ELECTIONS. Social Democrats – better off in the opposition?

Algirdas Sysas and Algirdas Butkevičius
DELFI / Andrius Ufartas

As many times before, ratings and prognoses proved to be off the mark in Lithuania. The most hurt by it this time were the coalition parties. The Social Democrats who earned 183,500 votes lost two positions, Order and Justice with 67,800 votes managed to make its way into Seimas, however the uproar on buying votes in Šilutė could put them on the wrong foot. As for the Labour Party, with 59,500 votes it failed to enter Seimas. True, all the incumbent parties still have hope for the second round, but this does little to remedy the bad atmosphere, which was already highlighted by their leaders resigning.

It looks like all three parties and their leaders were confident in their success. Voters, however, decided to punish them. One of the incumbents, Labour, failing to gather 5% of the vote was left out of Seimas. Former Order and Justice deputy chairman Valentinas Mazuronis made a last minute transition into the post of chairman for Labour, but even this fairly well received politician did little to help. Having wasted its last chance, the party has little hope of revival say analysts.

“Keeping in mind all the specialities of this party, its incredibly notable history, its leaders, including such individuals as Loreta Graužinienė, her ministers such as Audronė Pitrėnienė; well, it is overall odd that anyone voted for it,” LRT.lt Editor-in-Chief Vladimiras Laučius expressed surprise.

“Truly these are hard times for the Labour Party. Who knows if they will recover after such a blow,” stated Institute of Civic Society director Ieva Petronytė.

Having let slip that he will leave his post if the Labour Party fails to take first place, its leader V. Mazuronis did not even have the chance to seek an alternative after the party’s failure, he announced his resignation. On the same day, the leader of Order and Justice Rolandas Paksas withdrew from leadership as well despite the party being guaranteed five seats in Seimas after the election. Sociologist Vladas Gaidys finds such behaviour by Paksas to be at the very least weird.
“R. Paksas postured as a tough and unyielding figure. This time, completely out of character, not “Paksas-like” and this is some sort of psychological secret,” the expert expressed surprise.

Law enforcement officials announced that they began investigating this secret of Order and Justice even prior to the elections, apparently having received information of vote buying in Šilutė. On hearing of suspects of vote buying being arrested, party deputy chairman Kęstas Komskis immediately terminated his party membership. The Central Electoral Commission created a workgroup which will be looking into more than just this potential vote buying. If this was the case, did the members who were elected through the electoral roll pass legitimately as well? The head of the Baltosios Pirštinės Marija Šaraitė received information of vote buying in the Šilutė market on election day.

“There was talk in the Šilutė market that local individuals spoke to other locals, encouraging them to sell their vote,” she said.

Both sociologists and political scientists agree that the Social Democrats failed, despite the positive pre-election poll results, because they turned away from their voters. Furthermore, according to Gaidys, even before the elections, polls showed an overwhelming lack of support for the Labour Code project pushed through Seimas by the Social Democrats as if with a bulldozer. If they had kept such polls in mind, the Social Democrats could have had more seats in Seimas.

“Already in July we interviewed citizens, 4% supported it, 64% were against; this is a difference of fifteen times. It is rare to see such total rejection and specifically over those four weeks, the President rejects the Labour Code, while the Social Democrats continue to negotiate it. This alone could have been enough, but the Ministry of National Defence, its things and others happened as well,” explains Gaidys.

“We perfectly understand that talks about people not really understanding what the Labour Code is are worth nothing because the President stood up at the highest tribune of state and explained in layman’s terms, what it is, that it is socially insensitive and that is why she is vetoing it. To say that the nation does not hear what the President says is, I believe, simply amusing,” states Laučius.
According to him there were further reasons for the Social Democrat’s downfall. The failure to attract former Minister of the Interior Saulius Skvernelis to their party, despite public speculation on this potentially happening. Another reason – an electoral roll that has not been renewed and made younger. V. Laučius believes that the Social Democrats failed to learn from the lessons of the election to European Parliament which it lost because of an aged top ten list.

The Social Democrats (LSDP) took almost 14.5% of the vote in the first round, which is roughly 183 thousand votes, this is the voters sending them a message that they are not being prioritised and that it is not the LSDP that voters want to see governing Lithuania. This is not only a sign to rethink the future of the party, but also a good time to undertake reform. And this, according to most political scientists is the more suitable path, rather than seeking to enter a coalition no matter the cost. By the way, 21 LSDP member will participate in the second round of elections.

“The party truly needs to re-strategize, rethink both questions of leadership, but perhaps overall what values it defends and how it is viewed in Lithuanian society. Perhaps the party would be better off if it stayed in opposition because when there are fewer stage lights on you, it is easier to do those internal reforms and adjust for the future,” proposes I. Petronytė.

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