘Old Europe’, is out of the question,” an adversary of free sales/purchases of land said.
On the face of it, a nationwide refusal to sell land to customers from other countries would put Lithuania in the face of a legal dilemma, as the will of its citizens would contradict the government’s obligations to the EU then.