Lithuania Remains Stable and Liberal – Parliamentary Elections Place Liberal Forces in Government

Will there be a centre-right government or not? Will the liberal forces manage to participate in government? The second round of the parliamentary elections in Lithuania has certainly clarified these questions. The previous government, consisting of the “Farmers and Greens Union” and social democratic forces, has been voted out of office. The new government will certainly bear a liberal signature.

Parliamentary elections in Lithuania remain exciting until the very end. This is due to the electoral system, which combines proportional representation and majority voting. In the first round of voting, 70 seats will be allocated by proportional representation. If the first round of elections on 11 October (results of the first round) had been the same, a moderate conservative government with liberal participation would already have been highly likely. However, there are also 71 constituencies through which MPs are directly elected to the so-called Seimas. Those who fail to succeed in the first round (and that was almost all of them) had to compete against the runner-up in the second round yesterday. And it is always difficult to predict what the outcome will be.

Homeland Union Versus the Farmers and Greens Union

Now the Lithuanian voter has spoken. In direct elections, larger parties are favoured. So for most observers, the question was whether the strongest party in the first round of voting, the Homeland Union- Christian Democrats of Lithuania (Tėvynės Sąjunga – Lietuvos krikščionys demokratai), would also perform best here. The former governing party, the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (Lietuvos valstiečių ir žaliųjų sąjunga) was breathing down its neck. The party, which is difficult to classify politically and wavers oddly between green left and ultra-conservative, had suffered heavy losses in the first round of the elections. In the last elections in 2016, however, it had clearly outstripped the Homeland Union in terms of direct mandates. But this time, that was no longer possible. In the second round of voting, the Homeland Union was able to maintain its clear lead.

While the Farmers and Greens Union improved from 16 to 32 seats compared to the first round, the Homeland Union increased from 23 to 50 seats. And since the former partner of the Farmers and Greens Union, the Social Democrats, also suffered heavy losses, it is clear that a replacement of the government will be forthcoming. This has also something to do with the good performance of the liberal forces. This was not so obvious some time ago, because in recent years they seemed to be in a self-inflicted downturn. That, incidentally, is why there are now two liberal parties in the Seimas.

Two Liberal Parties

Firstly, there is the traditional Liberal Movement of the Lithuanian Republic (Lietuvos Respublikos liberalų sąjūdis, LRLS). In 2016, it was thrown into turmoil by a financial scandal involving one of its former leaders, which almost cost it its existence. After many quarrels, resignations and rapid changes in the chairmanship, however, the party stabilised under MEP Eugenijus Gentvilas, who led the party with a steady hand, and was able to hand over the chairmanship in an orderly fashion to the young MP Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen in 2019. With 6.8% and 6 seats in the first round of voting, the party did not perform as well as before, but it clearly stabilised. This was also evident in the second round of voting, where the party won seven more seats and secured 13 seats in total.

However, during the temporary decline of the Liberal Movement, dissatisfied members of the party and several newcomers to politics had founded a new liberal party in June 2019, the Freedom Party (Laisvės partija). Under the energetic chairwoman Aušrinė Armonaitė, a former LRLS parliamentarian, it now led a very energetic election campaign, strongly targeting modern urban voter groups – with topics such as LGTBI rights and the liberalisation of drug policies. The extent to which the party succeeded in penetrating modern cosmopolitan milieus is illustrated by the fact that Aušrinė Armonaitė won the votes of Lithuanians living abroad, who are run as a separate direct constituency in the country’s electoral system.

In the first round, the party even outperformed the Liberal Movement, with 9% and nine seats. In the second round of voting, however, the forces shifted as the movement has regional strongholds and now holds 13 seats.

Coalition Negotiations Begin – First Liberalisations

The fact that both parties performed better than expected, both individually and together, means that both parties can now form a coalition with the Homeland Union, a moderately conservative and economically liberal party. All the parties concerned had previously stated this as a desired constellation and reaffirmed this on election evening. The new Prime Minister will therefore in all probability be the former Minister of Finance and former presidential candidate of the Homeland Union, Ingrida Šimonytė. This means, by the way, that all three governing parties will be led by women!

It is important that the two liberal parties, which have occasionally been a little hostile to each other because of the quarrels of recent years, get together. Everything points to the fact that this will be the case, however, and that both parties will seek their place in the spectrum and find a positive division of labour – like the more traditional VVD and the left-liberal D66 in the Netherlands, for example.

Coalition negotiations started just one day after the election. It is already becoming apparent that a liberal influence will become visible. The clearly pro-Western and pro-European coalition will continue and even strengthen the previous course of support for the opposition in Belarus. It has already been announced that arrivals with a fresh negative Covid test will no longer automatically be put into a ten-day isolation. In contrast to the Central European states – especially Poland and Hungary – the wave of national populism does not yet seem to be spreading so vehemently in the Baltic countries. The election in Lithuania has shown this again. The country remains an extremely stable and liberal democracy.

Dr. Detmar Doering is project director for Central Europe and the Baltic States at the Foundation’s office in Prague.

Liberal Parties in Lithuania Enter Second Round of Parliamentary Elections on a Strong Note

The most important results of the first round of Lithuania’s parliamentary elections on 11 October in the spotlight: The conservative Homeland Union, which had previously been in the opposition, celebrated victory. However, the current governing Farmers and Greens Union immediately pointed out that in the second round, which will take place on 25 October, the voters could still turn the result in their favour. The newly formed Liberal Freedom Party, which campaigned for LGBT rights, education policies and legalisation of cannabis, was the biggest surprise of the first round, winning 8 seats. The Liberal Movement, Lithuania’s established liberal party, also made it into parliament. Possible governmental constellations are already clearly emerging.

With 23 seats, the conservative Homeland Union was indeed the clear winner of the first round of Lithuanian parliamentary elections on 11 October, 70 MPs in the multi-member constituencies (proportional representation) and 3 MPs in the single-member constituencies were elected.
Ingrida Šimonytė from the Homeland Union, who received over 60 percent of the votes in the constituency of Antakalnis in Vilnius, won her direct mandate in the first round. Šimonytė, who lost in the last presidential election in a run-off vote against the non-party candidate Gitanas Nausėda, is seen as the most promising candidate for the post of prime minister. Two direct mandates also went to the candidates of the conservative Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania.

The remaining 68 direct mandates will be allocated in a run-off vote next Sunday, 25 October. In 54 single-member constituencies, the candidates of the Homeland Union are in the lead, with the candidates of the Farmers and Greens Union taking first or second place in 32 constituencies.

Liberal Parties in Parliament

The Liberal Freedom Party, which was founded just over a year ago, was the biggest surprise of the first round of parliamentary elections with 9 per cent of the vote, as it had just hit the five per cent hurdle in most pre-election opinion polls. During the election campaign, the party focused on student-centred education, LGBT rights, legalisation of cannabis, economic innovation and e-government.
Aušrinė Armonaitė, leader of the Liberal Freedom Party, said voters heard the Liberal Freedom Party’s message about the importance of education and improving the human rights situation in Lithuania.
The impressive result of the Liberal Freedom Party is generally seen as a long-awaited change in Lithuanian voter preferences, as well as an expression of the increasingly active voice of young people.
The party has secured eight seats in the Lithuanian Seimas and still has a chance to win twelve more in the run-off vote.
The already established Liberal Movement won 6.8 per cent of the vote, securing six seats in parliament.
“I consider our result to be good. To tell you the truth, we expected a slightly better result, but we have as many as nine candidates in single-member constituencies who got into the second round of voting,” said Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, party leader of the Liberal Movement, after the first round of voting.

Possible Government Coalitions

Unless there is a big surprise for the Homeland Union in the run-off vote, its top candidate Ingrida Šimonytė will probably become Lithuania’s next prime minister.
The liberal parties may have what it takes to make a queen: as natural allies of the Conservatives (23 seats) in a hypothetical centre-right coalition, their 6 (Liberal Movement) or 8 seats (Liberal Freedom Party) would perhaps be sufficient for a majority to be formed.

Another possible option is a centre-left coalition led by the Farmers and Greens Union (16 seats). None of their current coalition partners has passed the five percent hurdle, but the social-populist Labour Party, with its surprisingly won 9 seats, could be available as a partner after the first round. This also applies to the Social Democrats with their 8 seats.

Voter turnout on 11 October was 47%, or three percentage points less than in the last parliamentary elections. In order to increase turnout in the second round of voting, the Central Electoral Commission extended the period for early voting. According to the Central Electoral Commission, 3.02% of all voters cast their direct vote in the first two days, twice as many as in the first round. Traditionally, however, turnout in the second round of voting in Lithuania is significantly lower.

Toni Skorić is project manager for Central Europe and the Baltic States at the Foundation’s office in Prague.

Opposition Conservatives, Liberals Edge Toward Win in Lithuania’s General Election

Article originally posted on 4Liberty.eu, by Aneta Vaine and LFMI

Lithuania voted in the general national election on October 11. The opposition conservative party Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats secured victory in the first round of the general vote, claiming 25% of the votes and 23 seats in the country’s 141-seat parliament.

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