New era as Lithuania’s political pendulum loses momentum

Conservative Andrius Kubilius and Social Democrat Algirdas Butkevičius (potentially) are the first two prime ministers to last all term
DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

These new developments and the last round of elections suggest that the Lithuanian “swing”, in which voters lose faith in their favourites after every political term and swing back and forth from the right to the left, might be weakening.

Vytautas Magnus University (VDU) political professor Algis Krupavičius said that the pendulum has weakened because the Social Democrats maintain a high standing among voters.

“The swing will return, although it’s not clear when. Perhaps when there is a stronger opposition. The swing principle doesn’t necessarily apply to every election. It may have weakened because the Social Democrats, as the governing party, maintained a high level of standing among voters. The swing principle depends on the evaluation of the policies of the parties that are in government,” said Krupavičius.

In 1992, the Democratic Labour Party of Lithuania, the precursor to the Social Democrats, won the elections by a landslide. In 1996, the swing was in full effect, and the right won by no less impressive a margin. In 2000, the pendulum swung to the other side again: the Christian Democrats didn’t win any seats in the Seimas [parliament], and the Conservatives couldn’t even manage 10 seats.

“The newly formed Labour Party, which said it had arrived to save a Lithuania weakened by both the conservatives and the social democrats, won the elections in 2004 with a pendulum that swung on the basis of ‘new versus old’ rather than ‘left versus right’. In 2008, the right-leaning parties returned to power, sending the Social Democrats and Labour Party back into oppositio,” Krupavičius explains.

Though the conservative Christian Democrats and the Liberals were ousted and were back in opposition in 2012, they did not lose much support compared to 2008. The Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats lost 4.6% of their votes compared to the previous election, and the Liberal Movement increased their support by 2.8% on 2008.

Such a small fall in voter confidence in right-leaning parties (only 1.8%) after they had spent an entire term in power leads to the conclusion that the power of Lithuania’s political swing has begun to weaken.

This conclusion is supported by recent public opinion polls that indicate that the Social Democrats, who control the post of prime minister and have remained the largest ruling party throughout most of their term, have a healthy lead over their next-most-popular opponent.

Political scientist: Eventually, the ruling party will be re-elected

With a bit more than six months until the upcoming Seimas elections, the Social Democratic Party is polling at over 20%. It has a lead of almost 10% over the next most popular party, the Liberal Movement, and has a rating twice as high as that of its opponents, the Conservatives.

A Spinter Tyrimai opinion poll ordered by Delfi shows that the ruling Social Democrats are even maintaining their strong ratings despite the party’s recent scandals.

Institute of International Relations and Political Science (TSPMI) professor Mažvydas Jastramskis said he can’t remember a time where with less than a year left until the election, the ruling party had had such a strong lead over its competitors.

“The Social Democrats’ high rating, possibly, consists of many potential voters who name the party as their second choice, but these are not their core voters. The social democrats profited from fortuitous circumstances in the 2012 Seimas elections, which produced only two real winners – the Labour Party won in the multi-member PR constituency, but it was soon discredited and compromised and its ratings fell during the course of the criminal case.

“Since then, the Social Democrats have clearly been the leading party, profiting from the fact both that it was both a winner in elections and that it is the most popular party in the state. Many people are supporting it simply because it’s a popular party.”

For his part, Krupavičius believes that Lithuania may be entering a period where parties can finally secure second terms in government.

“The Social Democrats’ current popularity is related to several factors. One of them is that the work of the government and governing coalition is stable, and socio-economic metrics are showing growth. The expectations regarding the economy are rather high, but the public also appreciates the work that other parties have done while in office.

“Regardless of the fact that the public’s expectations are not being met, they [the Social Democrats] are seen as the best among the other possible choices. That is, the Social Democrats and the current coalition are the lesser evil compared to the other possible choices,” said Krupavičius.

Algirdas Butkevičius is helping the Social Democrats maintain their high ratings as well, according to the VDU professor.

“He is moderate, he hears others out, he discusses things, considers them, and sometimes, he doubts himself and changes his mind”.

Krupavičius also believes that the effects of the Social Democratic Party’s scandals are localised, and only some of them are well-founded.

“Not all of the scandals are related to the Social Democrats, for example, the story about the prime minister’s son-in-law seems to have been significantly over-done. Because the scandals are very local, they haven’t really stuck to the Social Democrats.”

On the other hand, he also warned against believing that public controversies wouldn’t affect the party’s ratings:

“The question of how much their ratings will be hurt by the public accusations is relevant. Their ratings could fall, but the drop should not be very large, or rather, it should be slight.”

The Seimas elections will be held on October 9th of this year.

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