By Rokas Stabingis (Independent Scholar)
The voter turnout seems not to be affected by the COVID-19
In the face of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lithuania has elected its new parliament Seimas of 141 MPs. The voter turnout in the I round on 11 of October was 47 %, i.e insignificantly lower than in the I round of Parliamentary elections in 2016 (50 %). In the II round on 25 of October it was even lower – 39 %, but within the common trend (in the II round in 2016 it was 38 %). It seems that elections have finished just before the introduction of the quarantine in much of the country and it did not resulted in a lower voter turnout. The reasons for that may be perception that the II round matters and relative clarity about the would-be government: the incumbent centre-left government with Mr. Skvernelis (Peasant and Green Union) vs. centre-right new government lead by Ms. Šimonytė (Homeland Union – Christian Democrats).
Who are the main rivals in the electoral system?
The parallel mixed electoral system is a balance between proportional representation (70 MPs elected in one multi-member constituency) and majoritarian two-round system (71 MPs elected in 71 single-member constituencies). The 5 % electoral threshold to enter the Parliament in the multi-member constituency and majoritarian vote is favourable to large and middle-size political parties. Therefore the main rivals in the system tend to be the biggest parties from the right and the left. Historically this was the case between Homeland Union – Christian Democrats (the right) and Social Democratic Party (the left). But since 2016 Parliamentary elections there appeared a new political force on the left – Peasant and Green Union with its landslide victory of 54 mandates, leaving Social Democratic Party only with 17 mandates. It allowed them to form a ruling coalition which lasted the whole term of office. Homeland Union – Christian Democrats was left with 33 seats, even though it was the winner of the I round. In the II round it collected only 11 seats versus 35 seats of Peasant and Green Union. Homeland Union – Christian Democrats after 2016 Parliamentary elections remained the principal opposition force criticizing the ruling coalition. Peasant and Greens Union fought back and it turned into constant hostility between the main rivals from the left and from the right capturing the main stage light on the political scene and leaving the ex-rival Social Democratic Party behind the political discourse.
The polls or the voters cannot be trusted
The polls two weeks before elections showed that the potential winners of Parliamentary elections would be the following: Peasant and Greens Union (21,2 %), Homeland Union – Christian Democrats (16,3 %), Social Democratic Party (12,8 %), Liberals Movement (8,3 %), Labour party (8,1 %), Party Freedom and Justice (7,3 %) and and Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance (5,3 %). In principle the polls showed steady support for the ruling parties and underestimated the part of the electorate that wanted changes on the political scene. It can be explained by the fact that the ruling coalition, lead by Peasant and Greens Union, in the beginning of their term of office pursued the policy of restrictions targeted at the consumption of alcohol and its advertising, which provoked a hostile reaction from the liberal part of the society that was against the policy of restrictions. The second wave of restrictions came along with the quarantine which was introduced throughout the territory of Lithuania from the 16th of March 2020. The voting patterns show that Lithuanian voters tend to vote against the ruling parties and are constantly looking for new political forces. This explains the unlooked-for rise of Freedom party (9,11 %) and the fall of the smaller ruling party Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance (4,80 %) and Party Freedom and Justice (1,99 %), which was consolidated right before elections based on existing smaller political forces lead by their political leaders so called ‘the Three Musketeers’, but this strategy proved unsuccessful. The fact that polls could not predict those results may be explained by a large group of undecided voters (8.1 %) who hide their views or vote spontaneously.
The worries about who is on the left
The political scientists argue that Lithuanian parties try to attract the potential voters from broad political spectrum to increase their political support. For this reason parties tend to drift towards the political centrum and usually they can have attributes both from political left and right. In case of Peasant and Greens Union, the party tipically pursues left policies, but strongly support conservative values such as traditional family and the way of living, local communities. The newly elected Freedom party has liberal economic agenda, but with leftish social and human rights policy. Labour party is considered as a populist party promoting liberal economic model and at the same time guaranteeing high level of social welfare. Even there are opinions from social scientists that Social Democratic Party which is typically a traditional left party is not engaging enough with its traditional partners on the left like trade unions and supporting the interests of big bussiness. Nevertheless, in the political arena there is a clear public expectation that there are two main scenarios for the new government: centre-left (with leading Peasant and Greens Union, Social Democratic Party, Labour party) or centre-right (with leading Homeland Union – Christian Democrats, Liberals Movement, Freedom party).
Will the story be vice versa in 2020?
In 2020 the history repeats itself and the winner in the multi-member constituency is again Homeland Union – Christian Democrats (23 seats) vs. its main rival Peasant and Greens Union (16 seats). The odds were on Homeland Union – Christian Democrats side as the candidates of the party were winning in 36 single-member constituencies and the ones of Peasant and Greens Union only – in 13 constituecies. After the II round Homeland Union – Christian Democrats has 50 mandates allowing them to form a ruling coalition with its most natural partners – Liberals Movement (13 mandates) and Freedom party (11 mandates). This coalition of the centre-right with 73 MPs could be beneficial to Homeland Union – Christian Democrats as they were always trying to encroach on the liberal votes. but on the other hand there could be cleavages between the conservative-traditional and progressive wings of the party as the political issues for the future coalition may vary from the decriminalization of the cannabis and the same sex marriage to the education and energetics. The mathematics is against the centre-left coalition of Peasant and Greens Union (32), Social Democratic Party (13), Labour party (10).
Back to progress
In the end of the day of the 25th of Octorber it became obvious that Homeland Union – Christian Democrats has initiative to form a new government with two liberal parties – Liberals Movement and Freedom party, which in total received 24 seats and that is a strong mandate for the liberal agenda. Homeland Union – Christian Democrats went to these elections with a slogan ‘Give more power to Lithuania’. The urgent challenge would be to control the growing fiscal deficit and the outbreak of COVID-19. There could be cleavages between the conservative-traditional and progressive wings of the Homeland Union – Christian Democrats as the political issues for the future coalition may vary from the decriminalization of the cannabis and the same sex marriage to the education and energetics. The voters may expect from the new government a positive approach and more progress in modernizing the state opposing the policy of restrictions and fiscal profligacy. There is no doubt that the women will be responsible for Lithuania‘s future as they are the main leaders of the would-be right coalition and there is a record number of women in the new Parliament.