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Lithuanians go into election mood (analysis)

2014 02 27. May 2014 will be the election month in Lithuania, with political campaigns already getting into a full swing. The President and 11 Lithuanian members of European Parliament will be elected and additionally a referendum will likely take place.

Hereunder is the analysis of the main candidates and referendum prepositions. To learn more about Lithuanian political parties and thoughts check the introduction to the Lithuanian political landscape.

Lithuanian Presidential elections (2014 analysis)

Many politologists claim that the major intrigue in the upcoming presidential elections will be whether there will be a runoff or not. The runoff would be needed if the winning candidate fails to gain 50% of votes in the first round. The person expected to win - whether in the first round or runoff - is invariably the incumbent Dalia Grybauskaitė. With such a rift in her popularity and that of her opponents "all against one" type of campaigns are expected.

Dalia Grybauskaitė is a centrist figure supported by the Homeland Union and the Liberals. Grybauskaitė's policies are mostly pro-EU. Originally they were also regarded to be pro-Russian and anti-American but this has recently changed. Generally, D. Grybauskaitė avoids statements on controversial issues. Her weakness is little official information available on her past, criticised as purposefully hiding the extent of her collaboration with the Soviet occupational authorities. Her personal style of control whereby people out of her favor are removed from office and those in her favor promoted disregarding capabilities is also controversial to some, but most voters are indifferent to it.

The main opposing candidates will be Zigmantas Balčytis (Socialdemocrats, leftist), Artūras Zuokas (mayor of Vilnius and a leader of his own "personal party" TAIP), former prosecutor Artūras Paulauskas (Labour party, personal).

Rolandas Paksas (Order and Justice, personal), once removed from the President's office by a controversial impeachment seeks to be elected once again. However, he is formally banned from doing so by the Constitutional court interpretation, although the European Court of Human Rights decided in Paksas's favor. It is currently unclear whether he will be allowed to stand as a candidate.

Other better-known candidates are Bronius Ropė (Peasants and Greens, leftist), Naglis Puteikis (independent, enviroinmentalist and critic of corruption), Voldemar Tomaševski (Polish minority), Zigmas Vaišvila (independent pro-democracy and anti-secrecy activist, signatory of the Lithuania's declaration of independence).

Most of the above candidates are known for their own deeds, however, Balčytis and Ropė are mostly unknown yet supported by the parties whose leaders chose not to contest the post themselves.

Dalia Grybauskaitė (top left) and the top contenders in 2014 Lithuanian presidential elections (in no particular order)

There are more potential candidates. However, every candidate is required to collect 20 000 signatures in their support before their bids are finally accepted. This threshold is usually too high for less well-known candidates although one or two of them may succeed.

European Parliament elections: 2014 Lithuanian analysis

Despite the European Union having major powers over today's Lithuania few Lithuanians are interested in the European Parliament and the turnouts have been the smallest among all major elections. However, the presidential election runoff (if needed) would coincide with the EP elections, increasing their turnout.

A larger turnout is believed to be beneficial to the "personal/protest parties" (Labour Party, Order and Justice, TAIP, Way of Courage) as their voters are among the least eager to cast their votes if they see the election as unimportant. Smaller turnout, on the other hand, is useful for the "conventional parties" (Homeland Union, Socialdemocrats, Liberals, Peasants/Greens, Nationalists) and the "minority parties" (Lithuania's Poles Electoral Action). The results would be considered sensational if either Homeland Union, Socialdemocrats, Labour Party or the Order and Justice would fail to get any seats. Peasants/Greens, Poles, Liberals and the Way of Courage, however, may be forced to struggle for their representation.

Current division of the European Parliament 'pie' as a result of the 2009 EP elections in Lithuania. The pie of 2014 will be smaller as Lithuania had its number of MEPs reduced from 12 to 11.

Lithuanian referendum on referendums and land issues

This autumn-winter Lithuanians have collected the necessary 300 000 signatures to invoke a referendum for the first time in Lithuanian history. The referendum will be on the following constitutional amendments:

*1.Lowering the number of signatures needed to invoke referendums from 300 000 to 100 000. The new number would be more in-line with the practice in democratic nations. 300 000 people are some 13% of total voters (one of the largest percentages in the democratic world). Furthermore, this number has been set in 1993 and Lithuania lost ~20% of its inhabitants since, meaning that the percentage of total voter signatures needed to invoke referendum increases every year as the population falls. There have been 14 previous popular attempts to invoke referendums but all of them have failed due to logistical pressures in fulfilling the signature threshold on time.
*2.Retaining Lithuanian citizenship as a prerequisite for owning freehold land in Lithuania. Currently, only Lithuanian citizens may own freehold land in Lithuania. However, this is to be abolished soon as per European Union request. The proponents of the referendum seek the prerequisite to be extended indefinitely, citing the extreme cultural importance of land to Lithuanians, traditionally an agricultural nation (see Home and Away: Lithuanian public and personal space), among a multitude of other reasons.

The main "conventional" political parties (the Homeland Union, Socialdemocrats, Liberals) disagree with the referendum propositions. Controversially, however, instead of campaigning for a "no" vote they seek to prevent the referendum from taking place altogether, despite the prerequisites having been met. Various measures have been attempted (such as disregarding legal limitations on institutional decisions) although they have failed so far. The second question of the referendum is considered "eurosceptic" by its detractors and therefore politically incorrect. As has been previously discussed the Lithuania's political establishment is reluctant to either question or dispute the European Union policies and regards those doing so to be radicals.

The "personal" parties (Order and Justice, Labour party) take into account the popular opinions more and thus believe that the referendum must now be held.

The most avid proponents of the referendum propositions are either non-partisan or belonging to minor parties, such as the Peasant and Green party.

The collection of the signatures, however difficult, may be just the easier part of getting the proposition to pass. The strict Lithuanian referendum laws require 50% of total people eligible to vote to vote for the proposition on lowering the referendum threshold to be accepted. This is nearly an impossible task in a country where 53% turnout during the previous parliamentary elections was considered "especially good" and some elections had a turnout of ~35%. Low turnouts are due to large emigration and many people boycotting politics altogether believing their vote could not change anything.

So far the only referendums to take place in Lithuania were initiated by the government rather than people. Most were consultative (i.e. government reserved itself a right to act disregarding the popular vote). The most recent obligatory referendum took place in 2003 (on the European Union membership). Due to the widespread establishment support for the EU membership, the laws were specifically amended for that single referendum alone to ensure a positive result.

Given such a history the proponents of the current referendum claim Lithuanian governing "conventional parties" simply have no guts to allow the people to alter parliamentary decisions through referendums (which would become somewhat easier should the signature threshold be lowered to 100 000). The referendum opponents reply that the popular decisions are not always the best ones.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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  1. UPDATE: Out of the candidates pictured in this article two candidates dropped out.
    Rolandas Paksas, as expected, has not been allowed to candidate due to him having been previously impeached. Zigmas Vaišvila ceased his campaign citing unlawful pressure on him and his family by his opponents (i.e. by the incumbent president, whose secrecy on her early life he previously criticised). The remaining 7 candidates collected the necessary 20 000 signatures each and will participate in the elections.

  2. UPDATE (2014 05 12): 1st round of elections completed with the following results:

    Dalia Grybauskaitė 45,89%
    Zigmantas Balčytis 13,63%
    Artūras Paulauskas 12,02%
    Naglis Puteikis 9,33%
    Valdemar Tomaševski 8,23%
    Artūras Zuokas 5,22%
    Bronis Ropė 4,15%

    Turnout 52,14%, 1,53% of ballots were damaged.

    A runoff Dalia Grybauskaitė vs. Zigmantas Balčytis will take place after two weeks.


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