There is archaeological evidence of mankind going back many thousands of years in Lithuania but it was only at the beginning of the 12th Century A.D. that a place called Lithuania came into existence as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
In the next few hundred years Christianity was brought to the area and the Duchy prospered. But in 1569 it was decided, at the Union of Lublin, to join the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth lasted until 1795 when it was gradually partitioned in part by the Russian Empire, in part by the Kingdom of Prussia and finally by the Hapsburgs.
Lithuania found itself under the control of the Russian Empire and after two unsuccessful revolts in 1831 and 1843 continued in that state until the First World War. During the Great War the Germans occupied the region and in 1915 they occupied Vilnius.
By 1917 it was clear that the Germans were struggling to maintain their hold on the territory and between 18th and 22nd September 1917 they allowed the Vilnius National Conference to go ahead. The conference set in motion the process of a Lithuanian state that would be independent of the Russians, Polish and Germans. The conference elected a twenty member Council of Lithuania which would lead to a future democratically elected Constituent Assembly of Lithuania.
Germany lost the war and left the region but the Soviets by this stage were pushing westwards and in April 1919 the Lithuanians went to war with the advancing Soviets. The Russian forces were beaten back and in April 1920 elections for the first Constituent Assembly were held. On 12th July 1920 the Lithuanians and Russians signed the Soviet – Lithuanian Peace treaty which recognised the Lithuanian state. Throughout this period there were also battles with the Polish and Vilnius remained in their hands for much of the inter-war years.
There were a series of elections to the Seimas (parliament) in 1922, 1923 and 1926; but in 1926 a coup d’état led to the installation of Antanas Smetona. He had been president between 1919 and 1920 and he was installed once more in 1926 and remained president until 1940. Smetona’s party the Lithuanian Nationalists Union grew in power and a fifth constitution was passed in 1928. Although nominally a democratic state, the government became increasingly authoritarian.
After several uprisings had been put down violently, Smetona allowed the first Seimas election since 1926 to take place in September 1936. The Lithuanian Nationalists Union won 42 of the 49 seats, and subsequently another constitution gave the president even more powers.
The Second World War ended the tenure of Antanas Smetona with the invasion of Lithuania first by the Soviets, then by the Germans and at the end of the war by the Soviets once more. A decimated Lithuania, around three quarters of a million people died, was further affected by mass deportations to other parts of the Soviet Union.
After the war the country was ruled by the Lithuanian Communist Party and it was not to be freed until 11th March 1990 when Lithuania declared itself independent once more. The Communist Party was banned so it changed its name to the Democratic Labour Party.
In the first quasi-independent elections the Reform Movement of Lithuania (Sąjūdis), who had driven the independence movement, were active in endorsing candidates they saw as acceptable. Eventually 64 independents were elected along with 46 old Communist Party members also standing as independents.
The new Seimas was not a huge success having to handle difficult economic issues and to the surprise of everyone, including themselves, the old Communists calling themselves the Democratic Labour Party of Lithuania won a majority 73 of the 141 seats in the 1992 elections.
Their tenure was short lived and in 1996 they were reduced to 12 seats with a new centre right party, Homeland Union winning 70 seats and forming a coalition with the Lithuanian Christian Democrats.
In 2000 the Liberal Union were the next party with 33 seats to have a go in a four party coalition. 2004 saw another coalition led by the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania have a chance and then in 2008 the Homeland union, now bolstered by mergers with other parties won 45 seats and formed the latest coalition government.
The President is elected by popular vote for a five year term.
The unicameral Parliament or Seimas has 141 seats of which 71 members are elected by popular vote, 70 are elected by proportional representation and all members serve four year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Lithuania at joint 38th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 59 (where 100 is least corrupt).