True Lithuania

Lithuanian parliament election 2020 analysis

2020 10 13 With the Lithuanian parliamentary elections (2020) 1st round results already in, we provide the extensive analysis of the election through various lenses of the divisions that define the Lithuanian political background (right/left, Western/Eastern/Local value systems, etc.) and comparisons with the 2016 results:

2020 election results by party

Homeland Union - 24,82%, 23 seats (2016 election – 21,7%, 20 seats); center, Western/Local values. To many Lithuanian voters, Homeland Union is the safe bet for a party that is established, not pro-Eastern (pro-Russian) value-wise and not deviating economically too far to the left or to the right. Homeland Union is also seen as a descendent of the Sąjūdis movement that won Lithuanian independence in 1990 (in fact, the Homeland Union‘s current leader is the grandson of Sąjūdis leader Vytautas Landbergis, something seen as „stability“ by supporters and „nepotism“ by detractors). As such, Homeland Union retained a nearly constant share of the vote from the previous election, albeit its stance as the most credible opposition during the 2016-2020 parliament increased its popularity among the detractors of the recent government. Long standing on two ideological value pillars – the pro-Local and pro-Western one – Homeland Union has been moving strongly towards the pro-Western pole under the guidance of Gabrielius Landsbergis although many pro-Locals would still vote for the Homeland Union out of tradition. As usual, the Homeland Union fared the best in Vilnius and Kaunas (surpassing 40% in some Vilnius constituencies), as well as diaspora and less so in the small cities and countryside.

Peasants/Greens - 17,5%, 16 seats (2016 – 21,53%, 19 seats); centre-left, Local values. The largest Lithuanian electoral success story of recent years continues even if not as spectacularly. Before 2012, Peasants/Greens were a party representing the farmers, its popularity limited to certain countryside constituencies, and the party never able to pass the 5% threshold. In 2016, however, Peasants/Greens managed to essentially win the elections (if adding up the seats they won in the second round) by consolidating a wider electorate. Its millionaire-farmer teetotaller leader Ramūnas Karbauskis (famous for a Lithuanian village-themed TV series and pagan-inspired park in Naisiai, both funded by him) was then seen as not only showing the „good way“ for the Lithuanian village (long seen as aging, alcohol-addicted, and extremely poor) but perhaps for Lithuania as a whole: a way aimed at the Lithuanian nature, hard work and traditions, with a certain amount of center-left-style redistribution. While the initial Karbauskis‘s glam has faded after Peasants/Greens spent 4 years ruling Lithuania in various coalitions where far from every 2016 electoral goal was possible to fulfill (and those who voted for Peasants/Greens as an „unstained protest party“ in 2016 now putting their votes elsewhere), ultimately, the Peasants/Greens first-round result was mostly repeated and the party did not „fade back to the obscurity“ as many such „one-election wonders“ did in the past. Therefore, even the loss of 3 seats in the first round could be seen as a victory in the Lithuanian political landscape that tends to rapidly propel new parties to victory and then just as rapidly bury them in the next elections. A lot of it depended on the COVID-19 that stroke the world in the end of Peasants/Greens tenure. Aurelijus Veryga, their health minister who is arguably better known than the president by now, and his early-lockdown-strategy (introduced when Lithuania had under 20 known COVID-19 cases) was hated by some yet loved by others (as it curbed personal freedoms but arguably helped to achieve some of the lowest COVID death rates per capita in Europe). The latter likely voted Peasants/Greens. While Peasants/Greens still have their heartlands in the countryside and smaller cities, where their support is often at 30-40%, just as the previous elections, Peasants/Greens stayed popular in the „patriotic“ Kaunas with ~20% support, and even in Vilnius, where its position is the weakest, it is still a relevant party (~10% support).

Labour Party - 9,46%, 9 seats (2016 – 4,68%, 0 seats); personal party. Labour Party has rebounded after many had already talked about its end after a major defeat in the previous election. Even more so – it has remained the only of the Lithuanian peculiar „personal parties“ still standing strong. As is typical for the personal parties, Labour Party rallies around its single star-politician leader right from its inception – in this case, Viktor Uspaskich as a „prime minister candidate“ even if Uspaskich does not a candidate in the parliamentary elections as he would then have to abandon his member-of-European-Parliament position (in Lithuania, the prime minister is not required to be MP, even though he generally is). Through its joyful youth organization (arguably the most active among the Lithuanian parties), advertising, and a „mercenary“ star politician poker player Antanas Guoga (who has been switching parties nearly every election) joining its side, Labour Party amassed popularity beyond the fans of Uspaskich, even though (as is typical for Lithuania‘s „personal parties“) the exact political ideology of the Labour Party is not very clear, while its electoral promises typically concentrate on popular messages and ideas that may be impossible to achieve all at the same time (often they include promises for higher earnings nearly every Lithuanian would supposedly get if they would elect Labour Party, without specifying plausible ways to achieve that). Such ideas make the Labour Party more popular in the countryside, with its detractors from the cities claiming that Labour Party voters are uneducated and unable to understand politics. The Russian ethnicity of Viktor Uspaskich also adds the appeal of the Labour Party to ethnic Russians, even though it is not a minority-rights party. In the „province“, Labour Party attracted 10%-20% of the vote, peaking with 27,46% at Uspaskich‘s home region of Kėdainiai. In the smaller main cities, the support stood at 9% with ~5% in Kaunas and most of Vilnius (although the constituencies of Vilnius with the largest ethnic minority populations voted 10% for Labour Party).

Socialdemocrats - 9,26%, 8 seats (2016 – 14,42%, 13 seats); left, Western/Eastern values. For a long time the unquestionable leaders of Lithuanian left, Socialdemocrats have been unable to retake that spot from Peasants/Greens as they may have expected, and, actually faded even further. The party is a descendent of the Lithuanian Communist Party and, for decades, has been divided between pro-Eastern and pro-Western ideologies. However, it took a pro-Western stance recently, clarifying its support for Western-inspired ideas such as the LGBT movement or green policies, essentially slowly becoming a more typical western leftist party rather than the „big tent center-left “ it was before. This has failed to alter the recent electoral trends, though. The problem may be that in Lithuania (unlike in most of the West), such „Western values“ are typically promoted by the people with rightist economic beliefs, as both groups are usually held by younger and urban people who often believe that „leftist“ ideas lead to mismanagement, laziness, and collective poverty, as happened during the Soviet occupation. On the other hand, leftist economic beliefs are more popular in the Lithuanian countryside among those that reaped fewer benefits of the post-Soviet Lithuanian economic progress - but there Eastern and Local values are more popular than Western ones. As such, most of the political parties in Lithuania promoting Western values are rightist (Liberal Movement, Freedom Union, etc.). There certainly may be a niche for a leftist party like that (growing perhaps, as the memory of Soviet mismanagement and persecutions fades) but it remains to be seen if that niche is big enough for Socialdemocrats who are used to a much more significant than niche support. Socialdemocrats gained up to ~15% vote in the „province“ (although fewer than 10% in the Peasant/Greens heartlands) and

Freedom Party - 9,26% (new party); right, Western values. The only newly-established party to win seats in the Lithuanian elections of 2020, Freedom Party has been established by Remigijus Šimašius, mayor of Vilnius elected on the Liberal Movement list. Staunchly ideologically Westernizing, Freedom Party essentially formed its agenda out of tenets which are now popular in the West but have not been accentuated so much in the Lithuanian political sphere beforehand, including gay marriage and legal marijuana. Remigijus Šimašius became a polarizing figure in Vilnius for ordering the destruction of a commemorative plaque for a Lithuanian anti-Soviet figure, renaming a street named after another one, and building an improvised beach where a new Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisan memorial was meant to be and where the Russian Empire used to execute Lithuanian and Polish political prisoners. However, that too may be seen to be in-line with Freedom Party‘s Westernizing agenda: what is traditionally unique in Lithuania or Central/Eastern Europe is seen by its followers as either unimportant or detrimental, with a maxim „it is the most useful to simply follow the advanced Western countries in every sphere“ summing up its political course, with „joy“ and „good image“ being more important than respect to the traditional historical figures. Freedom Party is the most popular among the youth (indeed, most of its key candidates are in their 20s or 30s) and emigrants to Western Europe, both groups having formed their opinions under the European Union. However, the Freedom Party electoral success may be explained not only by its ideological support but also by it attracting a lot of „protest votes“ as it is a new party and its young members still „unstained“ in the political turmoil (Šimašius himself was not a candidate, as he stays Vilnius mayor). So, while Freedom Party‘s genuine support mainly came from Vilnius (where it received over 15% of votes in some constituencies) and Lithuanian abroad (23,29%), it has attracted a surprising number of votes all over Lithuania (~5-9% in nearly every constituency), even in the countryside where rightist economic ideas and Western values are spectacularly unpopular (but protest votes are common every election). Such protest votes are, however, typically „gift of the first election“ that quickly dissipates and it is the support in the cities and diaspora that Freedom Party will have to rely on further on.

Liberal Movement - 6,79%, 6 seats (2016 - 9,06%, 8 seats); Western values. The „historic“ Liberal party of Lithuania, representing classical liberalism of free market and for long the only truly rightist party in Lithuania. Compared to the Freedom Party, Liberal Movement arguably concentrate more on economic freedom and less on promoting Western cultural values, even if the basic ideology of both economic and personal freedom remains the same for both parties. The supporters and main members of the Liberal Movement are typically somewhat older than those of the Freedom Party. Yet another reason for the separation of Freedom Party was the corruption scandal Liberal Movement faced – however, it seems the scandal and secession of the Freedom Party have failed to sink the Liberal Movement as it did not lose even nearly as many voters as the Freedom Party gained, losing just 2 seats in the first round.

Lithuanian Poles‘ Electoral Action - 4,82%, 0 seats (2016 – 5,48%, 5 seats); minority-rights. 2020 elections became first since 2008 when this ethnic-minority-rights party (representing mainly the Poles but also often preferred by Russian-speakers) failed to cross the 5% threshold. It is a logical continuation of its slow decline though, probably attributable to the new generations of ethnic minorities being more integrated and no longer voting along the ethnic lines, some of its „heartland“ voters not voting at all (as the turnout there declined), or ethnic Russians, who supported Lithuanian Poles‘ Electoral Action at its peak, switching to the other parties (e.g. Labour Party). With ethnic Poles making just 6,65% of the Lithuanian population, the Action needs either to attract nearly every Polish vote or to attract a wider electorate from beyond ethnic Poles to vote for a party that is both named and caters mostly to the Polish rights. Almost miraculously, it seemed to be able to do just that for years (their vote even surpassing 7% in some European Parliament elections) but the miracle has now seemingly ended. Still, the Action has won some seats in the first-past-the-post area.

Socialdemocratic Labour Party - 3,17%, 0 seats (new party). A regular cautionary tale in Lithuanian politics. Quite often, MPs would leave the large political parties for temporary gains in influence (e.g. a chance to exchange opposition to a ruling coalition). Sometimes, they would be able to establish their own strong „personal parties“ (that concentrate on different personalities rather than different ideologies). More often than not, however, the new parties they establish fail to gain traction and the next elections force such experienced politicians out of the political field. This is precisely what happened with the Socialdemocratic Labour Party, established by some MPs of the Socialdemocratic Party and Labour Party after they disagreed with their party decision of leaving the ruling coalition. Many of those politicians would likely be elected if they stayed in their original parties (indeed, many served in numerous parliaments before and were among party leaders with Linas Linkevičius, for example, managing to serve as Lithuanian Foreign Minister in 2012-2020 during different coalitions), but now they gained no seats.

Center Party – Tautininkai - 2,28%, 0 seats. Tautininkai may be one of the oldest political parties of Lithuania, having led Lithuania in the 1926-1940 period. They, however, failed to find their place after the 1990 independence, having been slowly relegated to a force that never gains parliamentary seats. Typically representing the pro-Local, economically leftist ideology an accentuating the idea that the decisions concerning Lithuania should be taken into Lithuania, Tautininkai attempted to rise from the obscurity by attracting „star-politicians“ Naglis Puteikis and Kristupas Krivickas, who previously participated in elections with their own „personal coalition“ (6,06% in 2016 but 0 seats due to Lithuania having 7% threshold for coalitions) and have an avid if fading following. Still, this grouping of ideologically consistent Tautininkai and „populist“ star-politicians may have seemed too weird to attract many votes, even if the result outflanked the usual Tautininkai results. Many of the traditional Tautininkai supporters may have drifted to National Movement or Peasants/Greens, while many Krivickas/Puteikis fans do not necessarily care or like the patriotic ideology of Tautininkai.

National Movement - 2,13%, 0 seats. Led by political sciences professor Vytautas Radžvilas, this is the sole ideological truly Euroskeptic party in Lithuania, arguing for no additional transfers of sovereignty from Lithuania to the European Union. As previously, however, Eurosceptic ideas remain unpopular in Lithuania, even though the recent troubles in the European Union have somewhat increased their support (previously Euroskeptic parties would typically fail to get even 1% of the vote). Charismatic Vytautas Radžvilas, who has strong political and legal arguments in favor of his ideas instead of relying on fearmongering or difficult-to-achieve promises, may have also helped to get a more intellectual urban support. In comparison, the main Euroskeptic party of the 2016 elections got just 0,54% of votes.

Freedom and Justice - 1,99%, 0 seats. An example of a declining „personal party“, or, more correctly, three personal parties declining together. Its precursor Order and Justice was seen as the personal party of Rolandas Paksas, the impeached president of Lithuania, with many voters casting a vote for it actually casting a „vote for Paksas“ in their minds. Despite the European Court of Human Rights declaring his human rights to be breached by this, Rolandas Paksas has been banned-for-life from being elected to the Lithuanian parliament. His party remained strong for long, however, promising to reinstate his electoral capabilities; conspiracy theories ran around his removal. However, Order and Justice slowly faded together with the star of Paksas, who worked as a member of the European Parliament, the only post he was permitted to be elected to. After disappointing 2016 election results (5,33%, 5 seats), in a last-ditch survival attempt, the party merged with a similar declining „personal party“ Freedom Union, centered around another star-politician Artūras Zuokas (2,14% of the vote in 2016 and 0 seats), and also included yet another faded star-politician Artūras Paulauskas in its list (whose „personal party“ New Union has long since vanished). They consolidated into „Freedom and Justice“ before this election but that didn‘t permit them to even get close to the necessary 5% of the vote. It remains to be seen if the party will enjoy a Labour-Union-like revival or if it will disintegrate, its star politicians moving the remainders of their glamour and support to other political parties.

Green Party - 1,65%, 0 seats (2016 – 1,95%, 0 seats). Initially established as a Western-style environmentalist party (without the emphasis on Lithuanian traditions and agriculturalism of Peasants/Greens), the Green party continues failing to gain traction, with many potential followers probably voting for the larger parties that have more chances of being represented (either Peasants/Greens or Freedom Party). Still, classical Western-style environmentalism has enough avid followers for the party to attract some 2% voters every time and not fall into oblivion and party mergers which is typically the fate of many similar smaller parties.

The other parties received less than 1,5% votes each.

First-past-the-post system and the second round

The first round allocated 70 of the seats of the parliament proportionally to the parties.

The remaining 71 are allocated in the first-past-the-post system in 71 single-member constituencies.

In 3 of these constituencies, the MPs were elected in the first round (achieving a 50% result or better): two seats went to Lithuanian Poles‘ Electoral Action (in Polish-majority regions) and one to Ingrida Šimonytė, the former presidential candidate who represented Homeland Union.

In the remainder, the second round will be held between the top two contenders.

The leading contenders represent the Homeland Union (35), Peasants/Greens (13), Liberal Movement (5), Socialdemocrats (4), Socialdemocratic Labour Party (2), Labour Party (1), Green Party (1), Freedom Party (1), Freedom and Justice (1), independents (4), although „underdogs“ will most likely prevail in at least some constituencies.

Typical runoff pairs will be Homeland Union vs. Freedom Union in Vilnius, Homeland Union vs. Peasants/Greens in Kaunas. In Klaipėda, Liberals are traditionally popular, while in the rest of the country, Peasants/Greens, both Socialdemocrat parties and Labour party are strong.

Typically, the second round is favorable to the best-known-politicians, however, in the constituencies lacking such a politician, people vote for whoever‘s party they prefer. As such, often the most seats are won by the most popular (or rather least-hated) party at the time.

In the previous elections (2016) Peasants/Greens swept the 2nd round, however, with them no longer being the „unstained underdogs“, it is possible Homeland Union will now sweep through. Even if so, though, it will be impossible for them to rule without forming a coalition.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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