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Tuesday 19.03.2019 | Name days: Jāzeps

Lithuanian political newcomers, PECs, deal a blow to parties, experts say

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Voters in Lithuania mainly voted for public election committees (PECs) during last Sunday’s municipal councillor races, with 26.75 percent of voters expressing their confidence for public election committees in the multi-member constituency.

PECs grabbed over 300 municipal seats, an outstanding result for novices of politics. PECs were first allowed to take part in Lithuania’s municipal elections in 2015 and their popularity has grown ever since.

Nearly all analysts approached by Baltic News Network (BNN) first of all underlined the significant rise of public election committees in the past elections.

«Their popularity has certainly grown exponentially over the last four years, to an extent where they have become powerhouses in traditional politics,» Tomas Janeliūnas, professor at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science (IIRPS) at Vilnius University, told BNN.

«I’d not be surprised if PECs will be subjected to tougher registration procedures and to tougher financial accountability in the future,» Janeliūnas underlined.

«Despite the split of party, the Social Democratic Party showed strong performance in the provinces. Meanwhile, «farmers» have ramped up their standing throughout the country, adding more municipal council seats than any other political party. Unlike in the Seimas, where the Farmers and Greens Union dominates, the support for political parties throughout the country is spread pretty evenly. It says that regional politics is different from the politics on the national level in Vilnius,» Janeliūnas emphasised to BNN.

Agreeing, Vladas Gaidys, director of Vilmorus, a public opinion and market research centre, told BNN that the surge in recent elections of public election committees is «certainly» something that got all talking about.

«There are loud opinions now that they are weakening the country’s political system and conventional political parties. They however are well received by public, but PECs may see certain restrictions in the future,» Gaidys pondered.

According to him, the fact that the level of voters’ participation in municipal council elections was higher than usually, near to that of the last presidential election, shows that people increasingly care who and how will govern towns and provinces they live in.

Linas Kojala, director of Vilnius-based Eastern Europe studies centre, also discerned the popularity of a series of public election committees in the country.

«They are posing a big challenge to traditional parties and raise many questions whether they should be treated the same way as parties, first of all in terms of the financing, assuming of responsibilities and liabilities,» Kojala told BNN.

The Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU-LCD) received 264 municipal seats, or 16.02 percent of votes, compared to around 15 percent during the previous municipal election four years ago.

Gabrielius Landsbergis, leader of HU-LCD, has called Sunday’s municipal election a modest victory for the party.

«We call the election a modest victory…Compared to 2015, we now have more mandates, we are the first among political parties and I think it’s an important sign. We have also improved our position in terms of the number of votes. So in general we have a reason to be delighted,» Landsbergis said.

The HU-LCD’s three candidates were elected mayors in the first round of voting, and another 15 will face their rivals in the run-off.

Lithuania’s Social Democratic Party (LSDP) of Lithuania got 259 seats, or 13.26 percent of votes, which was by nearly 7 percent worse than in 2015.

Gintautas Paluckas, chairman of LSDP, admitted that his party will need to re-establish its identity and electorate in the country’s major cities after the split in 2017, but he expected that the party will fare successfully in runoff municipal elections on March 17.

«We are a political organisation that scored victory in the largest number of municipalities, that is, our (candidate) lists came in first, we are leading in the largest number of mayoral races and we have the biggest number of second chances, too,» Paluckas said.

A chunky 11.15 percent of votes went for the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU), which was 7 percent more from election four years ago. The «farmers» took 230 seats in municipal councils during 2019-2023.

The results were not as good as the party had expected but the overall position has been bolstered, especially in the cities, the party’s leader Ramūnas Karbauskis underlined.

«Clearly, we have not won this election but we have won many more mandates… I see no point in considering ourselves losers,» he said on Monday, March 4.

«Committees have obviously won the election, and many of our votes, which could have probably been received by the LFGU at the national level, were taken by committees, especially in the cities,» Karbauskis said.

He also paid attention to the fact that the LFGU will have seats on the councils of major cities, including Vilnius, Klaipėda, Marijampolė and Palanga, for the first time. Karbauskis said he would encourage the party’s representatives to form as wide coalitions as possible in different municipalities.

Only two LFGU candidates, including Vytas Jareckas in Biržai District and Antanas Bezaras in Šiauliai District, were on Sunday elected mayors during the first round of voting, with the party’s 11 candidates getting into the run-off.

The scandal-plagued Liberal Movement received a lukewarm 5.9 percent of votes this year, a fall from 14 per cent of support in the 2015 election.

The struggling Labour Party had to accept 5.1 percent of votes, followed by the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance with 5.03 percent, the Order and Justice party with 2.95 percent and the Social Democratic Labour Party with 1.67 percent.

The latter was formed after the Social Democrats split in 2017, following disagreement on their participation in the LFGU-led ruling coalition in Lithuanian parliament.

During the 2015 municipal election, the Labour Party was backed by around 9 percent, 8 percent voted for the coalition of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance and the Russian Union, and 6 percent voted for the Order and Justice party.

Commenting the results, Povilas Gylys, former Foreign Affairs minister and now a MP, told BNN that, in the municipal elections, Lithuania’s conventional parties have been dealt a «severe blow» by public election committees.

«Speaking of the Social Democratic Party, a member of which I used to be, some selection of its mayoral candidates was pretty strange to me. Like in Kaunas, for example, where the candidate was little known and with a tarnished reputation,» he noted.

According to Gylys, the election results showed that party Order and Justice has bled off most compared to other political parties.

«The once powerful Labour Party is languishing too despite the efforts of its founder Viktor Uspaskich to resuscitate it,» the parliamentarian asserted.

«Social Democrats and Conservatives (Homeland Union- Lithuanian Christian Democrats, HU-LCD) did not do bad in the races, however, if we were to look at a larger picture, they as well as other traditional parties are in crisis. I will not be surprised to see them losing their ground in future elections too should ever popular public election committees be allowed to participate in them without any new restrictions,» Gylys underscored to BNN.

Along with the councillor races, mayoral elections were also held simultaneously.

As many as 19 mayors were elected during the first round of voting in the direct mayoral election last Sunday, with the majority of them being incumbent heads of cities and districts.

During the last direct mayoral election in 2015, also 19 politicians were elected mayors during the first round of voting, including 18 candidates representing political parties and one representative of a public election committee.

The incumbent and former mayors of Vilnius, Remigijus Šimašius and Artūras Zuokas, will face each other in the mayoral elections’ run-off after Šimašius received 37.3 percent of votes in the first round of voting, and Zuokas got 22.7 percent, based on the results from 150 out of 151 capital city’s polling districts.

Labour Party leader Viktor Uspaskich came in third with 10.96 percent, and Dainius Kreivys, representing the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats, was fourth with 9.06 percent.

They were followed by Virginijus Sinkevičius, representing the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union, with 4.91 percent, Edita Tamošiūnaitė, nominated by the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance and the Russian Union, with 4.76 percent, and Social Democrat Gintautas Paluckas with 2.63 percent.

The Šimašius-led public election committee is also leading in terms of won mandates and, based on preliminary data, will have 17 out of 51 seats on the local council.

Šimašius and Zuokas will square off each other in the second round of elections on March 17.

Visvaldas Matijošaitis, the incumbent mayor of Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city of Kaunas, secured an overwhelming victory, receiving almost 80 percent of votes. He was re-elected for a second term with his popular public election committee «Vieningas Kaunas» (United Kaunas).

HU-LCD’s mayoral candidate Jurgita Šiugždinienė came in second, receiving around 12.68 percent of votes.

Meanwhile, in Klaipėda, incumbent mayor Vytautas Grubliauskas will be challenged in the run-off round by Klaipėda Port CEO Arvydas Vaitkus, representing the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union.

Grubliauskas received 31.15 percent of votes, and Vaitkus was backed by 22.82 percent. Agnė Bilotaitė, of HU-LCD, came in third with 14.73 percent, according to the Central Electoral Commission. Nominated by the Liberal Movement, Simonas Gentvilas was fourth with 8 percent.

Grubliauskas’ public election committee, «Vytautas Grubliauskas and the Team», secured nine seats on the Klaipeda Council, the LFGU will have seven, the HU-LCD got six, and the Liberal Movement and the Centre Party won three seats each.

«I’m glad that Klaipėda residents resisted that populist temptation and appreciated that work done, opened their eyes to what is going on in the city. I would evaluate those aspects positively,» Grubliauskas said.

The election in Klaipėda was characterised by very low turnout, standing at only 38.66 percent.

According to Kojala, of Vilnius-based Eastern Europe studies centre, incumbent mayors have a slight edge in the run-off round on March 17.

«In particular that many of them are on top after the first round and because they possess larger resources to affect the campaign over the remaining stretch till the run-off,» Kojala told BNN.

Ever popular Ričardas Malinauskas, mayor of Lithuania’s southern resort town of Druskininkai, was re-elected to his fourth mayoral term.

Social Democrat Darius Jasaitis was re-elected mayor of the seaside town of Neringa with around 55 percent of votes. And Šarūnas Vaitkus, representing the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats, will serve for a third term as mayor of another seaside resort town, Palanga, after securing 76 percent of votes.

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