Legislative elections were held in Lithuania on October 14 and 28, 2012. All 141 seats in the country’s unicameral legislature, the Seimas, were up for reelection. 70 seats are elected by party-list proportional representation, with a 5% threshold for political parties and a 7% threshold for coalitions. The other 71 seats are elected by two-round FPTP in single-member constituencies. A candidate must win an absolute majority of the vote and with turnout above 40% to be elected; if turnout is under 40%, the candidate who has won the most votes (and the vote of at least 1/5 of those registered), is elected. If these conditions are not met, a second round is held two weeks later. In the first round, only 3 of the 71 single-member seats were filled.
Lithuania’s Prime Minister since 2008 is Andrius Kubilius. Despite the tough economic circumstances, he is the first Lithuanian PM to serve out his full four-year term. Kubilius is the leader of the conservative Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD). As is the case with most Iron Curtain countries, Lithuanian politics since independence in 1990 have been unstable and marked by high turnover in government after each election.
In 1990, the pro-independence centre-right Sąjūdis swept the country in the first free elections, but the economic crisis which ensued led to its defeat only two years later. The post-communist Democratic Labor Party, led by Algirdas Brazauskas, the leader of the local Communists who broke off ties with Moscow in 1989, was swept to power.
While Lithuania’s centre-left is of a very moderate and social democratic flavour, it is quite interesting to note that Lithuania stands out from its Baltic neighbors (Latvia and Estonia) in that reformed communists and the left in general have won elections”- the ethnic Latvian left is inexistent, the left in Estonia is infinitely moderate and rather weak. A number of factors could explain this “oddity”. First and foremost, Lithuania’s Communists, led by Brazauskas, broke with Moscow in 1989, something which no other local Communist Party in the former USSR did. Secondly, Lithuania – unlike Latvia and Estonia – lacks a large Russian minority (it does have a fairly sizable Polish minority, but it is not as politically controversial as the Russians in Latvia and Estonia) and, as a result, has tended towards more liberal citizenship laws (upon independence, all permanent residents were granted citizenship – unlike in the two other nations who ‘restored’ the citizenship of those who had held it prior to 1940) and a less confrontational relationship with Russia.
Algirdas Brazauskas was elected President in 1993. There has been a shift in power from the presidency to the legislature/Prime Minister in Lithuania, today the Lithuanian presidency holds some important powers but it is increasingly a ceremonial position. The first decade after independence was marked by economic turbulence, and voters often took out their anger on the governing party. The left lost power in the 1996 election, with the remnants of the Sąjūdis rebranded as the Homeland Union sweeping to power. Four years later, the governing party collapsed and the Prime Minister – Kubilius – even lost his own seat.
A centre-left coalition including Brazauskas’ party won 31% in the 2000 election, but President Valdas Adamkus nominated Rolandas Paksas, populist leader of a liberal party, to become Prime Minister. The two men had a bitter falling out quickly thereafter, which culminated in Paksas upsetting Adamkus in the runoff of the 2003 presidential election. Paksas was impeached in 2004 after he granted Lithuanian citizenship (and leaked classified information) to a shady Russian businessman who had bankrolled his 2003 presidential campaign.
Algirdas Brazauskas became Prime Minister in 2001, presiding over the merger of the Democratic Labor Party and the Social Democrats (LSDP). He was succeeded in 2006 by Gediminas Kirkilas. The centre-left governing coalition became the first and, to date, only, government to win reelection (kind of) in 2004. Technically, they remained in power following the election. But it was a new party, the undefinable populist Labour Party (DP), led by (another) shady Russian businessman, Viktor Uspaskich. Uspaskich’s DP entered the new ruling coalition as a junior party to the LSDP, but it was kicked out in 2006 as corruption started catching up with Uspaskich, who fled to Russia in 2006 (he failed to declare over 4.3 million euros in both income and spending). He was arrested upon his return in 2007, but released on bail. As an MEP (since 2009), he has parliamentary immunity.
The right returned to power in the 2008 elections, with the TS-LKD winning 45 seats against 25 for the LSDP. But, once again, the election was marked by a new party: the National Resurrection Party, vaguely centrist, led by a popular TV personality, surprised observers by taking 15.1% of the vote (second place) and 16 seats. Order and Justice (TT), a right-wing populist outfit led by impeached president Paksas won 15 seats, while the disgraced DP won only 9% and 10 seats. Kubilius’ cabinet, which has survived its full term, includes two smaller liberal parties.
The Baltics were hit very badly by the 2008 economic crisis. Lithuania’s GDP shrunk by nearly 15% in 2008. Unlike Latvia, Kubilius’ government opted not to call on foreign aid and instead implemented severe austerity policies. His policies were successful, the country now enjoys solid growth rates for a EU-27 member state (6% in 2011, 3% in 2012) and the deficit could drop below the EU’s 3% limit this year. However, unemployment remains very high (13.5%) and Lithuania has the third lowest minimum wage in the EU. Vilnius aims to join the Eurozone in 2014.
In this election, the LSDP promised to increase the minimum wage and replace Lithuania’s 15% flat tax with a progressive income tax. It prioritized cutting the VAT on foodstuff and cutting taxes on small businesses. Uspaskich’s DP, which seems to be trolling as far as I’m concerned, promised to bring unemployment down to 0% in three years and resign if he didn’t.
Turnout was 52.93% in the first round on October 14, up from 48.6% in 2008. Turnout was 35.86% in the second round in the 67 constituencies disputed (3 were already filled, one constituency result from October 14 was declared invalid). Turnout is usually rather low in the second round, but this is apparently up 2% from the second round in 2008. The results were as follows – the popular vote refers to the party-list vote two weeks ago.
LSDP 18.37% (+6.65%) winning 38 seats (+13) [15 PR, 23 FPTP incl. 1 by round one]
TS-LKD 15.08% (-4.64%) winning 33 seats (-12) [13 PR, 20 FPTP incl. 1 by round one]
DP 19.82% (+7.19%) winning 29 seats (+18) [17 PR, 12 FPTP]
TT 7.31% (-5.37%) winning 11 seats (-4) [6 PR, 5 FPTP]
Liberal Movement (LRLS) 8.57% (+2.84%) winning 10 seats (-1) [7 PR, 3 FPTP]
AWPL (Poles) 5.83% (+1.04%) winning 8 seats (+5) [5 PR, 3 FPTP incl. 1 by round one]
Way of Courage 7.99% (+7.99%) winning 7 seats (+7) [7 FPTP]
Peasant and Green (LVŽS) 3.88% (+0.15%) winning 1 seat (-2) [1 FPTP]
LiCS 2.06% (-18.4%) winning 0 seats (-24)
YES 1.76% (+1.76%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 5.11% (-3.47%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independents winning 3 seats (-1) [3 FPTP]
The second round confirmed the first round and the incumbent government was defeated, although not trounced. A semblance of electoral stability is slowly starting to emerge in Lithuania. The incumbent government was unable to cash in on any recovery following the painful recovery. Even if their effect on the country’s economy has been judged positively abroad, many Lithuanian voters resented the deep social cost and pain associated with these policies. The austerity policies included big cuts in spending, pensions and real wages along with higher taxes on consumer goods, consumption and businesses. Voters instead turned to the left – both the moderate LSDP and the populist DP.
The LSDP and DP were strongest in rural areas, where the impact of austerity was likely felt the most. The right still dominated the country’s two main urban areas – Vilnius and Kaunas. The TT was strongest in Samogitia.
The major new party in this election – every Lithuanian election seemingly needs one – was “The Way of Courage”, an anti-corruption party.
The party has an interesting backstory – it is founded by supporters of Drąsius Kedys (who is the brother of one of the party’s founders, judge Neringa Venckiene), a man found dead in 2010 after he went missing following a double homicide case in 2009 in which he was the top suspect. In 2008, Kedys had accused his ex-wife of allowing another man to pay her to sexually molest their underage daughter, but the case was never brought to trial despite Kedys’ very public pleas. In October 2009, a judge and Kedys’ sister-in-law – both accused by Kedys of partaking in the molestation of his daughter – were found dead. Kedys was the main suspect, and he went into hiding following the case (it is not proven if he was the murderer). Kedys was found dead near Kaunas in April 2010, the official account claims it was a natural death (‘choking on vomit’) but many others suspect he was murdered. The accused pedophile/molester was found dead in mysterious circumstances in June 2010.
The case bounced back in May 2012 when a court ordered Kedys’ daughter, who had been living with Venckiene, to be reunited with her mother. The order sparked a major uproar in Lithuania, and led to major protest protesting the decision. Riot police was called in and protesters were arrested. The new party – Way of Courage – claims that the scandal is covering up a pedophile ring in the highest instances of power.
The party’s success speaks to a broader discontent with politics and justice in the country. Political corruption is a major issue in the country, as the cases of Rolandas Paksas and Viktor Uspaskich show. For others, the new party was a way to protest injustice they may feel in society. The party won 8% of the vote and seven seats, it did particularly well around Kaunas (the epicentre of the case) and won nearly 20% of the vote in an area south of Kaunas, which includes Kedys’ hometown of Garliava. The party won 7 seats, all by PR. Its caucus includes Neringa Venckiene, poet and former Soviet dissident Algirdas Patackas and a former foreign minister.
Right after the first round, the LSDP, led by Algirdas Butkevičius, had already come to a de-facto coalition agreement with Uspaskich’s DP and Paksas’ TT. Uspaskich had apparently held out hope for becoming Prime Minister himself, but after the DP’s disappointing performance in the second round, he tempered his demands to four departments: economy, transport, agriculture and culture. The results of the second round confirmed that a centre-left coalition led by Butkevičius and the LSDP with the participation of the DP and TT would hold an absolute majority (78 seats).
However, right after the election came a major bombshell: President Dalia Grybauskaitė, who appoints the Prime Minister, announced that she would reject any coalition with the DP. Right after the first round, details of a major vote buying scandal involving, primarily, the DP was leaked. This adds to the pending case against the party itself and three top leaders who are accused of fraud and false documentation. Grybauskaitė, the country’s very popular and strong-willed president, argues that a party which is mired so deep in corruption is unfit for government, and most voters likely support her position. Grybauskaitė nonetheless stated that she would advise the LSDP’s leader to form the government, and Butkevičius has the power to defy her and form a government with the DP regardless, but this seems unlikely.
The President’s decision creates some uncertainty for the time being about the composition of the next government. Originally presumed to be a fait accompli, it seems as if the three-party left-wing cabinet with the DP is unlikely to be formed and parties are back to step one. Some say that Butkevičius will form a coalition with DP, but he will exclude Uspaskich and the party’s other controversial members. The other options, excluding the DP, appear unlikely and also unappealing to any of the actors involved. There is the option of a “rainbow coalition” including Kubilius’ ruling TS-LKD and the liberals – but Kubilius does not seem very interested. The other option is a coalition including every party except the DP and the TS-LKD; including the liberals, the AWPL and Way of Courage; but that is unlikely to work out if the liberals are dead-set on staying in opposition with the TS-LKD.
Nevertheless, Butkevičius remains the favourite to be the country’s next Prime Minister. His party has some fairly ambitious promises – progressive income tax, higher wages and so forth – but in large part he will need to stick with Kubilius’ macroeconomic policies. Hence, it appears as if most analysts think that Butkevičius will be in good part unable to usher in any major divergences from the outgoing government’s economic policies. The president has made it clear that the new government should follow these policies, albeit she would like more emphasis on jobs and wages as the economy improves.
A referendum on nuclear power was held alongside the first round of voting on October 14. The old Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant was shut down in 2009, judged to be unsafe. The government developed plans to build a new nuclear power plant in Visaginas by 2020-2022 with funding from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Japanese company Hitachi. Voters rejected the plan with 64.77% against. This was only an advisory referendum, the government will not be bound by it – but it will be tough to go ahead with the plan if the voters didn’t back it. This map shows the results of the referendum down to the district level. The area most directly concerned by the issue – Visaginas – was the only district in the whole country to vote in favour (with no less than 65%), it failed by huge margins in basically every other district in the country.