Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
The results of Lithuania’s parliamentary election have veered off way astray from the pollsters’ latest forecasts. The Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD), or Conservatives, have surged from around 12 per cent in the pre-election polls to 21.66 per cent of the vote in the final tally; meanwhile, the Peasants/Greens’ leap on the election day was nearly the same, with the party losing the nail-biter fight to Conservatives by a mere 0.11 per cent.
Having pocketed respectively 20 and 19 parliamentary mandates in multi-mandate constituency, both parties will play the first fiddle in forming a new Cabinet, although another 71 Seimas seats are yet up for grabs in the second round of election on October 23. With 22 Conservatives and 21 Peasants /Greens (LVŽS) in it, the final account of each party’s seats in Seimas remains yet to be seen and may be crucial in the parties’ rivalry for the best starting position to drive the government formation efforts.
«What is obvious today that there are two winners of the election and their start positions are virtually the same. It seems that, over the last couple of weeks, voters have picked up namely these two parties as worthier their vote than for the rest of the parties,» says Mažvydas Jastramskis, a lecturer of the Institute of International Relation and Political Sciences at Vilnius University.
Political centre shifted to right
With 14.43 per cent in the election, the ruling Social Democrats (SD) came third and the embattled Liberal Movement (its former chairman Eligijus Masiulis is fighting corruption and influence peddling charges) was fourth with 9.04 per cent. The parties obtained respectively 13 and 8 mandates in the first round of general election. For the Liberals, the result is seen unanimously as very good as some political analysts had predicted the party may fail to pass the barrier of 5 per cent, which gives a party guaranteed seats in multi-mandate electoral district. Most loyal supporters have evidently not turned their back to the Liberals amid the ex-leader- surrounding hoopla and, moreover, the party has already held post-election talks with TS-LKD over participation in a new centre-right government.
Asked whether the public discussions can change voters’ determination with 10 days left till the crucial election round, Kestutis Girnius, a Lithuanian political analyst of American descent, told BNN it is «unlikely».
«What I see before it is that Social Democrats do whatever they can do to stand up and show up better in the second round. Therefore we are seeing their slightly new rhetoric on a new Labour Code and VAT exemption for heating,» the analyst said.
He believes that TS-LKD and Peasants/Green are the most probable players to form a new government.
«It remains to be seen how the parties will do in the second round. It’s really hard to predict the outcome, but my gut feeling says that each party will have around 40 seats in the Parliament,» Girnius said.
Mindaugas Jurkynas, political scientist at Vytautas Magnus University in the second-largest Lithuanian city Kaunas, also believes that namely Conservatives and Peasants/Greens are in the best position to form a new ruling coalition.
«The election results show that centre of Lithuanian politics has shifted from left to right, to the Conservatives…They seem to be in a better position in the second round though, as their voters are more mobilised than the Peasants’. Having added the Liberals’ mandates to those held by these two parties we almost have a future government,» the analyst predicted.
Tie does no good after all
Jurkynas, however, believes that formation of a new ruling coalition can be very rocky because of the Conservatives’ and Peasants’ nearly identical starting positions.
«A coalition can be put together without strain when one of the parties surpasses the others resoundingly in the election. In the scenario, it is clear what party has advantage and, therefore, can spearhead a new government. However, now the situation is quite different and the second round hardly can make a big difference with 22 Conservatives and 21 Peasants squaring off in it. So at the end of the day, both parties can view themselves as winners of the election, which can turn out a big issue in constructing a new government,» the analyst says.
In such case, the Social Democrats’ stance can be crucial, he believes.
What will SD Party do?
However, Jastramskis believes that Social Democrats should rather stay in opposition instead of attempting to foray in the tussle for power.
«From the standpoint of rationality, it would make sense to them not to try to get into a new government in any way. With another four years in power, they can see even more devastating results four years from now. Needles to say the election’s yield has been bad for them,» Jastramskis said.
On the other hand, if the SD Party anyway decides to participate in coalition formation talks, their chances can turn out quite good, he says. Yet from the long-term perspectives, Social Democrats ought to mull of a new leader, the analyst believes.
«One able to coalesce the party ranks and better the party’s image. In other words, they should rather think of rejuvenation, ideologically, too, so, from that point, it would be better for them if they stayed the four years in opposition, Jastramskis believes.
SD leader hinted of handing over reins
Following the election, Algirdas Butkevičius, the chairman of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party, hinted amid the calls to step down that he may hand over its reins to a younger fellow party member. Algirdas Sysas, a sexagenarian senior member of the party and Gintautas Paluckas, a representative of the new generation, and currently deputy mayor of Vilnius, have been named so far as the most likely candidates to replace Butkevičius.
However, Vytenis Andriukaitis, Lithuania’s EC Commissioner and one of the SD Party’s heavy-weights, has blasted the speculations, calling on the party to first focus on the election’s second round.
Jurkynas, of Vytautas Magnus University, also believes that the Conservatives and Peasants/Greens are way closer to each other than the Social Democrats.
«The coalition from TS-LKD and LVŽS would be more stable from the ideological point of view, too. Both parties have enshrined a set of nationalistic ideas in their programmes,»notes the analyst.
Several scenarios possible
But the inevitably budding coalition could be seriously shaken up before the second round of election if the Conservatives decide to form an alliance with the Liberals for it.
«The Peasants/Greens certainly do not see themselves as a second party in the election, with a few ministerial portfolios at the end of the day,» Jastramskis, of the Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences, reasoned.
Among the other parties that have clinched the 5 per cent hurdle and secured parliamentary seats in multi-mandate constituency were the Electoral Action of Poles- Christian Family Union, which came sixth with 5,49 per cent of the vote and Order and Justice Party that notched up 5,33 per cent of support.
Labour Party collapse
Notably, the Labour Party, led by MEP Valentinas Mazuronis, has failed overcome the 5 per cent mark. Its fiasco is seen as one of the biggest surprises of the election. Labourists were the first in the mandate tally after the first round of 2012 general election with 19,8 per cent of votes being in the favour.
«It was possible to predict its fall. However, the tumble of the kind, when the party having won majority in one general election trips over the 5 per cent hurdle in the following election, is a history-making event,» Jastramskis underscored.
Two weeks of positions’ reinforcing
Ahead of the second round, the major parties have engaged in heated public discussions favouring some of the rivals and discouraging others to seek their benevolence.
For example, Gabrielius Landsbergis, the TS-LKD chairman, has swiftly reacted to talks of a possible coalition between his party and the Social Democrats, emphasizing that it is «impossible» with the current SD leadership.
«The voters have voted for change and we are going to produce it. But only with those who really want it,» he said presumably referencing to the Peasants.
«As I said before, I see the new coalition of change consisting of three parties: TS-LKD, LVŽS and Liberal Movement. I haven‘t stepped back a bit from the position even after the first round of election. These are the parties that have a lot more to share among themselves,» Landsbergis junior, the grandson of Lithuania’s modern politics’ patriarch Vytautas Landsbergis, emphasised.