13/06/2004 - Analysis - 1st round
This is an important electoral year for Lithuania, that, on 13 June this year, organised the first European elections in its history; on 27 June, it elected a new President of the Republic, Valdas Adamkus, and now on 10 October, it will re-elect its Parliament. The general elections were initially planned for 19 September but they will now take place on 10 October after the vote by Parliament on a constitutional amendment on 13 July last whereby the election of the Seimas, the Lithuanian Parliament, was to take place on the second Sunday in October from now on. The second round of the election in the constituencies that are voting on a majority basis will take place two weeks after the first round, ie 24th October.
Lithuania is just recovering from a serious political crisis after the destitution by the Seimas on 6 April of former President of the Republic, Rolandas Paksas. The President was found guilty of having violated the Constitution by illegally granting Lithuanian nationality to Iouri Borisov, a Russian business man and main source of finance of his electoral campaign in the presidential election on 22 December 2002 and 5 January 2003, of having violated State secrets by revealing, to this same man, confidential information, and finally for having favoured his friends by attributing them a motorway company when it was being privatised. Hearings with Iouri Borisov started on 10 August at the court in Vilnius. For his part Rolandas Paksas was summoned to the district criminal court of the capital on 15 July for a hearing; he is accused of having revealed State secrets. The former President is in danger of losing some of his rights, as well as being obliged to pay a fine and having his freedom restricted or being subject to a three year prison sentence.
The Lithuanian Political System
Lithuania has a monocameral Parliament, the Seimas, comprising 141 members, is elected every four years according to a mixed method of voting. Seventy-one MP's are appointed thanks to a majority based system, the other 70 are elected by proportional vote. A political party has to obtain 5% of the vote in order to be represented in Parliament (7% in the case of a coalition).
In the constituencies where the vote is majority based any candidate who wins an absolute majority, on condition that the participation rate reaches at least 40%, is declared elected after the first round of the election. If the participation rate is lower than 40% the candidate must then win an absolute majority of the vote as well as more than a fifth of the voters enrolled in order to be elected during the first round.
Twelve political parties are represented in the present Parliament:
Social-Democrat Alliance (LSDP), made up of the Democratic Labour Party, the Social Democrat Party, led by Prime Minister Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas, the New Democracy Party and the Union of the Russians of Lithuania - this is the main party in the Seimas. It has 51 MP's;
The Liberal Union (LLS), that merged with the Central Union, is led by Arturas Zuokas Aerqui, Mayor of the capital, Vilnius, and has thirty-four MP's;
The Central Union (LCS), that has become the Liberal Union - Central Union, after their merger - has 2 MP's;
The New Union-Social Liberal Party (NS-SL), party of the president of Parliament, Arturas Paulauskas, has been a member of the government coalition for three years and has 29 MP's;
The Pro Patria Union-Conservatives (TS-LK), party of the father of Lithuanian independence, Vytautas Landsbergis, lies to the right on the political scale and has 9 MP's ;
The Farmers' Union (LVP) has four MP's;
Polish Electoral Action (LLRA) and the Christian Democrat Party (LKDP) that each have two MP's;
The Union for Lithuanian Freedom (LLS), the Union of Moderate Conservatives (NKS), the Christian Democrat Union (KDS) and Young Lithuania-Neo-Natinoalists and the Union of Political Prisoners (JL-PKS) that have just one MP each.
The Election Stakes
The Labour Party is the main favourite in the general elections on 10 October. The Labour Party, that was created by Viktor Ouspaskitch just a year ago (October 2003), and that says it has 12,000 members, easily won the European elections on 13 June last, taking 30. 16% of the vote and 5 seats. It forged a 16 point lead over the second party, the Social Democrat Party (LSDP). When he was asked about the parties with whom he might form a government coalition if he won the general election, Arunas Degutis, EuroMP for the Labour Party mentioned the Liberal Union-the Central Union (LLS-LSC) that belongs to the same European party (Democrat and Liberal Alliance for Europe ALDE) as his party, and the Pro-Patria Union-Conservatives (TS-LK). But for the time being Viktor Ouspaskitch refuses to plan any co-operation with these parties. "We are standing alone before the electorate and we are not interested in the issue of who will make an alliance with whom. We have noticed however that some parties are slightly worried and are looking for a way to stay ahead in the political arena. This is just electoral strategy", he declared. Amongst those who have joined the Labour Party and who are candidates on its lists are Jonas Lionginas, former Finance Minister and close colleague of the deposed President, Rolandas Paksas and Vladimir Orechov leader of the Union of Russians of Lithuania.
Viktor Ouspaskitch was born in Russia 45 years ago and speaks Lithuanian with a strong accent but has been established in the Baltic Republic since 1987. He was naturalised on independence in 1990 and rapidly made his fortune in business; he is now at the head of a holding that brings together about forty companies and employs around 4,000 people. In 2000 Viktor Ouspaskitch maintained that his fortune stood at 60.5 million litas (17.5 million euro). He owes much of his popularity to his appearances on TV in a comic show, Dviracio sou, where is presented as a man of the people called Mr Agourtchik (Concombre), an allusion to his portrait that appears on the tins of cucumbers sold by his company. Viktor Ouspaskitch supported Arturas Paulauskas in the 1998 presidential election, thereafter he distanced himself from Paulauskas when the leader of the New Union joined the ruling coalition in 2000. He has had a seat in the Seimas as an independent deputy since 1996.
The Labour Party is a populist movement that does not hesitate to make promises, that if honoured, would lead the country to bankruptcy according to economists. Hence the party, if it wins, is promising to lower prices by 10 to 20%, to increase the minimum salary of 600 litas and pensions of 140 litas, to modify the law on housing in favour of young couples, to vote in a four year period of tax exoneration for new companies and to offer the most deserving students study periods abroad at the State's expense. The populist party promises to fulfil this programme in 1,111 days, ie less than three years.
Petras Austrevicius, who had the support of the Pro Patria Union-Conservatives and the Labour Party during the presidential election on 13 and 27 June, chose to join the Liberal Union-Central Union for the general election on 10 October next. The former chief negotiator for Lithuania with the European Union will lead this party's list since Arturas Zuokas, mayor of Vilnius and leader of the Liberal Union-Central Union de Vilnius relinquished his position as head of the list to him. The latter will confront Viktor Ouspaskitch directly in the constituency of Kedainiai where the Labour Party leader was easily elected during the general elections in 2000. Arturas Zuokas, who is accused of having influenced the vote of a town councillor during the local elections on 22 December 2002, might, in the case of victory, be able to take advantage of parliamentary immunity. Amongst the leaders on the Liberal Union-Central Union list are also Gintaras Steponavicius and Eligijus Masiulis, who are both at the centre of an enquiry into financial fraud at the moment.
The Pro Patria Union-Conservatives are standing for election for the very first time with their former and illustrious president Vytautas Landsbergis, who did however assure his party of his active support during the campaign. The conservatives have allied themselves with the Liberal Union-Central Union for the upcoming October elections.
The Liberal Democrat Party of deposed president, Rolandas Paksas will be led by Valentinas Mazuronis. Rolandas Pavilionis, former MP and present vice-president of the European Parliament, recently convicted of fraud, lies second on the party's list. Gintaras Surkus, loyal to Rolandas Paksas and fifth on the party's list, was excluded from the electoral competition by the Electoral Commission for fraud. The former President had mentioned his possible return to the political arena thanks to these elections, but finally he will not be part of his party's lists. The Liberal Democrat Party, whose campaign slogan is "For order and justice", hopes to win fifty seats in Parliament.
The Social Democrat Party for its part (LSDP) has allied itself with its partner in government, the Social Liberal Party (SL), party of Seimas president, Arturas Paulauskas - neither party excludes a merger in the near future. However since the Social Liberal Party, is a member of the Liberal International and the Social Democrat Party part of the Socialist International, the union might not be an easy one to set up. Both parties are standing under the banner "Coalition of Algirdas Brazauskas and Arturas Paulauskas, we are working for Lithuania". The joint list will be led by the vice-president of the Social Democrat Party, Ceslovas Jursenas, with Arturas Paulauskas running in second place. A candidate from the Social Democrat Party will stand in fifty of the seventy-one constituencies where voting will be based on a majority system and the Social Liberal Party will stand in the other twenty.
Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, leader of the Social Democrat Party announced his decision not to stand: "I am over the age to stand in the general elections and to start life again as an MP after having led the government". As far as his activities in government are concerned Algirdas Brazauskas was sorry that these were appreciated better abroad than in his own country. "The results are unfortunately there to see, the Lithuanians are not as conscious of them as Brussels and the Europeans", he declared. The Prime Minister acknowledged that more than a million Lithuanians lived below the poverty line and that this situation might be detrimental to the Social Democrat Party on the eve of the general elections. According to statistics 27% of rural inhabitants, 8% of those in the major towns and 14% of those living in middle-sized towns in 2003 were existing below the poverty line (312 litas –90.4 euros- per month per person).
The electoral campaign for the general elections started officially on 10 September and a month before the election all of the opinion polls grant a major lead to the Labour Party, credited with around 30% of the vote, ahead of the Social Democrat Party, 12% and the Liberal Union-Central Union, 7%. Will Lithuania choose a new party to lead its government once more and in the ilk of its Baltic neighbours, Latvia and Estonia? This will be answered on 10 October.
Reminder of the results of the general elections on 8th October 2000 in Lithuania
Participation rate: 55.9%
Source: Embassy of Lithuania in France