Referendum on land sale ban to foreigners in Lithuania failed to materialize after a record low number of voters cast their votes in the ballot, Lithuania's Central Electoral Commission (CEC) announced on Sunday evening.
"I would say, activity of voters has been record low. In general, not many people expected more than that," said Zenonas Vaigauskas, chairman of the CEC, in a press conference.
According to the CEC, only 10.92 percent of registered voters appeared in the polling stations before 7 p.m. local time (1600 GMT) on Sunday. Together with those who cast their votes in advance, 14.1 percent turnout was registered before the end of referendum. Polling stations were closed at 8 p.m. local time (1700 GMT) on Sunday.
Citizens of Lithuania were asked to express their opinion whether the Baltic country should ban or approve the sales of agricultural land to foreigners and legal entities. Voters were also asked to decide whether or not to reduce the number of signatures needed to initiate a referendum from 300,000 to 100,000.
Algirdas Butkevicius, Lithuanian Prime Minister, who cast his vote in Vilnius on Sunday morning, did not expect referendum to materialize.
"We've adopted a law on safeguards, there are safeguards (for land sale), and there's no need for politicizing in the area," Butkevicius was quoted by news agency BNS.
The new law on safeguards for land sale came into force on May 1 this year.
Butkevicius said he came to cast his vote because he was willing to execute his "civic duty."
Before referendum, both Lithuania's ruling social democrat coalition and conservative opposition leaders spoke against the ban to sell land to foreigners.
The Baltic country committed itself to liberalizing its land market and dropping the ban to sell land to foreigners over a 10-year transitional period after joining the EU in 2004, which expired in May this year.
The referendum initiators argued that drop of the ban could drive land prices beyond the reach of locals.
Butkevicius, however, underlined that land prices dropped by a quarter during the preparations for the referendum. "Over the past two or three months, land prices plummeted by around 25 percent," he told reporters, according to BNS.
Jurate Novagrockiene, Lithuanian political scientist, said that referendum was denounced to fail.
"Majority of people expressed their opinion about joining the EU and accepting most of its rules, in 2004," she was quoted by news agency ELTA.
The ban of land sales to foreigners would breach the common rules of the EU, most critics of referendum initiative argued.
CEC also informed on Sunday that no major infringements of electoral law were registered during the ballot.
There are 2.532 million eligible voters in Lithuania. At least 50 percent of them had to vote, for referendum to be deemed as valid.
More than 47 percent turnout was registered in the second round of Lithuanian presidential elections on May 25.
CEC plans to reveal the final results of the referendum on July 3.