Constituent Assembly of Lithuania
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Constituent Assembly of Lithuania
|Direct multi-party elections|
Following the last Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, Lithuania was annexed by and became part of the Russian Empire. At the end of World War I, on 16 February 1918, the Council of Lithuania declared Lithuania's independence. The declaration called for the formation of a Constituent Assembly as soon as possible. However, Lithuania remained under German control until the Wilhelmshaven mutiny in late 1918. On 2 November 1918 the first draft of the Constitution of Lithuania was adopted. On 11 November, the same day as the final armistice treaty ending World War I was signed, the first government of Lithuania was formed and Augustinas Voldemaras became the first prime minister. In December 1918, the Red Army invaded the country, triggering the Freedom Wars. By the end of 1919 the Red Army and the Bermontians were successfully ousted from the territory of Lithuania and the formation of state institutions and infrastructure began.
The law describing the procedures of electing and the powers of the Constituent Assembly was adopted on 30 October 1919. The elections were held only on 14–15 April 1920. The voter turnout reached about 90%. The voters, both men and women, elected 112 representatives. The majority, 59 seats, was taken by Christian democrats. 28 seats were taken by Peasants' Union and socialists, 12 by social democrats, 10 by minorities (Jews, Poles, and Germans). The other 3 representatives were independent. Only 8 representatives were older than 50. Five of the representatives were women. In fact, Gabrielė Petkevičaitė-Bitė, a famous Lithuanian female writer, chaired the first session honoring the tradition that before the chair is elected, the oldest member acts as chair. As time passed, 38 members of the assembly resigned and were replaced. So in total there were 150 members of the Constituent Assembly.
The population of the Vilnius region, under Polish control, and that of the Klaipėda region, under French control, could not take part in the elections. However, the election law reserved 108 seats for the Vilnius region and 9 for the Klaipėda region. Therefore, there should have been 229 elected representatives.
The first meeting took place on 15 May 1920 in Kaunas, the temporary capital. Aleksandras Stulginskis was elected as the chairman and de facto president. As soon as 10 June 1920, it passed the third and the final draft of the constitution.
On 12 June 1920 a peace treaty was signed with the Russian SFSR. It was highly beneficial to Lithuania as Russia recognized its independence de jure (the first state to do so after 1918) and acknowledged that vast areas of the Vilnius region belonged to Lithuania. Shortly after the defeat in the Battle of Warsaw, the withdrawing Red Army handed Vilnius over to Lithuania, in accordance with the agreement.
From October 1920 till February 1921, the Constituent Assembly was adjourned because the Lithuanian-Belarusian Division of the Polish Army under General Lucjan Żeligowski seized Vilnius. Many representatives went to the front to defend the historic capital. Before adjourning it had created the so-called Small Seimas (Lithuanian: Mažasis Seimas) consisting of the Chairman and six members of the regular Constituent Assembly who were authorized to pass urgent laws.
In March 1921, after international arbitration, a border treaty with Latvia was signed. 21 km of coastline including the towns of Palanga and Šventoji were transferred to Lithuania. It also defended its interest in the city of Mažeikiai. In return, Latvia received the so-called Aknysta foreland (Latvian: Aknīste) north of Rokiškis. In total, Latvia gained about 100 km² more than Lithuania. This treaty solved all border conflicts with Latvia and the border remains the same today. It became a foundation for good and healthy cooperation between the two nations.
On 23 September 1921 Lithuania became a member of the League of Nations. Most of the world's countries immediately recognized its independence.
On 15 February 1922 it passed a law on land reform. It was a decade-long reform which nationalized land owned by the nobility and distributed it to the volunteers who fought in the Freedom Wars and to peasants who owned none or very little land. This way Lithuania's agriculture was based on small (20-50 ha) farms. Over the years 459,000 ha of land were distributed to over 65,000 people. The nobility was allowed to keep 80 ha of land and was reimbursed an average of 27 litas per ha for nationalized land. People who received land, except for the volunteers, were required to pay for the land for 36 years.
The main goal, to adopt a new constitution, was reached on 1 August 1922. The constitution granted broad powers to the Seimas, the Parliament. It selected the Cabinet of Ministers and elected the President. The Seimas and the president were to be elected every three years in democratic elections. Lithuania was declared a democratic republic modeled after the example of France. Because of the Christian democrats' majority, the constitution clearly reflected Christian ideas. For example, it established that religious education is mandatory and its preamble starts with the words "In the name of Almighty God" (Lithuanian: Vardan Dievo Visagalio).
On 9 September a law was passed on the national currency, introducing the litas. On 1 October, it was introduced. Litas became one of the stronger currencies in Europe.
On 6 October 1922 the Constituent Assembly resigned. A new regular Seimas started on 13 November. The assembly passed approximately 150 laws, strengthened the state's administrative system, and laid the foundations of the future economic, social and cultural life in Lithuania.