The parties are ill – an unfortunate end looms

Gintautas Paluckas, Gabrielius Landsbergis, Aušrinė Armonaitė
DELFI / Domantas Pipas

The major political powers have entered a realm of scandal, suspicions, fracture and other problems. Political scientists and analysts conclude that parties, alongside the public, are experiencing a serious crisis which may lead to an unfortunate end, Lietuvos Žinios writes.

Recent times haven’t been the best for parliamentary parties. After renewing itself and bringing a group of newcomers to Seimas, the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) have been dealt two blows this week: Tadas Langaitis, who is suspected by political oponents to have breached the Constitution in his dealings linked to a cryptocurrency company, relinquished his mandate as member of parliament in favour of business projects, while Mykolas Majauskas has been accused of sexual harassment.

The Lithuanian Social Democrat Party (LSDP) is also faced with one of the greatest crises in its history – in order to not cancel the coalition agreement with the “Farmers“, a part of the veteran Social Democrat members left their party behind and are creating a new political power with Gediminas Kirkilas leading them.

Law enforcement is investigating the Liberal Movement under suspicions of political corruption in one of the largest cases of such to date. The Order and Justice Party has been in law enforcement crosshairs for alleged sale of influence for several years. The Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS) remains embroiled in one scandal after another.

Two sides of the medal

Vytautas Magnus University professor Lauras Bielinis believes that it is necessary to talk about a crisis of political consciousness in the country, rather than one of parties. All that is currently happening with the major parties is due to two reasons. “On one hand, it is the irresponsible and dismissive party perception of the formation of political organisations, member selection and mobilisation to their ranks. Moral criteria were almost completely sidelined. On the other hand, the public itself views politics and political parties incredibly naively. Either with an emotional perception of “like-dislike” or led by fantastic expectations – everything will be granted or everything will be taken away, saved or taken revenge. As such, parties are viewed not as representatives of civic society, who organise state governance, but as saviours, avengers or entertainers. Thus it is natural that parties do not obtain the shape they should,” the political scientist explained.

Prior to the Seimas elections, the parties promised a new quality of politics, spoke about new people, professionals leading the country. Why did it not succeed? According to L. Bielinis, other than the aforementioned reasons, there are simpler ones – some things were done at the wrong time, inaccurately. He mentioned that when parties raise slogans that aren’t completely rational, for example over the need for professionals in politics, they should view the selection of such professionals with responsibility. “However “professionals” are those, who are called such and not those who have professional skills. While the political parties claim that moral principles are very important, but then they apply double standards. These are not moral principles, just fraud,” he said.

According to L. Bielinis, the crisis among the parties and public has created a situation where the citizens do not trust any state institution, view those in politics as suspect. “We are experiencing a serious crisis. What will it end with? Every crisis ends with the public either finally realising what it itself is, why such a crisis arose and resolving it soberly and rationally, with a critical eye on itself or otherwise – dispersing,” the political scientist noted.

Short public memory

Vilnius University lecturer Lidija Šabajevaitė pointed out that the scandals and other processes that have been battering the parties are not equivalent, as such, they cannot be evaluated in bulk. She accented that for example problems regarding certain politicians arise because party leaders may not know that certain people may have sinned, including them into active party duty, electoral rolls. “We would like for that to not be the case, that leaders would know everything. However, that is a very difficult matter. I would not be inclined to criticise or condemn all of them. Let us not forget the human factor,” the political scientist accented. L. Šabajevaitė also believes that the crisis has engulfed all of society, not just the parties. “Parties reflect the public, we delegate respective authority to them,” she emphasised.

All the aforementioned events will undoubtedly influence the already poor opinion of the public regarding political parties, perhaps even the results of the three elections to be held next year – the municipal, presidential and European Parliament elections – because the positions of so-called “saviours” may strengthen. “However there is another matter – public memory is short. Voters forget a great deal very quickly, believe in pretty promises that the parties have cleansed themselves and so on. I am not an optimist in this regard. As for other populists arising as has happened many a time before, I believe that could be,” the political scientist said.

Unabashedly lying

Journalist Rimvydas Valatka believes that the problem is that people still perceive everything in 20th century categories, despite us already nearing the end of the second decade of the 21st century. “Thought processes follow along. Life is moving forward at breakneck speed and not just politicians, but also a large part of the public has been unable to absorb all the changes, does not evaluate that everything is visible, open, that it is no longer possible to lie, even in politics. But they still unabashedly lie,” he stated. R. Valatka stressed that the horrible party crisis could already be seen when state financing of the parties was established. Parties were limited financially and, according to the analyst, when funding declines, so does quality.

Musing about where all the aforementioned scandals, events and processes linked with parties are taking our party system and country itself, R. Valatka said that we can equally ask, where other states, such as Italy, German and France are going because the whole world is faced with these sort of situations. “It is hard to say where we are headed. It is possible that we are headed to a fall of democracy. We can consider it only based on historical analogies. If we take the Greek city-states, every two or three hundred years, democracy would be replaced by oligarchic government. Even the American case with Donald Trump shows that it could be that we will follow the sad Greek history and will at some point once more have oligarchs, emperors, consuls and all sorts of other things. I do not know. History does not repeat equally, so we can only wonder. What is clear is that it will be nothing good and it is clear that something will happen. It will lead to some sort of end,” the journalist said.

Cleaning uniforms

Political parties have never felt much public love in our country. As such, public relations expert Arijus Katauskas does not see that the political scandals and events of recent times could harm party evaluations greatly. “I agree that the parties are embroiled in a myriad of smaller and greater scandals. However, I do not believe that it would lead to any radical changes in the already negative view of parties. I would simply word the question differently – are there any premises for the improvement of party reputation? Here’s the problem – I see no opportunity or more active steps for party ratings to rise. I am talking about party evaluation in and of itself. Of course, comparing one party with another, who we would vote for in Seimas elections, is a completely different evaluation than that of parties as an institution,” the public relations expert explained.

Political powers are making significant efforts in improving their public image. A. Katauskas believes that the TS-LKD dedicates much attention to it. Nevertheless, the Conservatives, who prided themselves in their renewal, have had their positions shaken by T. Langaitis’ withdrawal and now M. Majauskas’ story of potential sexual harassment against students has surfaced. “Another party we should keep in mind and I believe it is taking a number of steps, is the LVŽS. If you look at their and especially their leader’s communication, you begin to see paid articles in the central news media, much information is presented on what the party is doing, active combatting of corruption is put on display, the entrenched disorder in the LRT and so on. I would link this with the party realising that it lacks tangible achievements and needing to highlight its activities. However once again, it is not a systematic activity, which we could or would want to expect from political parties. Nevertheless, it is a peculiar period and it is not exploited. Especially when it was possible to raise a number of other topics. But soon the Seimas session will begin and I believe that we will see the parties cleaning their uniforms themselves and beginning to gear up for the coming presidential, municipal and EP elections. At the same time we will see politicians who will seek to repair their reputations,” A. Katauskas predicted.

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