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  Vol. 16, November-December, 2008
Stability is the Key

Author:
Indrė Makaraitytė

The elections that were held on 12 October were the fifth parliamentary elections to be held since the restoration of independence.

Although less than half (48.59%) the electorate turned out, those who did vote did not deliver any surprises.

The political right, whose nucleus is made up of seasoned politicians rather than newcomers, won with a clear majority.

The Homeland Union-Christian Democrats (TS-LKDP) now have 45 seats, and, together with two Liberal parties, intend to form a new coalition. Since the mandates which the three parties have (TS-LKDP, Liberal Movement and the Liberal and Centre Union) are not be enough to create a stable coalition, they need the support of the Rising Nation Party, a new phenomenon which appeared just before the election and which is led by the television personality Arūnas Valinskas.  

How the Seimas is elected

According to the constitution, the Seimas consists of 141 members, elected for a four-year term in 71 single-member constituencies and one multi-member constituency, by direct political suffrage.

Parties and movements contest the multi-member constituency. Besides, not only can voters vote for the party lists, they can also change the positions of those on the lists.

For example, Gediminas Kirkilas, the leader of the Social Democrats, one of the former parties in government, who led the coalition government until the election, was demoted from first to third place. On several other party lists, some famous individuals rose to the top.

The more votes a party list receives, the more of its candidates are elected to the Seimas in the multi-member constituency. The main condition is to pass a five per cent threshold. Seven per cent is required for coalition lists.

In the single-member constituencies, individual candidates, independent or nominated by their parties, compete.

It usually takes two rounds to elect a candidate to the Seimas, as in only a few constituencies does one candidate get more than 50 per cent of the vote in order to be elected straightaway. Until the second round, nobody talks much about governing coalitions, as the electorate might change the parties’ positions considerably.

The same went for this year’s elections too.

A trend towards voting for known politicians is emerging in the single-member constituencies, which often coincides with the party lists that have won there. On the other hand, if a member of the Seimas represented a constituency before, and has not disappointed the electorate, he is voted in again, in spite of the party lists.

Another tendency has emerged. Voters are not inclined to buy a pig in a poke in the single-member constituencies. In other words, if they vote for the list of a newly formed party, a candidate from that list has fewer chances of winning a single-member constituency.

For instance, in 2004 the Labour Party, which was formed by Viktor Uspaskich just before the elections, was a favourite in the first round, and in almost all single-member constituencies its candidates went on to the second round. However, many of them then lost in the second round.

A similar situation arose in this year’s election. The Rising Nation Party, which was formed by the television personality Arūnas Valinskas specially for the elections, won 13 mandates in the multi-member constituency. However, most of its candidates did not get into the second round, or lost nearly everywhere. A final count of the votes revealed that it won 16 seats.

A wide spectrum

So what choices did the electorate have?

Which and how many parties took part in the 2008 elections to the Seimas?

Twenty party and political movement lists contested the election. Two parties, the Labour Party and the Labour Youth Party, formed an alliance. Another two, the Lithuanian Freedom Union and the Lithuanian People’s Union, “For a Fair Lithuania”, participated in only the single-member constituencies.

Therefore, on 12 October the electorate could choose from 17 lists in the multi-member constituencies, and 1,600 candidates in the single-member constituencies.

Before the election, two new parties appeared. In addition to the Rising Nation Party, Frontas, a party led by Algirdas Paleckis, a former member of the Social Democrats, was formed.

The Homeland Union-Christian Democrats went through the greatest changes before the election. The former Conservative Party not only changed its name, but also expanded, with several political forces joining it. 

Voters did not punish all those in power

There were a lot of forecasts before the election, but only one came true: that no party would win the necessary majority in order to be able to form a government, and that the country would be governed by a coalition, as it has been since 2000.

The final results exceeded the hopes of some parties, but fell short of the expectations of others.

Let us start with the disappointments.

Two influential political parties, the New Union (Social Liberals), led by Artūras Paulauskas, a former chairman of the Seimas, and the Peasants’ and People’s Party, led by Kazimira Prunskienė, are leaving the political arena for the time being, if not for good. Prunskienė was at the height of her popularity when she took part in the last presidential election, and lost to Valdas Adamkus, the current president, by a very slim margin.

The New Union will have only one member in the new Seimas, and the Peasants’ and People’s Party will have three, but their leaders were voted out. 

The Order and Justice Party of Rolandas Paksas, the impeached former president, expected to win about 50 mandates, but in fact won only 15. Viktor Uspaskich, the leader of the Labour Party, who went into hiding in Russia for several years but returned for the election, won ten mandates. That was a big loss, for his party had won 39 mandates in the 2004 election and was able to dictate the shape of the ruling coalition.     

In spite of the poor economic prognoses, the electorate did not punish the Social Democrats, the main ruling party until the elections. They are not likely to participate in the new coalition, but their result in the election (25 mandates), is second after the TS-LKDP. Paradoxically, in the last election they won only 20 mandates.   

There was one more interesting aspect to this election. Until now, new parties in Lithuania used to be surprisingly popular. Despite being newly formed, they used to make up not only a part of the ruling coalitions, but also their axis and backbone. This is how the New Union, which now has only one mandate, fared in the 2000 election. The same happened to the Labour Party in the 2004 election. This was also expected of Valinskas’ Rising Nation Party. The party is a very attractive ally for both the centre left and the right; but it did not repeat the rapid rise to power that was achieved by other newcomers in the political arena.

Hard times for a new government

After the first round of elections to the Seimas, political analysts expected more of a centre left coalition, which could be formed from the Social Democrats, the Labour Party and the Rising Nation Party. But those who wanted to wait for the results of the second round were right. In the end, it became clear that the TS-LKDP had emerged as the leader.

On Monday night, after the votes were counted, the leaders of the four centre right parties (TS-LKDP, Liberal and Centre Union, Liberal Movement and Rising Nation) gathered for talks. The next day, official negotiations for positions in the government and a government programme started.

Andrius Kubilius, the TS-LKDP leader, is expected to head the government, while Valinskas, the political newcomer, may get the post of chairman of the Seimas. The TS-LKDP claims that it will take responsibility for the economy, finance, defence and foreign affairs. 

This will be the second time that Kubilius has headed the government. He has been in politics since independence. Although he headed the tenth government in 1999 and 2000, and pulled the economy out of a crisis, it will not be easy for the new cabinet.

The difficulties, first of all, are connected with relations between the coalition partners. Valinskas’ party is the greatest unknown quantity. There are fears that this political formation may disintegrate, and that its rivals will win its members over to their side.

One more possible source of disagreements is the tension between the leaders of the TS-LKDP and the Liberal Movement, and the Liberal and Centre Union, led by Artūras Zuokas. In the past he has been accused of bribing politicians to get elected as Vilnius’ mayor. The TS-LKDP say they will only support ethical behaviour. The Liberal Movement was formed when some of the former Liberal Centrists claimed they could not tolerate Zuokas’ actions any longer.

The tension inside the coalition may become even greater because of the strong opposition of the Social Democrats, led by the former prime minister, and by the political situation. In less than a year’s time, the country will hold a presidential election.

According to the opposition, the time left until then will be the duration of the new coalition. According to the parties forming the new coalition, everything will go fine if they succeed in gaining 71 or more mandates.

 

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