Will there be new “saviours”? What should be expected from the 2020 Seimas elections

DELFI / Tomas Vinickas

“Lithuanian elect “saviours” primarily due to disappointment,” political scientist Kęstutis Girnius commented on Lithuanians‘ electoral preferences in the lead up to the nearing 2020 Seimas elections, Viktorija Rimaitė, wrote in Lrytas.lt

The Labour Party (DP), the National Resurrection Party (TPP), the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS) are all “saviours”, who received the support of numerous Lithuanian voters in previous elections. However, when analysing Lithuanian citizens’ electoral behaviours, it turns out that the search for “saviours” by no means implies a blind trust of the public in their promises. The search for “saviours” is pre-programmed by political powers operating in the Lithuanian political arena.

Parties to blame?

If we were to think that Lithuanians seeking “saviours” among politicians are yielding to emotions, are unable to make rational decisions, are politically unlearned or blindly trust in politicians’ promises, such thinking could be seen as incorrect believes Vilnius University (VU) sociologist Rūta Žiliukaitė in her explanation of Lithuanian citizens’ political decisions.

“The hope for a saviour is kept in mind by current politicians and the belief that current politicians are unable to work in a way that would show people that problems can be solved in the country and life can definitely get better,” the sociologist stated.

She was echoed by VU Institute of International Relations and Political Science political scientist K. Girnius, who emphasised that “Lithuanians vote for “saviours” primarily out of disappointment.”

“Saviour” retrospective

Looking retrospectively, with just a year after the party’s founding, in the 2004 Seimas elections, representatives of the DP became the Lithuanians’ saviours, receiving the largest voter support and obtaining an entire 39 seats in parliament.

During the 2008 Seimas term, the show-business world based TPP made its mark, led by Arūnas Valinskas, a recognised television figure.

In the 2012 elections, Viktor Uspaskich’s DP once again received the most support in the multi-mandate electoral district. That said, based on the number of mandates obtained in the single-mandate districts, this party was left third.

In the 2016 Seimas elections, the greatly renewed LVŽS became the new “saviours”.

“Looking at the earlier elections, we can see that people usually vote for the political powers that have not previously been in parliament and have not yet smeared themselves. This behaviour can be seen since the years 2000-2004.

First, it was the Labour Party, then the National Resurrection Party, now – the newly elected “Farmer” party. The LVŽS is something of a unique case – the “Farmers” are essentially an old party, but it was completely rebuilt for the 2016 elections,” K. Girnius observed.

The public knows how to choose, but politicians offer no choices

With the 2020 Seimas elections nearing, there is ever more talk about how Lithuanians do not make choices based on values or ideological stances. Sociologist R. Žiliukaitė urges to view this situation from a different side – value differentiation can only be communicated by the parties themselves by making decisions based on their value positions, however, do they really do so?

“We could imagine how a number of our parties have traditional ideological values, for example, the Conservatives or Social Democrats. But the time comes to making decisions and for a number of newly emerging topics, these political parties do not have values taken from tradition, which they could base their decisions on.

Then the parties focus on the news, certain problems relevant to their target audiences and base their communication on problems rather than a value position. When the value position emerges, it emerges without consistency. We have experiences of the Social Democrat cabinet approving a super liberal labour code.

What does this mean? It means that we are talking about contradictions, which are clearly understandable and easily visible to the people,” R. Žiliukaitė explained.

She advised questioning whether in such a context when values oppose the decisions being made, we can actually blame the voter. According to the sociologist, “Ideological voter thinking is associated with the failures of political parties – they are failing to communicate their value positions and based on them consistently make decisions. Then parties become faceless and only leaders remain, who are either appealing to the people or not.”

Next year’s saviours

With the 2020 Seimas elections nearing, there are ever more talks about what results we can expect and which political power will take the lead. VU sociologist R. Žiliukaitė noted that in the nearing elections we will see the same as we do now: passive voters when the Seimas is once more going to be elected by half or even less than half of the eligible voters. This, according to her, will mean that the opinion of half of the electorate will not be reflected and a certain polarisation will be visible.

“Income inequality grew in recent years. It creates certain contrast based relations between people: we have many people living in poor conditions and also very rich people, who are very distant to the rest of society. With the elections nearing, this will create a certain atmosphere and will definitely be exploited in politicians and political parties’ communications,” the sociologist predicted.

Political scientist K. Girnius predicts that after the 2020 Seimas elections, a ruling coalition will be created by a three or four-party group. According to him, it is likely that the Conservatives will receive numerous mandates, but might not have a partner right-wing party with whom they could form a stable coalition.

“We can expect that Arvydas Juozaitis’ party could obtain 6-7% of the vote. That A. Juozaitis joined with “Order and Justice” does not necessarily benefit him – up to the merger, A. Juozaitis and his movement could have presented themselves as a new political power, but when he takes in a part of the “Order and Justice” members, the question emerges, to what extent this is a new political power.

There is a significant likelihood that the Labour Party will farewell. Last time, they failed to overcome the 5% barrier, but now Viktor Uspaskich is fairly popular even without appearing much in public,” K. Girnius predicted.

When asked if S. Skvernelis could create his own party and act as a potential “saviour” in the nearing elections, the political scientist was sceptical.

“If he were to create a party, it would nonetheless be a group of breakaways from the “Farmers”. It is likely that the LVŽS will gather only half of the vote they received four years ago,” the political scientist said.

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