15/09/2008 - Analysis - 1st round
The date of the next general elections in Lithuania was set on 2nd April by the President of the Republic, Valdas Adamkus. On 12th October next 2.7 million Lithuanians will go to ballot to renew the 141 members of the Seimas, the only Chamber in Parliament. 16 parties will take part in the election as well as 18 independent candidates including former Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius (1991-1992 and 1996-1999).
After having thought about experimenting with the internet vote as in Estonia, Lithuania finally gave up the idea. There is a novelty however: candidates must now declare their incomes to the Central Electoral Commission and also give a guarantee of 2,151 litas (634.59€). They also have to sign a written document in which they promise to participate honestly in the election and not to corrupt the electorate.
The electoral campaign started on 12th September.
On 12th October next the Lithuanians will also have to vote by referendum on the continued use of the nuclear power plant Ignalina. They have to answer the following question: "Do you approve of the continued use of the Ignalina plant until a new one can be built?"
When it joined the EU in 2004 Lithuania promised that the plant would be put completely out of use in 2009. Vilnius has tried on several occasions to convince Brussels that Ignalina can be used until 2015 when the Baltic States and Poland will build a new nuclear power plant together to replace Ignalina. Minister of Economy, Arturas Dainius has said that by taking a unilateral decision on Ignalina Lithuania would be infringing its accession treaty with the EU. "What is the point of this referendum? Receiving the mandate of the nation because we don't have that of the EU or start negotiations?" asked the opposition leader of Homeland Union-Conservatives (TS-LK), Andrius Kubikius. The Ignalina powerplant is of particular importance to Lithuania which wants to reduce its dependency on gas and electricity from Russia.
This referendum will only be consultative. Participation by half of those registered is vital for it be considered valid. Even if most vote in favour of the continued use of Ignalina, the Seimas will have to ratify this decision for it to become effective. According to the most recent poll at the end of August by Apklausos, 74% of voters will say yes to the continued use of Ignalina, 10% are due to vote no and 15% have still not decided. Half of Lithuanians (49.3%) say they are sure that the plant is safe.
The Political System
Lithuania has a monocameral Parliament, the Seimas, comprising 141 members elected every four years according to a mixed voting method. 71 MPs are appointed by a majority system and 70 by proportional representation. A political party must collate 5% of the votes cast in order to be represented in Parliament (7% if it is a coalition). In the constituencies where there is a majority vote any candidate who achieves an absolute majority, on condition that turn out rises to at least 40%, is elected in the 1st round. If turn out is lower than 40% the candidate who has won the greatest number of votes and the vote of at least 1/5 of those registered is declared elected. Any party wishing to take part in the general elections must have at least 1,000 members.
8 political parties are represented in the present Seimas:
- Labour Party (DP), created in 2003 by the millionaire of Russian origin Viktor Ouspaskitch – 39 seats;
- the Social Democratic Party (LSP), led by Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas who replaced former Prime Minister (2001-2006) Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas as head of the party on 19th May 2007 – 20 MPs;
- Liberal and Centre Union (LLC-LSC), member of the government coalition led by Arturas Zuokas – 18 MPs;
- New Union-Social Liberal Party (NS-SL), member of the government coalition founded in 1998 and led by the Environment Minister – 11 seats;
- For Order and Justice (TT), led by former President of the Republic Rolandas Paksas (who was impeached as Head of State on 6th April 2004 by the Seimas after having been found guilty of having infringed the Constitution by illegally granting Lithuanian nationality to Yuri Borisov, a Russian businessman and main fund provider in his electoral campaign during the presidential election on 22nd December 2002 and 5th January 2003; he was also found guilty of having given away State secrets revealing confidential information to Borisov and finally of having favoured his friends during the privatisation of a motorway company) – 11 MPs;
- Homeland Union-Conservatives (TS-LK), party of the father of Lithuanian independence Vytautas Landsbergis, led by Andrius Kubikius – 25 seats;
- Peasant Party (LVP), which became the Lithuanian Peasant Popular Union in February 2006 (LVLS) formed by the Peasant Party (LVP) and the New Democratic Party (NDP). It is led by Kazimiera Danute Prunskiene who was the first Prime Minister of Lithuania when the country won back its independence (1990-1991) – 10 seats;
- Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action (LLRA), founded in 1994 – it represents the Polish minority in Lithuania and is led by Waldemar Tomaszewski – 2 MPs.
Issues at Stake in the General Elections
Gediminas Kirkilas, Social Democratic leader, who has been Prime Minister since 18th July 2006 hopes to maintain his post after the election on 12th October next. He said in an interview with the newspaper Kauni Diena: "The new government cannot be formed without the Social Democrats." Pushed into a minority position at the end of 2007 due to suspicion of corruption and deprived of the support of the Homeland Union-Conservatives since the previous summer, Gediminas Kirkilas finally succeeded on 28th January in forming a new government with the support of the New Union-Social Liberal Party. The government coalition rallies the Social Democratic Party, the Peasant Union, the Liberal and Centre Union, the Civil Democracy Party and the New Union-Social Liberal Party.
The Lithuanian economy is a flourishing one but may even possibly be overheating. The GDP is due to grow by 4% this year and drop to 2.3% in 2009. The budgetary deficit is significant (13.5% of the GDP) but the country's main problem is inflation which is constantly on the increase and reached its highest level in ten years last June – 12.6%. Price rises are due to reach 12.5% this year before falling to 7% in 2009. Lithuania gave up the idea of introducing the euro in January 2007 because of its high inflation levels which did not fall in line with the Maastricht criteria. The government is now planning to adopt the single currency after 2010 and probably not before 2012. At the end of June a group of MPs approved a resolution for the rate of the lita not to be set on that of the euro. The government and financial analysts have said that such a decision would be bad for Lithuania economically and that it would damage its international reputation. The lita has been linked to the euro since 1994.
Domestic demand has declined and growth has slowed much quicker than forecast. The government says that the 2009 budget will be balanced and that inflation will stabilise over the next few months before it finally decreases. "Inflation has stabilised in Lithuania although at a high rate but the average rate continues to rise in the euro area," said Finance Minister, Rimantas Sadzius (LSP) at the end of August.
The Liberal and Centre Union hopes to win between 25 and 30 seats on 12th October. Its leader, former Mayor of Vilnius Arturas Zuokas is running for the position of Prime Minister. Salaries and retirement pensions' rises (which have been set at 1,500 litas – 434€), 20 point reductions on income tax and the rejection of the continued running of the nuclear power plant Ignalina – these are the main points of his programme. "We can form a government that will offer new solutions and real changes. We must take Lithuania into the list of the 15 happiest countries in the world," declared Arturas Zuokas.
Actress Grazina Baikstyte joined the New Union-Social Liberal Party. "It is not the party that chose me but I chose the party. I shall work for the improvement of the cultural situation with New Union-Social Liberal Party," she declared. In January last the party was the source of surprise when it joined Gediminias Kirkilas's government after initially refusing the invitation and repeating that it wanted to remain part of a constructive opposition. Arturas Paulauskas does not hide his ambition to become the next Prime Minister.
In May the Homeland Union-Conservatives decided to join forces with the Christian Democratic Party. "We are both rightwing parties competing against each other for the same voters," declared MP Rasa Jukneviciene, concluding, "we want a stronger centre right." With this alliance the Conservatives hope to widen their electoral base which mainly comprises well qualified, and people who are older than the population average. The Christian Democratic Party, the descendant of the party which dominated Lithuania between the two World Wars, mainly recruits amongst the rural population and the most religious Lithuanians.
The Homeland Union-Conservatives are negotiating the creation of a coalition with the Liberal Movement, which is popular amongst students and young business people. The party hopes to rally several apolitical organisations to its fold together with some public figures. During the by-election on 7th and 21st October last the Homeland Union-Conservatives supported Kestukis Cinlinskas, a lawyer specialised in Human Rights. With 55.33% of the vote the latter beat the Labour Party leader, Viktor Ouspaskitch who only won 42.73%. The In this way the Homeland Union-Conservatives hope to restore Lithuanian confidence in their Parliament.
The Homeland Union-Conservatives can be viewed on the internet for the election, namely on YouTube, MySpace and SecondLife. "We are trying to reach out to the young and the more qualified who use the internet. It is a way of involving people who are not generally committed to politics. With the internet they do not have to read or watch long debates on TV," indicates Andrius Kubilius.
The populist party of former President of the Republic Rolandas Paksas, For Order and Justice, has put forward "the changes to come in our country," and maintains that "it does not fear responsibilities." "In my opinion there is no difference between the Social Democratic Party and the Homeland Union-Conservatives," says Rolandas Paksas who says that his party will win more votes than forecast in the polls during the election on 12th October.
The result achieved by the Labour Party is one of the main unknowns in this election. Its leader, former Minister of Economy (December 2004-June 2005) Viktor Ouspaskitch – a post from which he resigned after the ethics commission accused him of using his position to promote personal interests – and who fled to Moscow in May 2006 after having been accused of forgetting to declare 8 million litas (2.32 million €) in revenue and 7 million litas (2.03 million €) expenses to the tax office, finally returned to Lithuania on 26th September 2007 where he was immediately arrested before being released on bail. Bail to a total of 1.5 million litas (0.43 million €) was delivered for his liberation. Viktor Ouspaskitch signed a written promise that he would not leave Lithuania. Between 18th and 31st July last he was allowed to visit his mother in Arkhangelsk (Russia). On 7th and 21st October he lost his seat as MP during the by-election in Alytus and together with this the possibility of recovering parliamentary immunity. Many political leaders fear the return of the man who finally represented little danger in Russia but who may be the cause of trouble in Vilnius by passing himself off as a victim of political persecution and even as a martyr. Viktor Ouspaskitch has always claimed that the accusations against him were politically motivated and that they were only designed to destabilise his party. "The Labour Party is already very popular. I'm not saying that the polls are lying but documentaries often provide bad information about the party," he said.
"The Labour Party is counting on him and is expecting him to help it recover its influence. Everything depends on his success in the by-election," indicated political science professor Algis Krupacivius on the eve of the by-election in October 2007. "My result is good if you take into account the fact that I couldn't meet with the electorate," said the populist leader the day after the election. It is difficult to say what the Labour Party's result will be on 12th October but it is clear that the return of its leader will be beneficial to it.
For several years Lithuania has been facing the inexorable progress of the populist parties against which it finds it difficult to find a remedy. In spite of the differences that exist between For Order and Justice and the Labour Party some analysts go as far as imagining a union of the two parties with the support of the Lithuanian Peasant Popular Union led by Kazimiera Danute Prunskiene after the elections on 12th October which would be able to take on the two major government parties: the Social Liberal Party and the Homeland Union- Conservatives and their allies the Liberal and Centre Union and the New Union-Social Liberal Party.
In the last local elections on 25th February 2007, the Homeland Union-Conservatives won the most votes (17%) and 256 mandates but the Social-Democratic Party won a higher number of seats (302). For Order and Justice came third with 13% of the vote.
After the by-election the Homeland Union-Conservative leader, Andius Kubilius said that the local elections had revealed a decline in populism in Lithuania, since voters in his opinion had returned to the traditional parties "Strange as it may seem we have attracted those close to the left as well as rightwing supporters. A party with a conservative electorate has turned to us and this is surprising since usually we are supposed to be competitors to the Labour Party. This time we have witnessed the return of Labour Party voters," said For Order and Justice leader Rolandas Paksas.
According to the most recent polls only five parties are due to rise above the vital 5% mark to be represented in the Seimas during the elections on 12th October: the Homeland Union-Conservatives-Christian Democratic Party, For Order and Justice, the Labour Party, the Social Democratic Party, and the Lithuanian Peasant Popular Union. The results of each of the parties will depend very much on turn out. The higher this is the greater the chances will be for the government parties; however if turn out is low the election will tend to favour the populist parties.
Reminder of the General Election Results 10th and 24th October in Lithuania
Turn out: 36.71% and 46.8%
Source: Lithuanian Central Electoral Commission