Uspaskich’s return – already clear, who would lose the most

Viktor Uspaskich with his MEP badge
Viktor UspaskichDELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

The Labour Party is rising like a phoenix from the ashes. At least this opinion can be formed when looking at public opinion polls, where this party has entered the four parties people are prepared to vote for. This wasn’t always the case, though, Jūratė Važgauskaitė wrote in

Almost four years ago, the Labour Party failed to overcome the 5% threshold and was left empty-handed waiting for better times. Specialists are convinced that the better times have now arrived, carried by the party’s old leader Viktor Uspaskich, who is also known as the Teflon man, upon whom no woes stick.

Not even four years have passed, the Social Democrats have weakened, the Order and Justice party is fading from the political scene and the “Farmers”, combatting their internal and external demons, are haemorrhaging votes. Namely, this is where “Labour” sees its chances, albeit led by V. Uspaskich. This, according to political scientists, is the only condition, which would help win the elections.

And change is coming. In the municipal elections, the Labour Party received 5.2% of the vote and one mayor. In the European Parliament elections, it was 8.5% of the vote and fourth place. The party is also in the top four in the most recent ratings.

Electoral campaigning and others’ weakness – cause for success

Kaunas Vytautas Magnum University professor Algis Krupavičius says that the Labour Party is recovering because competition in the centre-left has weakened. The public popularity of the Social Democrats and “Farmers” has declined, even if these two parties still surpass the 10% popularity threshold in surveys.

“The most important factor for the Labour Party is the decline of the Order and Justice party. These parties’ electorates overlap, and if one party suddenly grows in strength, the other’s popularity dips. These parties receive the support of the same voters. The competitive field has become more favourable for the Labour Party, and this is a reason why it is showing signs of recovery. The second reason is, of course, party leader Viktor Uspaskich. He has been successful in retaining influence on the part of society. He is still appealing, has traits of a charismatic leader. His return to the party is the second reason why the party’s ratings are rising,” the professor spoke.

According to him, for centre-left parties, this party is a serious rival. Not only because their voters are similar, but also because it is a party, which is skilled at preparing convincing electoral campaigns.

Uspakich is the Labour balloon

“The “Farmer” electoral campaign in 2016 was intensive and launched ahead of time, but this time that’s not the case. There will be more obstacles to repeating such an attack, they are the ruling party, and more will be demanded from them, questions asked about what worked and what didn’t. It will be far harder than in 2016. The only failed electoral campaign for the Labour party was in 2016 when V. Uspaskich did not participate. If V. Uspaskich is active in this campaign, then the Labour Party has chances because he has the capabilities to organise an impressive electoral campaign,” A. Krupavičius said.  He also admitted that the Social Democrats’ Achille’s Heel is their electoral campaigning, which they are unskilled at organising.

“It is hard to recall a good Social Democrat electoral campaign,” the VDU professor mused.

He assures that the Labour Party’s reins are in V. Uspaskich’s hands. This is a protest party, one that is popular in the regions and more remote areas.

The Labour Party, despite all the crises it has lived through, has a comprehensive party organisation and for a long time was the largest party based on membership. Even now it is among the larger parties.

V. Uspaskich – the human orchestra

Political scientist Ieva Petronytė says that the Labour Party is strongly linked to its leader and the party’s rise and fall reflects V. Uspaskich’s proximity to the party’s leadership.

“In 2016, V. Uspaskich did not participate in the electoral campaign, and we saw that the party fared worse. This is a power greatly concentrated on one individual. It seems that the party’s prospects depend on V. Uspaskich’s level of activity, his wishes and motivation. And the reasons for this phenomenon are probably his charisma and voters’ love of it,” the political scientist said.

According to her, despite efforts to expand the group of party leaders, V. Uspaskich has something that others don’t – everything slides off of him like off of Teflon.

“They have chances to surpass the electoral threshold. Does this pose a threat to other political powers? Less so for the Conservatives than for the Social Democrats, but the largest threat is probably posed for the “Farmers”. The Labour Party will lure in a part of the voters of “Order and Justice” and the “Farmers”. That said, others could be a little worried as well, even if no significant threat is visible as of yet. Nevertheless, there is time again to the elections, and much can change within a few months. You can become a dominant force through actual work,” I. Petronytė believes.

Leading by charisma

Communication specialist Arijus Katauskas says that all the scandals associated with the Labour Party and its leader ended up not sticking to the leader himself. V. Uspaskich is very charismatic and surpasses the leaders of traditional parties in his ability to communicate, talk. Even when he says somewhat laughable things.

“For a certain audience, he is a suitable leader; his selling point is not only charisma but also his unique ability to make it so that nothing bad would flow toward you. In a certain audience, he remains a leader, has numerous supporters,” the communications specialist said.

According to him, it was enough for V. Uspaskich to just visually return to the party, and we already see recovery. The party is already performing local communications, meetings are being held, and this is beginning to yield results.

“In terms of communication messages and electoral strategies, from the very start, they were powerful, clear and aimed at fundamental problems. This acted in tandem with V. Uspaskich. Without him, we see the same party breaking down. It’s the phenomenon of V. Uspaskich’s personality,” A. Katauskas spoke.

The specialist is convinced that V. Uspaskich can attract attention under any conditions.

“If he starts talking, he obtains broadcast space. There aren’t many politicians like this in Lithuania. He has formed a myth surrounding himself – a myth of a successful, wealthy and invulnerable person. These are things that suit him. And he has been on the political arena for many years now,” communications specialist A. Katauskas spoke.

V. Uspaskich also has the ability to notice the populist accents that must be employed. We see this in both direct speeches and party programmes.

No miracles

Public opinion research company Vilmorus head Vladas Gaidys says that the Labour Party’s ratings fluctuate depending on V. Uspaskich’s actions.

“Last spring, he returned, and the ratings rose. When others aren’t obvious, the Labour Party is third-fourth. Their ratings can be directly linked to their organiser and manager V. Uspaskich. This is crucial for parties,” V. Gaidys said.

He associates the Labour Party’s failure in the 2016 elections with namely V. Uspaskich’s non-presence.

“In that flank (the centre-left], there is a group of parties – the Social Democrats, the “Farmers”. These are intersecting containers – if one loses something, then the others receive it. Prior to the last elections, the “Farmers” worked intensively for at least two years. That said, currently, V. Uspaskich’s image has changed; he has become a vegan and abstinent. In the end, the energy isn’t the same it used to be,” V. Gaidys mused, adding that we will probably witness no miracles in the nearing elections.

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