2016 10 11. As the final results came for the first round of 2016 Lithuanian parliamentary elections, it became clear that the composition of government will be significantly changed from the present one.
Peasant/Green party shown the most remarkable performance. A party that failed to pass the necessary 5% threshold for several elections in a row, now amassed 21,5% of the vote (2012 elections - 3,88%). The success of the party may be attributed to the broad base of voters it has attracted. In addition to the peasants that the party was originally established to represent, its nature-first ideas increasingly attracted urban environmentalist electorate.
Furthermore, leftists disillusioned with the current Socialdemocrat government have voted for Peasants/Greens as the only viable alternative.
The third group of the Peasants/Greens voters likely came from the "personal politics" camp of Lithuanian political sphere, i.e. people who vote for charismatic leaders rather than the ideology. In addition to the inspiring millionaire-farmer Ramūnas Karbauskis, who puts a great emphasis on reversing the negative image of Lithuanian countryside (which can be summed up by words "alcohol-addicted, poor, and hopeless") by his own example and self-funded non-profit projects, Peasants/Greens have attracted a former minister of interior Saulius Skvernelis and some other well-known figures.
While Peasants/Greens have gained popularity in the three largest cities (~10%) the true force behind its massive show of power were still the villages and towns, where they have enjoyed the support of ~30-35% of the electorate. Peasants/Greens also managed to prevail in Šiauliai and Panevėžys (4th and 5th largest cities, respectively).
Homeland Union - Christian Democrats 21,7%
Centrist Homeland Union (the traditional arch-opponent of Socialdemocrats) may attempt to seek to form a ruling coalition after 4 years of Socialdemocrat rule, winning 21,7% of the vote (2012 elections - 15,1%).
While the name of Homeland Union has been associated with unpopular-yet-effective decisions to raise taxes and lower government handouts as a response to 2008 crisis, the party has largely renewed its top ranks, with Gabrielius Landsbergis (a grandson of Vytautas Landsbergis who was instrumental in the independence of Lithuania) now taking the lead. To some, the stunning rise of Gabrielius Landsbergis may seem to be an example of nepotism, but the Homeland Union, once considered a party "for the older people", now managed to attract the new generation of voters as well.
In the battle for these young voters, the top opponent of Homeland Union is the rightist Liberal Movement.
Homeland Union prevailed in all the top three cities (Vilnius, Kaunas, and Klaipėda) where populations are among the most educated.
While considered rightist by some analysts, Homeland Union actually stays at the center of the political spectrum. It seeks to balance free market with support to the poor (tax reductions are as often on its agenda as social benefit increases, and vice-versa), as well as combining the local and Western values. The only position where the Homeland Union sees no compromise is its eagerness to integrate into the European Union, regardless of the odds and sacrifices needed.
Socialdemocrats - 14,4%
Quite a great on itself (14,4%), the performance of Socialdemocrats couldn't have pleased its leaders as Socialdemocrats are used to better results. In 2012 they have acquired 18,4% of the public vote.
Arguably, there was no single event that has somewhat eroded the popularity of Socialdemocrats, but rather a string of low-scale scandals, gaffes, and government decisions widely perceived as illogical, inconsistent or contrary to the 2012 electoral program.
Socialdemocrats are a leftist party, however, some analysts would denounce such label claiming that (just like the Homeland Union) it is a centrist party. Indeed, it has taken many decisions considered to be pro-business and pro-free market in addition to those more typical for leftist ideology (e.g. Socialdemocrats have recently adopted a new Labour code that was protested against by the labor unions).
The main difference between the Homeland Union and Socialdemocrats is perhaps in their value systems. While the Homeland Union combines Western and local values, Socialdemocrats combine Western and Eastern (Soviet). The existence of many former members of the communist party in the ranks of Socialdemocrats (and related political decisions) generally makes the party disliked by most intellectuals and the inhabitants of largest cities.
To village and town dwellers who gained less economically from the independence period, however, the Soviet connections of Socialdemocrats are less of an anathema. However, towns and villages were exactly the area where Peasants/Greens hit the hardest: Socialdemocrats came second after them even in their stronghold of Vilkaviškis, the hometown of Socialdemocrat prime minister Algirdas Butkevičius (after receiving 52,8% vote there in 2012, Socialdemocrats received only 27,06% this year). This year, Socialdemocrats gained ~15-25% of the vote in the "countryside" districts and ~8-13% of the vote in the main city districts, where their popularity remained unchanged.
Even with the setbacks, Socialdemocrats undoubtedly remained a major force in Lithuanian politics for the next 4 years.
Liberal Movement - 9%
Liberals were for long hailed as a party that was about to dislodge the Homeland Union from their leadership among the Lithuanian cities and youth.
However, a recent corruption scandal involving their leader Eligijus Masiulis accused of taking a large bribe from a businessman postponed such hopes. Liberal Movement came fourth with 9% and may only hope in becoming a minor partner in forming the coalition.
Nevertheless, Liberals have improved the result from the 2012 elections when they have gained 8,6% of the vote. Much of their gain was at the expense of other Liberal parties, which have folded or declined well under 5% threshold.
Liberal Movement mainly draws its support from the young and the cities (in Vilnius and Klaipėda ~17% voted for Liberals, while in the countryside merely ~6% did).
After outcompeting the other Liberal parties, the Liberal Movement has few similar-views competitors in the Lithuanian political sphere, as they are the only politically relevant party to be completely rightist (pro-free market).
Moreover, they are also the keenest on establishing the singular Western value system upon Lithuania, dismantling both the Eastern values ("Soviet remnants") and, more controversially, the local values ("Lithuanian traditions") as mostly dated.
For example, in Lithuania such Western-originated controversial issues as same-sex partnerships are typically promoted only by the Liberal Movement on the partywide scale.
Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action - 5,5%
Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action, which has appended a phrase "Union of Christian families" to its name, came 5th with 5,5% of vote.
For a long time, Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action was growing in popularity, expanding its support from just the Polish minority to also the Russian minority.
This year the party has attempted to expand outside the ethnic minorities, by also attracting the religious Lithuanians (hence the name change). They were the only party in 2016 elections to provide a truly Christian program, with the word "God" mentioned numerous times and Bible cited.
Such emphasis did not mean a big ideological change for the Poles' Electoral Action. With the Poles being the most religious ethnic community of Lithuania, their party has always greatly relied on Christian thought. Russians have also become increasingly religious after the collapse of the Soviet Union (according to census data), meaning many of them too had no problems in voting for a somewhat religious party as long as it promoted minority issues.
Still, the official drifting from an ethnic minority block to also a religious block may have alienated a few voters, and, more surely, despite a significant Lithuanian-language campaigning in Vilnius, failed to attract new voters. The popularity declined from 5,8% in 2012. It may be so that Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action is so associated with Polish or ethnic minority lobbyism, that it received an image that a Lithuanian has no logical reason to vote for it.
While Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action is the toughest at safeguarding various local and Christian traditions (e.g. proposing an abortion ban, save for certain circumstances), which may also appeal to Lithuanians, other Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action policies directly contradict common Lithuanian agenda, e.g. the demand for an increased role of Polish language raises concern (whether justified or not) among Lithuanians as the high status of other languages in Lithuania was typically associated with anti-Lithuanian discrimination (russification, polonization) in the past. These areas of dramatically different opinions make it hard to combine religious Lithuanians (who are also often very patriotic) and ethnic Poles into a single voting block.
Order and Justice - 5,3%
A minor partner of the current ruling coalition, "Order and Justice" is one of the Lithuanian "personal parties" grouped around a single person (in this case, impeached president Rolandas Paksas) rather than an ideology. "Order of Justice" covers an entire political spectrum of opinions with members of various opinions having joined the same party mostly out of convenience of cooperating in contesting elections.
"Order and Justice" received 5,3%, down from 7,3% in 2012. Some of the voters likely drifted to Karbauskis and his Peasants/Greens. As always, "Order and Justice" was the most popular in Samogitia (the native land of Rolandas Paksas).
The future of "Order and Justice" may be at stake however as Rolandas Paksas resigned from its leadership, disillusioned by the fact that he remains disqualified from contesting Lithuanian local elections himself despite a European Court of Human Rights decision in his favor. Personal parties in Lithuania are rarely able to withstand a leadership change and often wither instead.
Parties that failed to pass the threshold
This time relatively many votes were cast for parties that ultimately failed to pass the electoral threshold. While usually it's the conventional parties that suffer such fate, this year it was the personal/protest parties.
Firstly, a peculiar Lithuanian electoral system meant that the new Anticorruption Coalition of Naglis Puetikis and Kristupas Krivickas, founded by a politician well known for protests and a crime journalist, did not make it to the parliament even though it gained 6,06% of the vote. That's because the threshold is officially higher for coalitions that combine several parties.
The biggest losers of the election were, however, the Labour party (party of the Lithuanian-Russian businessmen Viktor Uspaskich), which ended up with 4,7% of the vote. In 2012 elections this party was the first, acquiring 19,8% of the popular electorate. Like with all the personal parties, their electorate is more fluid than that of ideological ones and is quick to drift to new upcoming popular politicians.
In addition to these two parties, Freedom Union failed to pass the threshold yet again (2,1%), likely an evidence that Liberal Movement already won the competition between the once-numerous Liberal parties.
The other failures were suffered by the Green Party (not associated with peasants and supporting a more Western-styled environmentalism, 1,9%), Lithuanian list (protest party, 1,7%), People's Party (pro-Russian, 1%), Tautininkai (leftist nationalist, 0,5%) and the Way of Courage (a single-issue party established during the Drąsius Kedys story, 0,28%). Of those, only the Way of Courage had passed the threshold in 2012 (8% of the vote) but it lost popularity as its core issue has subsided in media attention.
The prognosis on runoffs that will decide 68 more seats
According to Lithuanian electoral system, only 70 seats out of 141 available are elected by party lists. The remaining 71 are elected in single-member constituencies, according to the US/UK model. However, if a single candidate fails to get 50% of the vote in the first round, a runoff with the two best candidates is needed.
This year, just 3 candidates made it to the parliament without runoffs. Two of them are members of the Poles' Electoral Action who aced in the Polish-majority constituencies. The remaining one is the former minister of finance Ingrida Šimonytė (Homeland Union).
The rest of the constituencies will undergo runoffs after two weeks, deciding the fate of the remaining 68 seats. Peasants/Greens and the Homeland Union are to have the most representatives in the runoffs. Countryside runoffs will be often contested by the Peasants/Greens and Socialdemocrats, with an occasional contestant from other parties. Vilnius and Klaipėda runoffs are mostly to be contested by the Homeland Union and the Liberals, while Kaunas runoffs will often see the fight between the Homeland Union and Peasants/Greens.
Several independents have made it to the runoffs. Alarmingly to many ethnic Lithuanians, a far left politician Algirdas Paleckis got into runoff at the ethnically diverse Naujoji Vilnia constituency. He is convicted for a denial of Soviet crimes (infamously, he claimed that Lithuanians themselves (rather than the Soviet army) shot at other Lithuanians during January 13, 1991), moreover, he is a grandchild of interwar communist Justas Paleckis who collaborated with the Soviet Union in the occupation of Lithuania. He will face a Homeland Union candidate in what will arguably be the runoff where the two candidates will have the most radically different opinions.