ELECTIONS. New populists admire demise of the old populists

Rolandas Paksas
DELFI / Valdas Kopūstas

It was only four years ago that the Labour Party (DP) and Order and Justice (TT) got a quite a bit of support from some of the electorate. The latest polls show that both of these ruling forces do exist having made it into the Seimas. Political experts believe that parties considered populist have run out of steam and that new derivatives targeting protest votes against the government may replace them. Lietuvos Žinios writes.

Conformism is how political experts now describe the “labourite” (from the word Labour ‘Darbiečiai’) and “orderite” (from the word Order, ‘Tvarkiečiai’) ideologies. Although 371 thousand people voted for the DP and TT in the 2012 Seimas elections, promises this time to increase pensions and the minimal wage it seems are no longer attractive and the position of both parties directed against accepting refugees, is not so real for the electorate as expected. Lastly, corruption scandals have put a spanner in the works.

No More Sarcasm and Irony

Instead of Viktor Uspaskich there’s now the “ex-orderite” Valentinas Mazuronis. For voters this change will most likely become apparent when there’s discussion about the DP. Nevertheless, in the governing coalition with the social democrats, “labourites” working in the TT are encountering the coming elections where much has changed. Mr. Uspaskich’s term that “generates the economy” has vanished and along with the former long-term party wizard sarcasm and irony have disappeared when it comes to practically all of the politicians.

Already in 2010 and later political experts described the DP as a pro-Russian party and its leader singled out as being emphatically one of pragmatic attitude in terms of relations with Eastern neighbours and the Soviet past. According to critics the party never went to an election with a focus on a “strategy convincing for all”.

“After four years in government as they approached the finish line, the “black accounting” case, a new scandal linked to the DP deputy prime minister Vytautas Gapšys, melted somewhat the party’s electorate. In 2012 the ‘labourites’ in Seimas elections in a multi-mandate district got 271 thousand votes and won. Last year however municipal elections showed that these parties are in for tough times; no more than 94 thousand voted DP candidates to the municipal council.

It gets more and more difficult for political experts to define DP ideology. Professor Tomas Janeliūnas of the Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science thinks that the biggest trouble with the party is an absence of individuality. The DP is generally running out of steam but what is its ideological bearing? Naturally, its economic populism remains. Yet other parties one way or another throw about similar promises of raising the Minimal wage or the average labour tax or pensions. However even in this instance the DP still aren’t much different”, – he told Lietuvos Žinios. Here’s then a paradox: the promised average wage in 2021 in the DP program is lower than that which the Homeland Union announces in its program. DP persuasion says that it will be 1100. The Homeland Union say 1 250 euro.

Defence Concerns over Being Pro-Russian

Vytautas the Great University professor Mindaugas Jurkynas states that the DP can be called a party that is already entrenched in the political system. Since 2003, the DP has long presented itself as a counterweight to the traditional political system and its elites who propose solutions that didn’t always have an economic basis says Professor Jurkynas.

“Still, the party which was in the government a couple of times has become a part of the general political landscape. That’s why the DP was not the meteor that destroyed the Seimas elections several years later. These is a specific unwavering voter group that has been supporting the DP for some years. The DP is different in that an undefined attitude has always predominated in it and one makes it what it is. The DP, by positioning itself as an alternative to the centre and like, appeals to those voters that the social democrats did not represent. DP representatives in the European Parliament however sit with the liberals and the party’s former leader has repeated that he does not represent any ideologies which, he explains, are dead”, noted the political expert. On the other hand, the coalitions of which it becomes a part of show its attitude.

Being pro-Russian and having good relations with eastern neighbours was finally lost with the voters in 2014 after the annexation of the Crimea. The DP then changed its official policy: it approves of an increase in defence spending and last year its representatives in the Seimas voted for a return to conscription.

A failed marriage is a mistake

In the spring of 2013 the ‘labourites’ were seriously speaking about a possible union with the ‘orderites’. Mr Uspaskich and Paksas announced at a joint press conference that the united party could be managed on a rotational principle: firstly Mr. Paksas would manage it followed by a ‘labourite’ representative. Professor Janeliūnas considers the failed marriage a mistake of the ‘labourites’, one the consequences of which is now seen in the polls.

“At one time the DP’s drop in the popularity ratings made the ‘orderites’ think spiteful thoughts. In Mr. Paksas’ party it was believed that this was a case of schadenfreude. Then the planned union didn’t make sense. With the DP electorate dwindling he moved over to TT but then later the opposite happened” says Professor Janeliūnas.

And then in the 2015 European Parliament elections the ‘orderites’ by the number of votes overtook the ‘labourites’. There were 146 thousand votes for DP representatives and 163 thousand for TT. Still, at the end of the same year accusations hurled in the Ministry of Internal Affairs at the TT of possible trader influence changed the situation it seems to the DP’s advantage.

Lack of Intellectual Power

During the 2012 Seimas elections Order and Justice called its political program the “Third Republic” and spoke not of representative but direct democracy. Now the party is focusing on Lithuanianess – “Lithuania. This is our home”. The nationalist tone of the ‘orderites’ is nothing new though in reality this year it’s not so loud.

“TT in general does not have a strong intellectual base. Hoping for some kind of clear-cut ideology from the people who make up its leadership or who make the decisions, is impossible” opines Professor Janeliūnas. The party for some time has been entangled in negative press and scandals. Issues of ideology therefore are of minor concern for the ‘orderites’. It’s a very conformist party which is directed toward short-term goals and is very protective of its business interests while not avoiding possible corruption agreements. And so there’s no sense in talking about the TT as a party trying to ideologically redirect itself. It’s not the kind of party that builds its future on an ideological base.

“Nonetheless, one clear aspect of TT is its sharp criticism of the European Union. Political experts’ research shows that it’s the ‘orderites’ who are the most Eurosceptic party in Lithuania. The ‘labourites’ are also eurosceptics but the ‘orderites’ in this case are not consistent. According to Professor Janeliūnas although TT has recently been focusing on opposition to greater EU integration or a general summit provision on refugees, the party’s attempts are comparatively inert.
“The TT does not have the intellectual aptitude to establish the reason for doing that and so some of the public are not influenced. Nationalist parties in Europe are undergoing a big resurgence because they find specific arguments as to why the borders must be closed or protect the so-called ethic purity” notes the professor.

Dissatisfied with Everyone and Everything

At that time Professor Jurkynas had harsh things to say about the ‘oderites’. He agreed that TT has for some time now been seen as a nationalistic party that is against EU federalism yet stresses the strong role of the leader. “Depending on how TT does in the elections the leader will stay the same. Rolandas Paksas’ political mummification has become the party’s visiting card” he says.

Previously the party was talking about a “second Lithuania represented by nobody” and a “political elite” and four years later in the government it becomes more and more difficult for the ’orderites’ to justify these slogans. “Both the DP and TT have become a part of that very same elite and governing coalition. Being on the coalition with the social democrats has “purged” the attitude of these parties and so there isn’t much of a distinction” says Professor Jurkynas.

The poll conducted in the first week of this month by “Vilmorus” and “Lietuvos Rytas” shows that 5,1 percent voted for the DP and 4,8 percent for TT. After assessment there may be an error here – the “news” of this year’s Seimas elections is the Anti-corruption Coalition of Naglis Puteikas and Kristupas Krivickas. Two years ago in the presidential elections 124 thousand voted for Mr. Puteikis who came fourth.

Professor Janeliūnas reminds us that the electorate, dissatisfied with a government can constitute 20 to 30 percent of all voters. That is a so-called protest electorate. However what’s typical of this group is that they generally aren’t inclined to vote. “Some of them no longer think that anything will change and simply don’t vote. Their aggression does not necessarily turn into votes. Yet the coalition galvanized by Mr. Puteikas is clearly targeting this layer. It’s very primitive in that without any ideological rhetoric he is trying to attract angry and disappointed people who hate the government and attention. It’s difficult to say something about the ideology of this political force because it doesn’t have one” – says the professor.

By declaring war on corruption, Mr. Puteikis and Mr. Krivickas it seems are aiming also at the former “Way of Courage” voters. This party in the last Seimas elections got almost 109 thousand votes. However in 2015 in the municipal elections it got around 1,2 thousand.

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