That said, the experts observe that the Order and Justice plans could be derailed by increased activity by the Labour Party with Viktor Uspaskich in the lead, while Gintautas Paluckas‘ Social Democrats will likely struggle due to the loss of state dotation.
A survey performed on October 16-30 by Spinter Tyrimai, commissioned by Delfi, shows that the Conservatives (19%) and “Farmers” (15.2%) remain firmly in the lead in the ratings.
In third place is Order and Justice with 9.2% (7.2% in September) and the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) in fourth with 6.2% (5.4% in September).
Beneath the 5% vote barrier remain the Labour Party (4.6%), Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Union (4.3%), Lithuanian Social Democratic Labour Party (3.5%), Liberal Movement (3.4%) and Lithuanian Centre Party (3.3%).
“Everything will depend on how much the “Farmers'” popularity will drop because their voters will automatically distribute themselves among the other parties. If we are to consider the period up to the next Seimas elections, a less unexpected rise would be that of Order and Justice, while the other variant I would bet on would be G. Paluckas’ Social Democrats,” Lithuanian War Academy docent, political scientist Vytautas Isoda told lrt.lt when asked, who could become a dark horse in the coming elections and compete with the Conservatives and “Farmers”, who are leading in the ratings.
Vytautas Magnus University professor, political scientist Algis Krupavičius agreed with V. Isoda’s opinion. According to him, the LSDP could even return to the highest league.
Nevertheless, the political scientists agree – it is easier said than done. Political experts assure that both Order and Justice and the Social Democrats will face major challenges in the competition for voters’ sympathies.
The secret to Order and Justice’s fortune and V. Uspaskich breathing down their back
Market and public opinion research company Baltijos Tyrimai sociologist Romas Mačiūnas states that the basis Order and Justice’s popularity is linked with favourable public views of party leader Remigijus Žemaitaitis.
“The main reason, why Order and Justice is popular right now is that it is the only party, which has a leader, who is more viewed positively than negatively. R. Žemaitaitis is the only leader like that,” R. Mačiūnas stated.
V. Isoda pointed out to lrt.lt that Order and Justice managed to grow their popularity because the party found a vacuum on the left wing, being left as the only party to not be battered by scandal in recent times. He points out that historically, in Lithuania the left wing electorate has always been larger and this electorate has always sought a party, which is not the Conservatives.
“This vacuum, which appeared after the Social Democrat break-up, was successfully filled after cleansing themselves of Petras Gražulis,” the political scientist noted, adding that the withdrawal of the controversial leader Rolandas Paksas also had to do with the party’s ratings rising.
A. Krupavičius believes that Order and Justice has been successful in mobilising the protest electorate recently, but he cautions that Labour has also taken aim at this segment. While support for Order and Justice is rising in it, for Labour it is decreasing, nevertheless a redistribution of support may not be favourable to Order and Justice.
“V. Uspaskich is less energetic, less active, but he still has a sort of appeal and has the ambition to return the party to at least 5% support and such a goal is not unfeasible,” he pointed out.
Will the LSDP return to the party elite?
A. Krupavičius also noted that the of the split Social Democrats, G. Paluckas’ Social Democrats have recently begun retaking voters lost due to the split. The political scientist points out that this is no surprise because the LSDP retained the large party infrastructure, with Social Democratic Labour failing to draw old members away or obtain new ones.
“The truth is that most of the party members remained with G. Paluckas’ Social Democrats and now we see a certain recreation of the Social Democrats’ ratings. You can almost confidently predict that if G. Paluckas’ Social Democrats will be active in the municipal elections, they will be more successful there than Social Democratic Labour. Then the Social Democrats could return to the highest league and compete with the Homeland Union and “Farmers” over the voters’ support,” the VDU professor commented, emphasising that the LSDP could even regain some voters that migrated to the “Farmers” or the recently formed Social Democratic Labour and even the protest electorate. TO achieve this, however, they need to be more active.
V. Isoda notes that he can see the Social Democrats actively striving to change the party’s public image and reform the organisation, which is yielding positive results. Nevertheless, the political scientist points out that the Central Electoral Commission’s decision to not grant the LSDP dotations due to severe financial breaches in the Seimas elections could prevent the LSDP from rising.
“Considering that the party already lost the half a million euro, everything will depend on financing. The Social Democrats need much more exposure. There are very few famous faces, talking heads there. Earlier, anyone on the street would have known A. Butkevičius, G. Kirkilas and other politicians, whom the Social Democrats have lost. Thus, the Social Democrats are now a fairly grey party and they need a very strong public relations campaign, which they could potentially achieve,” the political scientist said.
Potential party merger
Sociologist R. Mačiūnas also finds that the G. Paluckas’ LSDP has better chances to perform at both the municipal and Seimas elections, given that it retained the strongest branches. Furthermore, he points out how Gediminas Kirkilas, the head of Social Democratic Labour is among the most negatively perceived politicians in Lithuania.
V. Isoda points out that the Labour Party will likely maintain its positions in the regions in the coming municipal elections, however the 2020 Seimas elections will prove decisive for the party. The political scientist points out that the party will continue to balance around 3-5%, but if it fails to surpass the 5% barrier in 2020, the likelihood of which is significant, the party may be consigned to oblivion. This, he notes, could lead to seeking a merger, potentially with Social Democratic Labour, who are in a similar position.
The Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Union (LLRA-KŠS) balances at around the 5% ratings margin, however sociologist R. Mačiūnas says that the party always manages to mobilise minority representatives in elections and form a Seimas group. That said, the LLRA-KŠS’ fortunes depend on voter turnout.
“We see the trend that the LLRA-KŠS can have 5-7% of the vote if the elections aren’t very active, if the turnout is less than 50%. If the elections are active, there is always the chance that the LLRA-KŠS may not suffice with ethnic minorities’ votes to exceed the 5% barrier,” the sociologist cautioned.
Liberals need to transform
In terms of the Liberal Movement, VDU political scientist A. Krupavičius observes an ongoing crisis in the party. According to him, the Conservatives have already managed to exploit the Liberals’ declined popularity, drawing a portion of the Liberal voters to their side.
“Despite the deep crisis, the Liberal Movement has formed a small, but constant number of voters. Such voters will not vanish in one or two nights. The Liberals’ ratings are fluctuating, but I believe that 3% is the floor the Liberal Movement can descend to,” the political scientist drew a grim future for the party.
He guesses that after the municipal elections, the Liberals may seek to regain popularity by drawing back former companions from civic electoral committees and thus strengthening their positions before the coming Seimas elections.
V. Isoda was also not optimistic regarding the Liberal Movement, given the party’s bleed of famous politicians, which spurs on the need for reform to survive.
“R. Šimašius, A. Armonaitė, these are national level faces for the Liberals, ones who appeal to the Liberals’ voters, thus their withdrawal from the party may not have been the final nail in its coffin, but certainly a strong blow and the party will definitely have to reform.
There may not be many exclusively Liberal voters in Lithuania, but they exist. These voters rarely migrate to, for example, the Conservatives. One way or another, there are liberal voters in Lithuania, thus there is need for a liberal party in the country. That said, it is unlikely that the Liberal Movement reflects this demand. Something new will have to provide its offering,” V. Isoda mused.