by das monde
Sun Oct 12th, 2008 at 10:09:14 AM EST
I was asked once to post a diary on Lithuanian parties. This week is a fitting opportunity, as Lithuania has Parliamentary elections this Sunday (October 12), and I was most of the last 2-3 weeks there. The later factor didn't help much to feel a better insider, but... political detachment is an obvious part of modern social environment, visibly convenient for the political classes as well.
Voting now underway, until 20h local time = 19h CET. Promoted by DoDo
Update [2008-10-12 13:40:8 by DoDo]:
now with results.
Update [2008-10-13 12:40:0 (LT) by das monde]:
Here are preliminary results of nationwide party
voting (for 70 seats). 2007 out of 2034 districts reporting.
Voter participation - 1278989 (48.42%). Non-valid votes - 71747 (5.61%). The 5% barrier (derived from the number of all participating voters) is 63950. The last column gives (preliminary) numbers of candidates in run-off elections two weeks later in individual constituencies. Three individual mandates are already won.
Update [2008-10-14 06:40:0 (LT) by das monde]:
|of valid votes||Seats ||Likely + Toss-up + Underdog|
|Homeland Union - Christian Democrats
|Order And Justice (Rolandas Paksas)
|Rising Nation Party (Arūnas Valinskas, LNK TV)||182439||15.11||13
|Darbo Partija (Labour Party)
|Lith. Rep. Liberal Movement (without Zuokas)
|The Liberal and Center Union (with Zuokas) ||64179||5.32||5
|The Polish minority party
|Lithuanian Peasant Popular Union (Prunskienė) ||44965||3.72||0||1+4+1
|"The Young Lithuania" (Right nationalists)
|The Civic Democracy Party (Muntianas)
|The Russian minority party
|Social Democratic Union (Marxist-lite)
|Lithuanian Center Party
I made changes only in the last column now. With 5 districts to report, percentages are almost the same, though Zoukas' liberals meet the 5% barrier by mere 90 votes.
First, some history.
Lithuanian independence movement was barely visible until 1987, but once Sąjūdis (lit., common, wide movement) was formed in June 1988 in a meeting of intellectuals, it was very effective. The Sąjūdis got big boosts from public gatherings (of 100 to 250 thousand people) of June 24 (to "instruct" Lithuanian delegates of a Communist Congress) and August 23 (to commemorate the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact) 1988 at Vingis park in Vilnius. They enjoyed increasing influence on the Lithuanian Communist party (led by Algirdas Brazauskas from October 1988), perhaps at a price of upstaging older independence movements.
At the successful Sąjūdis Congress (on October 22-23, 1988) they started to talk about Lithuanian independence openly. In February 1989, the Sąjūdis honored the 16 February 1918 Independence Act, and declared independence as its goal. Next month it won convincingly elections to the Congress of USSR People's Deputies (36 of 42 Lithuanian delegates; held in May 1989). The 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was commemorated with the impressive Baltic Way chain of people joining hands from Vilnius to Tallinn.
The local communist party seceded from the USSR Communist Party in December 1989, but the Sąjūdis won (with 101 out of 141 seats) the 1990 February elections to the Lithuanian SSR legislative body. Lithuanian independence was declared on March 11, 1990, at the first gathering of the legislators (chaired by Vytautas Landbergis). The USSR responded with an economic blockade and the January 10-13, 1991 military confrontation.
De facto independence was achieved after the August 1991 coup attempt in Moscow. The economic situation was still chaotic. The 1992 October parliamentary elections was unexpectedly won by the former communist party. The Sąjūdis quickly lost its influence, as its diverse pool of members had already formed a spectrum of parties.
:: :: :: :: ::
The Lithuanian parliament Seimas has 141 members; 71 of them are elected in individual constituencies, and 70 --- by nationwide proportional representation (with the 5% barrier for single political parties; 7% for coalitions). The term is four years. Local elections are every 3 years; presidential elections are every 5 years.
There are 37 registered parties; 18-20 of them are active in governing or in these elections. A reasonable distinction is between left-wing, right-wing, centrist-liberal and populist parties.
The Communist party was banned in 1991, but the "traditional" party under Algirdas Brazauskas reorganized itself into LDDP (Democratic Labour Party of Lithuania) and won the 1992 elections. Their success was so surprising that they had less candidates on their list than the number of awarded seats (the extra seats got distributed among other parties). Probably that was the first precedent of former communists returning to power in the Eastern Europe (before Poland, 1993, for example). Their governing was not successful; LDDP got just 9.5% of votes in the next 1996 election. [The privatization scheme was formally democratic, with investment vouchers issued to everyone, and (unlike in Russia) large objects privatized later. But the process was not appreciated (or understood) by the population under any government. Deliberate disruption of still state objects was often suspected; most of the vouchers went to ensure real estate, or given away to "investment funds".]
Brazauskas was elected the president for the 1993-1998 term. He returned to serve as a Prime Minister in 2001-2006.
The LDDP rebounded strongly in the 2000 elections. Their coalition with LSDP ("historical" socialdemocrats) and Prunskienė's New Democracy party won 31.15% of vote, or 51 seats. After failure of the initial "New Politics" center coalition government, they took charge in July 2001 (together with Social Liberals). In January 2001, the LDDP and LSDP united as LSDP, though the LDDP part dominated the union. (In particular, the leader Vytenis Andriukaitis of the "old"-LSDP was quickly marginalized.)
The New Union (Social Liberals) party was founded in 1998 by Artūras Paulauskas, after his close loss in the 1998 presidential elections to Valdas Adamkus. (Paulauskas was favoured by the outgoing Brazauskas.) The Social Liberals participated in the government from 2000 till April 2006, when Paulauskas unexpectedly lost a vote of confidence as Seimas Chairman.
Since 2006, LSDP dominates a minority cabinet. The prime minister is Gediminas Kirkilas. After the first hard decade, Lithuania experienced a Baltic economic boom the last years, though less swift than Estonia, and with a milder hangover than Latvia. The Baltic credit expansion probably deserves a crisis on its own, with inflation picking up the last 12 months (12-13% annually). But now the biggest scare is the global economy.
The Sąjūdis went into the 1992 elections crystallized as a conservative nationalist party. Led by Vytautas Landsbergis, they unexpectedly lost. There were economic reasons: unpopular though chaotic shock therapy, emphatic disregard of Soviet time industries and farms. But no less decisively, the emerged conservative core was perceived as arrogant in taking all credit for the independence achievement, or endorsing pre-war social relations too much. In May 1993, the conservative opposition founded Tėvynės Sąjunga, Homeland Union (Lithuanian Conservatives). They were victorious in the 1996 election, but their governing (with Christian Democrats) was very unpopular, especially wooden implementation of market principles under Gediminas Vagnorius. The 1998 Russian financial crisis blocked any economic progress as well.
Landsbergis currently serves in the European parliament. He expressed dissmay with the efforts of his party in the ongoing campaign.
The Homeland Union merged with the Lithuanian Christian Democrats in May 2008, somewhat copying the LDDP-LSDP merger. But the effect looks less impressive. The leader is the 1999-2000 prime minister Andrius Kubilius.
The Homeland Union - Christian Democrats seem to gather limited support, as the traditional conservative ideology feels suspect to a portion of the electorate apparently. Several alternative conservative, nationalist or christian-democratic parties were awfully unsuccessful. Extreme right groups have no electoral success either, though their "balancing" symbolism should not be ignored.
Several popular Sąjūdis intellectuals were drawn into Center or Liberal parties, but the 1992 election gave them just a few individuals seats. The Liberal Union found a success (over 30 seats) in 2000 after capturing a rising star, Rolandas Paksas. Their "New Politics" government with Social Liberals (and a couple of small parties) was championed by the president Adamkus over Brazauskas' socialdemocratic coalition, but that lasted only until summer 2001. Paksas left the party next year. Another colourful mayor of Vilnius, Artūras Zuokas, fused the Liberal and Centre Union in May 2003. But the shuffle at the center was not over, as Zuokas became too controversial to other leaders. There are three center or liberal (or both) parties contesting now.
The libertarian ideology is being promoted in Lithuania rather earnestly, with a Free Market Institute think tank in front. They target LSDP and its governments often, though I do not see that the governments make many inconveniences to Lithuanian corporate groups.
The left-right electoral swings were over with the previous cycle, but populist opportunities appeared. The already mentioned Rolandas Paksas was already a Vilnius mayor (twice) and Prime Minister (twice though briefly) when he formed the Liberal Democratic Party in March 2002. He surprisingly beat Adamkus in the second round of Presidential elections in January 2003, with an appeal to the not-quite-middle but broad class. However, Seimas managed to impeach him in 14 months, for suspect ties to Russian entrepreneurs. By current laws, Paksas cannot run for an office, but he still shows ambitions. His coalition won 11 seats in 2004, though they were isolated from government formation. His party runs now under the name Tvarka ir Teisingumas, Order and Justice.
Then we have Darbo partija, Labour Party, led by the native Russian Viktoras Uspaskich, a welder turned enterpreneur then politician. In the 2004 election Darbo Partija got most of Seimas seats (39), and could govern with LSDP and Prunskienė's party. Uspaskich got into conflict of interest problems by June 2005, and he resigned from the government and Seimas. About a year later the party was suspected in income violations, and Uspaskich did not return from Russia until late 2007. He was apprehended in Vilnius airport, but can participate in this election.
Kazimira Prunskienė was the first Prime minister of the newly independent Lithuania, the "amber lady". She resigned amidst the January 1991 chaos. (The direct prelude to eventually tragic events was freeing-up prices.) Although one of Sąjūdis leaders, she was alleged to have collaborated with KGB. Since 1995, Prunskienė led the Women Party, its union with the New Democracy Party, and then the union with Peasants' Party. Currently, the party should be called Lithuanian Peasant Popular Union. Prunskienė's party participated in the 2000 Brazauskas' coalition and post-2004 governments. After Paksas' impeachment, Prunskienė faced Adamkus in a Presidential election, and lost by 5% in the second round.
The crop of new populist hopefuls includes parties of Viktoras Muntianas (ex-Darbo), Justas Paleckis (ex-LSDP), and TV showman Arūnas Valinskas.
Ethnic minority parties
Polish politicians regularly win a few seats, thanks to Polish districts in South East (and no barrier for minority parties in the first elections). Russian presence in Seimas is less consistent.
What will happen on Sunday?
I have little idea, as I got shoulder shrugs from virtually everyone asked. Many find no appealing choice (as always). The main drama is whether "populist" or "traditional" parties will hold sway. A personal dilemma between LSDP and Homeland Union is not strange at all. The campaign laws are strict this time (perhaps after Darbo Party's professional PR last time), visibility on streets or TV commercials are low. The main issues apparently are: the ongoing economy crisis, the fate of Ignalina atomic plants (old and new)... Russian threat is surely mentioned (if only there are new people listening). Absentee voting stations seem to be busy. As there is little outside clues, a new surprise might be lurking.