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Vol 2, No 35
16 October 2000
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Voting for Instability
Mel Huang

On 8 October, Lithuanians clearly voted for change by pushing the ruling Conservatives to the brink of political doom. However, the results of the hard-fought elections will bring only further confusion and continual instability. The problem of creative, yet fragile, coalitions that plagued the political stability of neighbouring Latvia may, in turn, plague the coming parliamentary cycle in Lithuania—and that does not bode well for a country mired in an economic miasma.

Many analysts were predicting that the so-called "New Policy" coalition—formed by the New Alliance (Social Liberals), Liberal Union, Centre Union and the Modern Christian Democratic Union—would win the elections and form a governing coalition. Using a pre-election poll by Vilmorus, Central Europe Review also predicted that the bloc would win the most seats, albeit short of a majority (see Amber Coast from 2 October 2000, Driving into Uncertainty, for the pre-election analysis and prediction). The predictions were both right and wrong, illustrating the volatility of Lithuanian politics on the brink of elections.

The results...

Elections to the 141-seat Seimas are divided into two parts: 71 deputies are elected by direct mandate (list of elected deputies in the constituencies, from the Central Electoral Committee) and 70 deputies elected by party lists (chart of the vote breakdown from the Electoral Committee). Elections in the 71 districts are by plain plurality, after a controversial change from the two-round system (see Amber Coast from 10 July 2000, Changing the Rules at the Half, for more on this controversy), which cut down the number of candidates in each district. Many parties chose to run selectively, since there would be no second-round political manoeuvring with the one-round first-past-the-post system.

As feared, many constituencies were won by candidates receiving under 30 per cent of all votes cast. Looking at the 71 constituencies, 47 were won with less than 30 per cent of the votes cast. Furthermore, six constituencies were won with less than 20 per cent of the vote. In the constituency of Vakarinė, Centre Union candidate Gintaras Šileikis won with only 15.65 per cent, and Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas of the Christian Democratic Party won his district, Aleksotas-Vilijampolė, with only 17.46 per cent. However, at least no constituency election failed due to low turnout (the minimum threshold was 40 per cent).

As of 12 October, the preliminary results give the constituency voting victory to the left-wing Social Democracy bloc led by ex-President Algirdas Brazauskas, with a total of 22 seats out of 70 (the district of Plungė-Rietavas was lost in a re-count, as the top two candidates were separated by one vote—a lesson to those of you that think one vote is not important!). The bloc joins the Social Democratic Party (six seats), the Lithuanian Democratic Labour Party (14), the New Democratic Party (two) and the Russian Union (none).

The Liberal Union also scored rather well, with 19 seats, extending their results with success in Vilnius districts. Its pre-election coalition partner, New Alliance (Social Liberals), came in next, with 11 seats. However, their other two partners, the Centre Union and Modern Christian Democrats, fared much worse, with two (a third party member winner, Kęstutis Glaveckas, ran as an independent) and one seat respectively. Other small parties took a handful of seats, including the Peasants Party (four), Polish Electoral Action (two) and many others with a lone seat—including the ruling Conservatives, who found an unlikely win with Vitas Matuzas in Nevėžys.

Faring conservatively

Speaking of the Conservatives, they fared surprisingly poorly in this part of the vote, gaining only that lone Matuzas seat. All sitting cabinet ministers that ran—including Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius—lost their races. Only Foreign Minister Saudargas won his constituency (though with a scarce 17.46 per cent of votes cast), and his Christian Democratic Party took a scant two seats in this part of the vote.

The PR side of the vote, from which 70 seats are allocated, was easier to predict. However, late momentum proved to be stronger than CER predicted, as the rapid rise in popularity of the Brazauskas left-wing bloc soared further after the last Vilmorus poll. The popularity of the Centre Union also followed momentum in an exaggerated fashion, crashing to political annihilation in just one year.

Algirdas Brazauskas
Ex-President Algirdas
Brazauskas "retires" again after victorious loss

The Brazauskas bloc, as predicted, took the most votes, with 31.09 per cent, which translates into 28 out of 70 seats. The New Alliance (Social Liberals) also did well, getting 19.46 per cent of the vote, which translates to 18 seats. The Liberal Union surged significantly in the last minute, earning 17.25 per cent of the vote, which is a convincing 16 seat allocation. The ruling Conservatives were the only other party to win PR seats, with 8.61 per cent and eight seats.

The Peasants Party, which had been over the five per cent minimum threshold for PR seats (seven per cent for coalition lists) for most of the evening, fell to a disappointing sixth place and 4.08 per cent of the vote—far less successful than during the March local elections. Their coalition partner for those March elections, the scanty Christian Democratic Union, surprisingly rose to fifth place and earned 4.19 per cent of the vote. The two could have overcome the minimum threshold of seven per cent, if they managed to hold their coalition together. The Christian Democratic Party of Foreign Minister Saudargas did prove pollsters correct, as they gained 3.07 per cent of the vote and seventh place, while the Centre Union's self-destruction yielded a shockingly poor 2.85 per cent and eighth place.

There was a new and interesting twist on the PR voting system this time. On election day, voters were asked to indicate up to five members of the PR list they supported. This result is calculated alongside the original party list ranking and the length of the list in distributing PR mandates—only the Centre Union decided not to participate in the innovative system, though it is a moot point, due to their failure at the polls. Though there were few serious upsets as a result of the system, some candidates fell on the wrong side of the dividing line using the new system.

Putting it all together

The Brazauskas bloc did quite well in both parts of the vote with a combined 50 seats in the 141-member body. However, it was quite clear that it is well short of the majority. The Liberal Union, with its strong success built up in the final weeks, pulled in 35 seats in total, while its coalition partner, New Alliance (Social Liberals), won 29 seats. Together with the poor showing of the Centre Union (two) and the lone (and barely won) seat of the Modern Christian Democrats, the four-party "New Policy" bloc took 67 seats (as mentioned earlier, as of press time, one seat remains challenged by the Social Democratic bloc and Liberal Union, with the latter currently considered ahead).

Romualdas Ozolas
Romualdas Ozolas resigns over nightmare performance of Centre Union

Seeing that it fell short of the needed 71 seats for a bare majority coalition, as CER predicted, the group has managed to put together some supporting groups in their goal of forming a majority coalition. Liberal Union leader Rolandas Paksas and New Alliance leader Artūras Paulauskas have already put together a basic coalition deal that would make Paksas the prime minister once again and Paulauskas the Seimas chairman. Together with their two pre-election coalition partners, the group has managed to bring in the four votes of the Peasants Party and two from the Polish Electoral Action, which gives them a total of 73 seats—a very small majority, even if the support of several other new deputies, such as radical Kaunas mayor Vytautas Šustauskas and controversial businessman Viktor Uspaskich, is counted.

Scraping by?

The majority is so thin and the coalition so diverse that many expect uncertainty to be the most likely scenario following the confirmation of the results. As of the time of writing, the conditions for the non-coalition parties, the Peasants Party and the Polish Electoral Action, have not been revealed. Peasants Party leader Ramūnas Karbauskis has said he wanted the agriculture portfolio in the past, and the party has advocated a slow-down in EU integration. How much concession was made for the four key votes could be a sore issue that could cause friction between the two largest parties in the coalition, the Liberal Union and the New Alliance (with which the new MPs from the Peasants Party are to work in a parliamentary faction).

Rolandas Paksas
—back as PM?

That could be one of many causes of discord between the two groups, though most of their differences are in economic policy. The left-leaning New Alliance and the free market Liberal Union differ in many issues, such as privatisation and taxation, and they must immediately confront these differences in the drafting of the 2001 national budget (and possibly an amendment to the 2000 budget). Paulauskas has also called for a slow-down in the increase of defence spending, which has alarmed pro-NATO members of the coalition. The issue of egos between Paulauskas and Paksas could also cause further conflict, especially as the 2002 presidential elections approach and both men dream of succeeding their power broker, President Valdas Adamkus.

The Conservatives could have been a kingmaker in the scenario but could chose not to participate in a coalition with the "New Policy" group over fears of a slow-down in NATO integration. With the introduction of the Peasants Party to the coalition, EU integration is also at risk—which is anathema to the Conservatives. The outgoing ruling party is likely to continue their strategy of exacerbating the friction between the Liberal Union and the New Alliance, though they will be somewhat restrained, seeing that it would be impossible to form a government in this parliamentary cycle without either the New Alliance or the Social Democratic bloc.

On the other hand, the Social Democracy bloc will remain stable and be a disciplined and active opposition to the coalition. Ex-President Brazauskas, suggesting a return to political retirement after failing to achieve a majority, has acted as a catalyst in the consolidation of the left. A merger of the two largest parties in the bloc, the Social Democratic Party and the Lithuanian Democratic Labour Party (LDDP), is likely to be finalised next year, and that would bring the ex-communist LDDP into the European Social Democracy framework—something they have sought for over a decade. The group will also aim to exacerbate any friction between Paksas and Paulauskas. The group would prosper being in a coalition with the New Alliance (they would hold 79 seats), though a public humbling by Paulauskas would be necessary.

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The most likely ruling coalition has probably two seats over the majority, and it will be hard-pressed to pass serious changes and reforms. Committees could fall into the hands of opposition, which would hamper the legislative process. Many parliamentarians would also have foreign commitments, such as to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, possibly pushing the coalition below a majority, thus making them succeptable to confidence motions. Plus, a good part of the cabinet will hold onto their parliamentary seats, which would force vigilance on the part of the coalition in preventing too many ministers to go on foreign trips. With both the left- and right-wing opposition willing to break the coalition apart, its fragility will be tested daily.

There is little reason to expect the coalition to hold together for the four-year parliamentary cycle, if they even manage to make it for two years. Political philosophies differ, especially on sensitive issues, which will only be exacerbated when considering concessions to its minor partners that hold a few vital seats in the Seimas. Ravenous opposition will try to aggravate any friction and tension between the coalition members, and any perceived slowdown in EU and NATO integration would be pursued with total abandon by the Conservatives. And if the economy does not recover from its lacklustre performance and slow recovery from the 1998 Russian crisis, the shelf-life of the Paksas-led government will only grow shorter.

Mel Huang, 13 October 2000

Moving on:

Related links:

The Lithuanian Central Electoral Committee
The Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament)
Lithuanian Liberal Union
The New Alliance (Social Liberals)
Lithuanian Centre Union
The Modern Christian Democrats
Lithuanian Peasants Party
Lithuanian Social Democratic Party
Lithuanian Democratic Labour Party (LDDP)
The New Democracy Party
Homeland Union (Lithuanian Conservatives)
Lithuanian Christian Democratic Party


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