Is Lithuania right or left wing?

Presidential Palace
Presidential palace in Vilnius DELFI / Tomas Vinickas

The seventh president after the regaining of independence will definitely be right wing or centre-right. For the first time, there will not be a left wing candidate in the finals. However, is Lithuania a right or left wing country?

Presidents in Lithuania have been more inclined to the right, however in Seimas elections, fortune typically favoured more left leaning politicians. Thus, what are Lithuanian citizens? More left or right wing? Or perhaps the electoral system distorts representation of the majority through ideological precepts, Aušra Lėka writes in

Of seven presidents, only one was clearly left wing. When independence was regained, the office was won by Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas in 1993. He led the country for one term, not running for a second.

The other two heads of state – Valdas Adamkus and Dalia Grybauskaitė were elected to the office twice, holding it for a decade each and both were more right wing. The political views scale of barely one year and three-month presidency of impeached Rolandas Paksas ranged from the LDDP to the Conservatives and Liberals, then to the “original” Liberal Democrat Party, later dubbed Order and Justice. In 2003, when voters voted on their president, he was a member of the Liberal Democrat Party.

More right-wing?

Thus, the proportion of more left wing and more right-wing presidents in Lithuania is clearly in favour of the latter. And this time, left leaning voters will for the first time not even have a candidate close to them in terms of ideology, with the centre-right leaning Ingrida Šimonytė and Gitanas Nausėda competing. Elections so far would have a choice between the more right wing and more left wing finalists – D. Grybauskaitė and Zigmantas Balčytis or V. Adamkus and Kazimiera Prunskienė.

However, in Seimas elections, “right wing inclination” is rarer – the majority has been formed by left leaning powers for longer. Thus, what Lithuanian voters are there more of – right wing or left wing? Of course, it is important to compare directly because every election period is unique and the presidential elections are strongly influenced by the candidate’s personality. Nevertheless, is it not possible to assume that the Seimas election district system somewhat distorts the will of the people because during the presidential elections, it is the one, who gets the most votes from the Lithuanian people that wins and more presidential elections were won by right wing candidates? And this time, the activity of major city residents and their votes helped the right-wing candidates become finalists. Meanwhile, the Seimas district system favours voters in the province, so-called rural districts.

“Residents in the capital are seemingly slighted because currently the value of a Vilnius resident’s vote is lesser than one from Anykščiai-Panevėžys, Prienai-Birštonas or Zanavykai districts. It is clear that it will be necessary to form at least one more district in Vilnius prior to the 2020 Seimas elections, though two would also be good,” electoral geographer, Vilnius University Institute of Geosciences docent Dr. Rolandas Tučas says. Prior to the 2016 Seimas elections he was charged with redrawing the electoral district map based on changing voter counts. Up to the redraw, the disproportion was even greater.

Elections system is torting voter’s will

The expert is convinced that the majoritarian Seimas election system is distorting the voters’ will. A proportional system is more favourable for voter’s voices to have approximately the same weight, ensuring representation for smaller groups as well. A majoritarian system makes it difficult to form equal sized districts, thus in some areas, the votes of certain voters are weightier than elsewhere and furthermore, the winner takes it all, while those, who receive just a few less votes, are left with nothing. In other words, representation is of only a comparably larger part of the public, while smaller groups receive disproportionately little, if any, representation.

Furthermore, R. Tučas adds, similarly to the presidential elections, single mandate district candidates dedicate more attention to the appeal of their personality and not ideological stances. A majoritarian system bogs the public down for a long time in “a mire of populism and furthermore allows local authorities to entrench themselves, reducing the importance of municipal rule because residents tend to try and resolve local problems not by appealing to the municipalities, but “going to the wrong address” – the district’s elected MP and this forms premises for suspect connections and such.

“There can be no doubt – if we really want for our public to become more politically mature, for politics to be more transparent, for representation to be not only that of the majority, but also smaller groups of citizens, for municipal rule to strengthen and so on, we must shed the mixed electoral system in Seimas elections and establish the proportional representation system used to great effect in Western countries,” R. Tučas proposes. Furthermore, in most states that use the proportional system, the entire territory is split into several multi-mandate districts. For example, in Latvia there are five, while in Estonia – ten.

Lithuanians’ not interested in left of right

If such changes were decided upon in Lithuania, it would be a partial merger of both systems’, both proportional and majoritarian, advantages, leaving both ideological and territorial representation. Lithuania could be divided into an agreed upon number of districts, for example ten (based on geographical districts). They are not equal in size – Tauragė district has only 100 thousand residents, while Vilnius district has over 800 thousand. However, for this you could apply quotas. For example, in Tauragė you could elect five, while in Vilnius – 40 members of parliament. If the number of voters declines anywhere, the quota is transferred to where the number rises.

As for presidential elections, R. Tučas believes that Lithuanians are little interested in the ideological aspect of left and right. What is far more important is personality traits, overall appeal of candidates. “Both I. Šimonytė and G. Nausėda demonstrated significant erudition and eloquence, which surpassed all the other candidates’ abilities during debates and other cases in public. And our people, regardless of their education, respect wise individuals. Members of Seimas can be closer to them, “simpler” politicians, but the requirements for the president are completely different. Perhaps it was one of the most important factors, which benefited I. Šimonytė and G. Nausėda in the elections,” R. Tučas believes.

However, in his opinion, certain majority mentality “deep” traits can be found in the Lithuanian public – we are definitely not traditionally left-leaning or like some Eastern societies or Southern European countries or France’s – left wing. “We are an individualist, conservative, “formerly” mentality public, whose representatives’ occasional demonstration of leftward inclination is pretend. Left leaning world views require solidarity, altruistic compassion to the weak and such. But is that typical to our public? Perhaps only a small part of it. However, even those, who vote for the left wing in elections, often think and act like individualists. This is why trade unions are unpopular in Lithuania, why public solidarity is weak,” R. Tučas says.

According to him, the demonstration of fake leftward inclination manifests not as a feigned concern with social segregation, entrepreneurial individuals and their initiatives’ demeaning and such. This is typical to a significant group of people, particularly in the older generation. Our youth is more open and earnest, but also rather individualist, thus not without reason it supports liberal values far more than Western youth. Left-wing, nationalist and ecological world views are not popular among Lithuanian youth, differing from the West.

Role of traditional society

How did this mentality develop in Lithuanian society? According to R. Tučas, first of all, there still is a large number of traits of traditional society, which was much influenced by the Western culture of the past (let’s recall the individualism of Lithuanian nobility, their arrogant stance in the times of “noble democracy”, also the inter-war Lithuanian land reform, recreation of farmsteads).

During the soviet era, it was tried to change this individualist mentality, seeking to impose an Eastern-style socialist collectivism. This and the exiling of unfavourable people, collectivisation and destruction of farmsteads. Lithuanians had to adapt, pretend that they are collectivised, that they are part of the socialist system being created then. But even during the soviet times, our people for the most part remained individualists. This is displayed in the disregard for collective property (stealing from collective farms was not perceived as a misdemeanour), the pursuit of further personal property.

With Lithuania regaining independence, there was no more need to pretend. However, decades of imposed socialist communality and habitual pretending, still seeking to match the soviet-imposed or appeared due to adaptation socialist “value” norms (for example only wages are moral, standing out is bad and such) forms the mentality in most of the public that we see now. Youths do not have the soviet-era experience, making them more open.

Through socialisation processes, young people have taken up the deep individualistic cultural values, youth liberalism is strengthened by the older generations’ old-fashioned conservatism, pretend leftward inclination, which is often equated to the remnants of our socialist past and just with poor political education and cultural backwardness. Thus, liberal views become more appealing to youths and unlike Western youths, radical left wing or conservative world views become unacceptable. “But in essence, this is a good choice because radical views often take society down the wrong path,” R. Tučas believes.

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