10/10/2004 - D-7
In all twenty political parties will be standing in the general elections in Lithuania on 10 October; seventeen of them have candidates in all 141 constituencies. One thousand one hundred and ninety three people are standing in 70 constituencies where the vote will be proportional, 607 in the 71 remaining constituencies.
Just a few days before the election the Labour Party (DP) is far ahead in the opinion polls. According to the latest survey undertaken by the Spinter Institute mid-September, the populist party led by Viktor Ouspaskitch is due to win 26.2% of the vote, far ahead of the coalition "We're working for Lithuania" comprising the main party in government, the Social Democrat Party (LSDP) and its partner as head of state, the Social Liberal Party (SL) is due to win 16.6% of the vote. These two parties are ahead of the coalition "For order and justice" of the recently deposed President of the Republic, Rolandas Paksas (Liberal Democrat Party), a coalition led by Valentinas Mazuronis that is due to win 8.1% of the vote; the Pro Patria-Conservative Union (TS-LK), led by Andrius Kubilius, due to win 6.7%, the Farmers Party and Kazimiera Danute Prunskiene's New Democracy Party (LVP-NDP) 6,8%, and the Liberal Union-Central Union (LLC-LSC), whose list is led by the former head negotiator for Lithuania within the European Union, Petras Austrevicius, is due to win 5.6% of the vote. One Lithuanian in ten (11.2%) say they have still not made their choice.
The Labour Party will have dominated this electoral campaign from start to finish; to the extent that its victory is almost a foregone conclusion and that each of the parties standing in these general elections is reduced to positioning itself in comparison to it. Hence the Pro Patria - Conservative Union is the only party to have said that it will not participate in anyway in a government led by the Labour Party, maintaining that Viktor Ouspaskitch comprises a danger for Lithuania. Its leader Andrius Kubilius did not hesitate in maintaining that the Labour Party leader had promised, if they won, the present Prime Minister Algirdas Mykolas Brazaukas and the President of Parliament Arturas Paulausakas that they would retain their positions. According to the head of the Pro-Patria - Conservative Union, Viktor Ouspaskitch's decision to withdraw his candidature from the constituency where Arturas Paulausakas is standing proves that his declarations are true. The other parties say that they have not decided for the time being on any possible alliance with the Labour Party. As for the populist party, it is making a lone stand for the time being, its leader having repeated many times that he did not want to discuss any possible alliances before the election. "We are a new party and we do not want to be associated with any of the others. After the election we shall be able to negotiate with those who have achieved the most over the last fourteen years," (since the country's independence on 11 March 1990) declared Viktor Ouspakitch recently.
Within the coalition "We are working for Lithuania," the Social Democrat party and its government partner the Social Liberal Party are campaigning using the results of the four years they have spent at the head of the State - a record in longevity in independent Lithuania's history. Their electoral programme is coloured with a number of social measures such as the increase in the average salary of 1,800 litas (520 euro) and retirement pensions of 650 litas (188 euro) over the next four years. Both parties also promise to lower the unemployment rate to 8% of the working population and to increase the Lithuanian GDP by a third so that it represents 60% of the European average by 2008. The list; led by the vice-president of the Social Democrat Party, Ceslovas Jursenas comprises several government ministers including: Vilija Blinkeviciute, Social Security and Labour Minister, Algirdas Butkevicius, Finance Minister, Antanas Valionis, Foreign Affairs Minister and Juozas Olekas, Health Minister.
On the Conservative side the main party, the Pro-Patria-Conservative Union emphasise the need for a strong State, the only way, in its opinion to protect Lithuania from any possible threat on the part of Russia. "Lithuania on the road to success," - this is the title of the TS-LK programme advising "the return to Lithuanian, family, Christian values." "Social problems and not economic questions must be our priority," confirmed the leader Andrius Kubilius recently.
The Union of the Russians of Lithuania and the Polish Electoral Alliance (LLRA) recently announced their union for the upcoming general elections. Russian speakers, who are Lithuanian citizens, comprise 17% of the country's population. Although their integration is the cause of a number of problems in Estonia and in Latvia where they represent nearly one third of the population, this is not the case in Lithuania where there are not so many of them and where they are relatively well integrated. Nevertheless the Russian speaking minority reproaches the Lithuanian state of not having, as was planned, voted in the new law on the rights of minorities and is fighting against the closure of schools where Russian is spoken. Eighteen of them have been closed over the last four years according to Sergei Dmitriyev, leader of the Union of the Russians of Lithuania.
The Social Union of Christian Conservatives, that was founded this summer by former Prime Minister, Gedimias Vagnorius, will also be standing on 10 October. It will have twenty candidates competing in the constituencies where the vote will be organised according to the majority method and twenty others where a proportional election will take place.
Just one week before the general elections the Lithuanians seem to have made their choice, confirming the results of an opinion poll undertaken in August last on behalf of the Core of Open Society and the Institute for Civil Society that revealed that more than one third (37%) of them approve the new politicians and that four voters in ten (41,5%) are about to vote for the candidates who promise them a radical change. Indeed, unless there is a major upheaval, that is highly unlikely, the Labour Party should easily win on 10 October next. The only real question centres on the parties that are likely and able to ally themselves with the populist movement to form a government. But another possibility must also be foreseen, and that is, in spite of its victory the Labour Party will not manage to form a government coalition, with the other parties drawing together to form a bigger coalition in order to stop it coming to power. This situation, that is in no way impossible, would not be a first in the region. Indeed, the Centre Party in the neighbouring Republic of Estonia, although winning the general election on 2 March 2003 with 25.4% of the vote, was withheld from government by a coalition grouping together three political parties.