“Farmers” set the stage for V. Uspaskich and A. Guoga

Aurelijus Veryga, Ramūnas Karbauskis, Agnė Širinskienė

Voters are turning from the “Farmers” and beginning to seek new “messiahs”. This is a niche for Viktor Uspaskich and Antanas Guoga to appear or perhaps some other rising populist movement, states political scientist Vincentas Vobolevičius. Sociologist Rasa Ališauskienė also feels similarly based on research data. According to her the political niche is opening unusually early this term.

Inroads for populists

The Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union has lost 23% of voters since December 2016 according to Baltijos Tyrimai data. These voters did not opt to support traditional major parties – their popularity either rose only little or did not change at all. For example the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats only gained three percent popularity over the December – July period. Order and Justice rose by two. The Social Democrat Party and Liberal Movement maintained the same ratings, respectively supported by 10% and 7% of respondents.

Most of the “splinter” Farmer Greens voters currently wouldn’t vote for any party, the number of such respondents rose an entire 8%. The number of undecided voters rose from 9% to 14%, while those who would vote for other parties increased by 5% so far this year.

Sociologist R. Ališauskienė stresses that such disfavour to the other parliamentary parties opens up inroads for new political powers. “A niche opens for other parties prior to every election and this time it happened especially quickly. Earlier the credit of trust was granted to those elected for a longer time. This year they [former “Farmer” voters] shifted “to nowhere” faster,” executive director of Baltijos Tyrimai R. Ališauskienė commented.

She is echoed by ISM Management and Economics University docent, political scientist V. Vobolevičius. According to him, while based on unfulfilled expectations, voters should likely choose the Social Democrats instead of the “Farmers,” this is not reflected in the survey, thus former “Farmer” voters either “fall to the camp of those doubting or not intent on voting, or those still undecided, which creates a niche for Viktor Uspaskich, Antanas Guoga or someone else.”

Grand pledges prior to the elections, voters’ unfulfilled expectations and the wait for new messiahs – this situation is already usual in Lithuanian politics. According to Mykolas Romeris University political scientist Rima Urbonaitė, Lithuanian voters are particularly disloyal to parties and easily change their preferences because not just the voters themselves often do not identify themselves on the right-left wing scale, but similarly parties often struggle to as well.

“Truth be told even our traditional parties have side-lined their ideologies. And now they have to face the consequences. Since factually all the parties headed on the road of de-ideologisation in order to appeal to everyone, it ends up with every party saying what the voter wants to hear. There is no ideology in this and we are left with this sort of situation where voters are not loyal,” the political scientist said.

What “Farmer” voters were discontent with

The “Farmers” hit the mark by focusing on the so-called socioeconomic left prior to the elections, promising to reduce income inequality, create jobs in the regions, support young families, adjust the Labour Code to favour employees more and to seek greater social justice in others ways. However when the grand pledges failed to become quick actions, voters began seeking new alternatives.

“Voters had very clear expectations which were often linked to socioeconomic welfare and its increase. When expectations are left unfulfilled and satisfied as quickly as promised, it is obvious that disappointment will mount,” R. Urbonaitė explains.

According to V. Vobolevičius, the “Farmers” even engaged in economic policy which would be more at home with the Liberals. “Though both the Liberals and “Farmers” would deny it, the overall perception in the media is that Saulius Skvernelis, to put it bluntly, betrayed values, betrayed what he promised,” the political scientists said.

That the electoral winners are rapidly losing support by voters, who hunger for economic and social change, is also confirmed by surveys. Based on Baltijos Tyrimai data, the “Farmer” voters who identify with leftist ideology have decreased by half. Those not identifying with any ideology (those most quickly changing their preferences, R. Urbonaitė points out) decreased more than threefold.

That said while R. Urbonaitė and V. Vobolevičius describe “Farmer” policies as liberal, they do not satisfy those identifying with centrist “ideology” either – their group among “Farmer” supporters also declined by half.

“A decline was visible among all groups regardless of their political views, but it is most prominent, speaking in terms of percentages, among the leftists and centrists. […] Fewer ring wingers splintered away,” sociologist R. Ališauskienė summarised the research data.

Currently most voters identifying with centrist ideology would vote for other parties (20%), while their second choice (18%) remains the “Farmers.” It is interesting that the surveyed centrist voters are least inclined to support the Liberals, with only 9% declaring support.

Voters who do not identify with any ideology are the most likely to vote for parties currently not represented in Seimas (46%), while 23% of them are still undecided. Meanwhile leftist voters would currently prefer to vote for the Social Democrats (37%) and non-parliamentary parties (16%). 37% of right wing voters are inclined to vote for the Conservatives and 13% for the “Farmers”.

A. Širinskienė – the champion of right wing interests

According to the survey, the least disappointment with the “Farmers” is exhibited by their voters who identify as right wing. They, political scientists note, chose the party due to its declared Christian, national values, which were clearly on display during discussions of embryo freezing, alcohol control and national costumes.

“The favour of these voters is all thanks to Agnė Širinskienė. Everyone disdains her, but for a portion of the electorate, she is the champion of their interests,” V. Vobolevičius says, stressing that this right wing policy is the last fall-back. Here there are no departures from what was promised and voters are satisfied.

That said, the political scientist highlights that there are not many such voters. Mostly they are practising Catholics, however they should be fairly loyal to the party because they have few alternatives in the Lithuanian political arena. V. Vobolevičius points out that the right wing TS-LKD does not fulfil these voters’ expectations.

“The Conservatives’ position regarding “burning” questions of in vitro fertilisation, partnership and such is not stereotypically right wing. […] If we look at the portion of voters who value orthodoxy more, I believe that they do not see Conservative policies as an alternative. Meanwhile in “Farmer” policies they see some progress,” he said.

According to R. Urbonaitė, “Farmer” value propositions are acceptable to only a few and this should have become clear after discussions of embryo freezing. On the other hand as the ISM Management and Economics University docent notes, the public and media “assault” back then was beneficial to the party because a portion of “Farmer” voters hold the view that “if there’s attacks, it means something is being done well.”

Morals matter, but not the most

The problem when speaking of right wing sympathies for the “Farmers”, however, is that their moral authority is fragile. The political scientists are not of one mind whether Ramūnas Karbauskis and Greta Kildišienė‘s scandal greatly harmed the party’s moral image, however something like corruption scandals would likely cause great casualties for the party.

Nevertheless voter favour should be pursued not by demonstrating Christian values, but taking up areas which the MRU political scientist points out, hold the most expectations for common party voters – tax, education, healthcare and such.

V. Vobolevičius also accents that “moral politics” matter to only some, stating that, “For the greater part of the “Farmer” electorate […] what matters more is questions of social justice – how to get by, why there is inequality, why there are no opportunities to work in my village and such. They feel betrayed by the economic policy.”

However disregarding the falling ratings, the political scientists do not predict this to be the end of the “Farmers”. According to V. Vobolevičius, despite having “bled” much, the party is still highly rated and this rapid ratings decline is the price paid by politicians who pledged too much.

“It is difficult to achieve a total revolution in Lithuania because the economy is small, open and there can be great capital movement when legislation which is “unfriendly” to capital appears. In the end we have influential interest groups. It is very hard to change. But this here is the price paid by politicians who made a great deal of pledges prior to the elections, but were forced by circumstance to act with more modesty than the impression they gave people,” the ISM Management and Economics University docent explained.

R. Urbonaitė notes that a single year is too short a period to “write off” a party, stating that its social policies have met with failure and V. Vobolevičius states that the “Farmers” can still do something populistically “leftist” so that voters trust them again.

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