Last week, two striking episodes rocked the national political landscape – the ongoing issue of the transit of Belaruskalij fertilisers through Lithuania and the periodic defections of politicians from the largest opposition party, the Lithuanian Union of Peasants’ and Greens’ (LVŽS), Andresa Rupšytė writes in TV3.lt news portal.
Although the consequences of these events are not yet reflected in public opinion assessments, experts predict that they will be. Moreover, both of these developments may cast an unfavourable light on the political parties involved.
The opposition Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) continues to lead the political party rankings. Public support for the LSDP remained almost unchanged over the past month – in October, 13% of respondents would have voted for the party. While in November, this result reached 12.9%, according to a survey conducted by the public opinion and market research company Spinter tyrimai on 11-28 November 2021 for the Delfi.lt news portal.
The Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) is next in line, with support for the party declining within the margin of error since the last poll. 11.6% of respondents would have voted for the party in October, compared to 11% in November.
The opposition Lithuanian Peasant and Green Union (LVŽS) is in third place. Support for this political force also remained almost unchanged over the month – in October, 8.8% of respondents would have supported this party, while in November, the result of the poll was 8.9%.
The fertiliser scandal and the split of the Peasants could change the ratings significantly
The ongoing transit of Belaruskalij fertiliser through Lithuania last week triggered one of the biggest political crises in Lithuania in recent times. As a result, Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and Transport Minister Marius Skuodis have assumed the responsibility and announced their readiness to step down from their positions.
Earlier last week, the political scene was shaken by the news of yet another split in the largest opposition party, the Lithuanian Peasant Popular Union (LVŽS). As a result, Agnė Širinskienė, a member of the Seimas, who was considered one of the most prominent faces of the political party, resigned from the party and the political group in the Seimas, and on Sunday Virginijus Sinkevičius, a member of the European Commission followed her footsteps.
The ratings, which emerged even before the Belarusian fertiliser transit crisis and the split of the LVŽS, may change the rating table significantly in the future; experts interviewed by the news portal tv3.lt have no doubts. “Several developments are going on right now – the Peasant Party is dissolving, and the crisis is shaking the ruling coalition. These are very serious things, and both of them are really unfavourable for the political parties involved in this process,” says Saulius Spurga, associate professor at Mykolas Romeris University and a political analyst.
Not only the Government’s ratings may fall, but also those of the conservatives
The fertiliser transit crisis may have a particularly negative impact on the public’s assessment of the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD), as the party leader G. Landsbergis is at the epicentre of the scandal, says a political analyst. “It is very likely that he will fall. Especially since the party chairman is very directly involved in this scandal and has even announced his resignation. Many commentators, not to mention the opposition, are pointing out the mistakes made. This is a very big communication crisis, ” says Spurga.
Virgis Valentinavičius, associate professor at Mykolas Romeris University, does not doubt that the ratings of the Government and the conservatives themselves will depend on how Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė manages to resolve the issue of the potassium transit – to halt it without significant losses to the state: “In that case, it is possible to maintain those ratings”.
“If the opposite happens and if there is a collapse of the Government, then we would see the ratings of TS-LKD going down. The political analyst adds that the party’s ratings are directly linked to Šimonytė’s success or failure stories,” political analyst adds.
Echoing Valentinavičius, Bernaras Ivanovas, associate professor at Vytautas Magnus University, adds that the Prime Minister’s decisions will determine the ratings of the conservatives, the Government as a whole, and her own.
“A year ago, the Prime Minister said that she would take action when the shadows begin to emerge (among the ruling party – author’s note). So this is a situation where she could come across as decisive and true to her word. But, on the other hand, suppose she takes a decision that is typical of Western-like behaviour. In that case, it will be to her advantage,” the political analyst said, stressing that he was not referring to the resignation of ministers or herself.
“In the sense of a Western government, it (the Government) should have resigned last week. Taking this story as a whole, the Prime Minister and the Minister of transport should take responsibility. However, not because of Landsbergis, but because of Skuodis. For some reason, Landsbergis is being brought to the front in this situation. Perhaps because he campaigned for sanctions”, he points out.
The political analyst also points out that the Conservatives’ ratings have been trending downwards for some time, but he does not predict an absolute “zero-rating”. “Let’s not forget that the Conservative electorate is “nuclear”. Despite what is happening now, people support them and will support them, so there should not be a total “crash”, but there will be a drop because of the problems that have erupted”.
The negative assessment of the Government has fallen slightly within the margin of error over the month. For example, in October it was 34.7%, in November it is 34.2%.
Political analysts are unanimous: the ratings of the Peasants will continue to fall
Experts assessing the current ratings of the LVŽS also do not doubt that they may tend to fall. This could be due to two reasons. “It is anticipated that the raring of the Peasants will continue to fall. All the more so, Širinskienė’s departure, no matter what Mr Karbauskis says, will not go without losses,” Valentinavičius says.
S. Spurga also does not doubt that the LVŽS chairman’s speeches that the departures of his fellow party members are insignificant and that the Peasants have only become more robust, as a result, are just an attempt to “defuse” the situation. “This is certainly not the case because the losses are obvious. Moreover, the party chairman himself says that he has not yet “buried” the party, which means that the prevailing mood is that the party is being “buried”,” he says.
According to experts, depending on how successful Skvernelis is in establishing a new political force, the rating curve of LVŽS may also go down.
“I cannot say that Skvernel’s force is very different from the Peasants. One can argue a lot about the values dimensions between these parties. Still, I don’t see a qualitative difference between a political force whose leader has very radical anti-vaxxer views, is both a large landowner and a “specialist” in the trade of Russian fertilisers, and a party founded by Skvernelis. Their values are not known to us at all, except for the paving of roads and the recruitment of his wife to an institution that had working relations with the prime minister. The fact is that it will take away rating points”, says Valentinavičius.
Spurga adds, pointing out that Skvernelis’s party happens to be being created at a time when its closest rivals, apart from the Social Democrats, are being shaken by crises of greater or lesser magnitude and continue to hold a strong position for reasons that are not clear: “It is just the way it is that people miss novelty things”.
The public opinion and market research company Spinter Research conducted a public opinion poll on behalf of the news portal Delfi between 11 and 28 November 2021. The survey was carried out among the population aged between 18 and 75 years. 1015 respondents were interviewed. The distribution of participants by gender, age and place of residence is proportional to the distribution of the population in Lithuania. The survey results have a margin of error of 3.1 per cent.