The elections that took place in Poland did not go unnoticed in Lithuania. With Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party has won the trust of its electorate yet again, hope to repeat the same winning march into the government has been reignited in its sister party – the Farmer and Greens of Lithuania. According to pundits, while it will not be as easy to do, but certainly worth it. This is especially the case given that the Farmer Greens do not hide that they are copying many of the political solutions from PiS, Jūratė Važgauskaitė writes in tv3.lt.
Pundits strongly believe that PiS’ success was achieved not only with the help of the conservative regions, who always supported PiS, who stands with the Church and away from modern solutions. However, social policy, which espoused generous support for families, promised the rise of minimum wage and fought for larger pay-outs to farmers, was also key.
Poland’s ruling party did not shy away from taxing supermarket networks, pressuring the banks, and suppressing the free media. These steps, as seen from various examples, are also espoused by politicians, taking up roles of high power in Lithuania.
Polish promises, Lithuanian copies
Even in its manifesto, PiS claimed that it seeks to restore the “dignity of the Polish family” and return “the good old times to Poland”. It did not disappoint, as this party is well known for its generous payouts to families, and promises to raise wages and pensions.
In 2015, Poland’s ruling party promised to every family, which has more than one child, a pay-out of 115 Euros. Now, this programme includes families with only one child.
Granted, assurances did not end with just that. Now it is promised that from 2023, the minimum wage will be twice as big and will reach 900 Euros, while pensioners are promised 14 pay-outs per year from 2021. Farmers are to receive bigger subsidies, while poor youths will not face income tax.
It seems that the example of Poland’s ruling party has contaminated the higher-ups in Lithuania as well. As if copying Poland’s example, Lithuania presented financial pay-out for children, raised pensions, promised to raise the minimum wage. There are also discussions around free compensated medicine, and sweet promises are made in relation to taxing supermarkets and banks. However, politicians are not hiding that their main source of inspiration is our next-door neighbours.
Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis has more than once referred to Poland as an example and was proud of relationships established with the country. The representative of Lithuania’s Farmer Greens in the Social Affairs and Labour Committee Tomas Tomilinas, talking about the taxes paid by supermarkets, firstly mentioned Poland as an example of what they achieved and what we should recreate.
Though it is unclear whether it will be possible to copy not only the pay-out and promises but also political success. Pundits do not have a unified opinion, though they do acknowledge that it would be short-sighted not to do what PiS is doing.
The Same Political DNA
Political scientist Algis Krupavičius says that Lithuania’s and Poland’s political realities are related, or at least similar. This, according to him, should not come as a surprise because Lithuania’s and Poland’s political DNA are closely related.
“In this case, history has a role to play. Consider that in 1992 Lithuania voted for the left and in Poland power also went to the ex-communists and the left. Today, there are many ideological similarities between the “Farmers” and PiS. I would say that our ruling class, the leaders of the Farmer Party, the leader of the government are attempting to copy Polish politicians. The same, by the way, is being done by Lithuania’s Polish party. Therefore, the “Farmers” are not unique in this respect and other parties are also following Poland’s political arena,” the political scientist believes.
That said, according to Mr Krupavičius, it is not always bad to mimic Poland’s politicians.
“The two countries are similar: both are relatively poor, are considering relevant questions around welfare and prosperity, have limited experience with democracy and are facing nostalgia related to the‚ firm hand of the government. Therefore, the analogies between the two countries are immediately visible,” A. Krupavičius said.
As an example, he pointed out that policies regarding the child support pay-outs and pay-outs for the needy were similar. Ideas of taxing banks and supermarkets also come from Poland.
“I have no doubt that during the 2020 elections the “Farmer” group will do its best to learn all it can from PiS, which secured its victory in the elections. They [the “Farmers”] are not hiding that fact either. In the upcoming Lithuanian elections, there will be discussion around the normalization of EU funding for all the Central and Eastern European small farmers, the raising of a minimal wage, and the provision of compensated drugs for free. These are also Polish ideas,” the political scientist said.
However, A. Krupavičius doubts whether all the tricks of PiS, which worked in Poland, will be as effective for the “Farmers” in Lithuania.
“The Polish experience will be widely used Ramūnas Karbauskis and Saulius Skvernelis. I think even the Social Democratic Labour Party will find elements applicable to itself. Though one element of PiS tactics, the pay-outs to small farmers, may trip it over. In Poland, this was a very relevant question because it has a substantial number of small and medium-size farms. In Lithuania, this number is smaller. Here the dominating group is comprised of large scale farmers. Therefore, the impact of the message around normalizing pay-outs does not resonate as much,” the political scientist said.
According to him, a substantial impact was made by the active participation of voters, which reached record heights. 2.5 million more people voted on Sunday, compared to 4 years ago.
That said, the polls were more friendly to the winners than the final results, though they were not wronged substantially by those either. According to the political scientist, another educational moment is the resurgence of the left.
“The left has not returned. Not triumphantly, but they handled the crisis and their influence is growing. While the Civic Platform is stagnating and it is possible for the current opposition to have an increased number of mandates in the Polish Senate, this does not mean that it will have more influence. There are more lessons than Lithuania needs and I do not doubt that our politicians will try to use them as an example,” the political scientist said.
It should be noted that the situation of media in Poland differs greatly from that of Lithuania. The opposition in Poland openly states that the national media works for the ruling class and prioritises it.
Over the four years that PiS has been in power, Poland’s position in the Freedom Index has slipped from 18th to 59th place. The 2017 Freedom House report reclassified Poland from category of free countries to partly-free.
“The situation in the Lithuanian media is certainly much better with the national media being much more independent. The ruling class realised that conflicts with the media are rather complicated, because conflicts, or at least some types of them, are useful for the media,” said Mr Krupavičius, reminding that the ruling class can still seek some level of influence over the national media via its financing mechanisms.
We do not actually know what is happening in Poland?
However, political scientist Rima Urbonaitė thinks differently. She believes that our ruling class has nothing to learn from the Pols, because we are a difficult to predict electorate, therefore the successes of Poland would not work in Lithuania.
“The only thing that would succeed is an attempt to see which decisions affect the electorate, as well as which decisions would push the electorate to change the government. We have an unstable situation in Lithuania where new elections bring forth new winners and new government coalitions. We can somewhat copy specific decisions, hoping that they will receive support, however, we should not expect an analogous outcome of the elections,” the political scientist said.
According to her, our political arrangements are different, therefore the victory of the Polish ruling class is not necessarily a good sign for our ruling class.
“I do not think that the Polish elections are a good predictor. Of course, our politicians, and those of Poland is aiming at pay-outs, however, I do not think that the success of Poland‘s ruling party can indicate what results we can expect in Lithuania,” state R. Urbonaitė. She believes that the Lithuanians voter is different from the Polish ones as they are volatile and unpredictable.
There is the appeal of the socioeconomic left and of moral conservativism, but I would not draw parallels with Poland. There are many players in the political arena, there is strong competition, and already we can see in the public polls how parties look and how many votes they have. Another moment characteristic to Lithuania is the single-mandate counties, which are hard to predict,” stated the political scientist.
She also assured that we do not know the entirety of the Polish situation in Lithuania. We are also not aware that almost every weekend there is a protest taking place, which, according to the political scientist should be a significant signal to politicians trying to copy Poland‘s direction.
“This is something our own politicians do now want to see. It is hardly seen that not everyone agrees with the politics being implemented. […] it is far from perfect compared to what it looks like, and often not enough effort is made to obtain the true picture. In Lithuania protests is the worst-case scenario,” explained R. Urbonaitė, who doubted that the success model of a single country can be applied to another one.