Unfulfilled electoral promises of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania: turning away from the ethnic minorities

Rita Tamašunienė and Waldemar Tomaszewski
Rita Tamašunienė and Waldemar Tomaszewski DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

The defenders of ethnic minorities in Seimas – the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Union (LLRA-KŠS) – entered the 2016 parliamentary elections with a fistful of pledges to care for the most downtrodden. However, in politics, as political scientists point out, things aren’t quite as simple and so, many of the pledges made by the “Polish” group were left on paper, Monika Kasnikovskytė wrote in TV3.lt.

The party can claim that it will uphold the pledges it has yet to when the 2020 elections pass, but many of the questions involved, such as the writing of names, have been dragging on for decades and receive attention only in the months preceding the elections.

In its 2016 electoral programme, the LLRA-KŠS presented family as its main priority. The party noted that ensuring the welfare of the family “resolves demographic, emigration, social exclusion and societal problems, as well as enhancing the future opportunities of the country.”

That said, the party only officially entered the ruling coalition in July 2019, when the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS), Lithuanian Social Democratic Labour Party, the Order and Justice party and the LLRA-KŠS signed a new agreement and reformed the cabinet. Up to then, the group usually supported the ruling coalition’s proposals during voting in Seimas.

The tv3.lt news portal has reviewed the party’s programme again and offers to recall a part of the goals the LLRA-KŠS never did accomplish. The electoral pledges the party did not accomplish are also evaluated by the party’s members and political scientists.

Aid to families

The party promised that the so-called children’s money would reach 120 euro per month. In 2020, children’s money is at half that – 60 euro.

Also, it was promised that a 120 euro monthly grant would be paid for the family’s first child if the average monthly income of individuals living together is under 153 euro per individual. With a second and further children being born, it was proposed to not apply an income size limitation and pay 120 euro per child every month.

Legislative amendments were proposed, which outline that women would have their retirement age reduced by one year per child they give birth to.

The programme also suggested for the state to implement a nanny employment programme, helping elderly women remain in the jobs market.

Also, a promise was made to reduce VAT for food products to 5%. Later, a proposal was registered in Seimas that a 5% VAT rate would apply to necessity food items. Currently, VAT on all goods is set at 21%.

Ethnic minority questions

Also, the LLRA-KŠS stated in their programme that “it is currently necessary to make decisions on ethnic minorities.”

That said, the decades-long discussion on name writing in documents in the Latin alphabet continues to be unresolved. Just in June 2017, the cabinet agreed that Lithuanian personal identity documents could have names spelt in them with the Latin letters W, X and Q.

A final decision on the project has to be made by the Seimas, but the project stalled.

A little earlier, LLRA-KŠS Seimas group prefect Vanda Kravčionok told the tv3.lt news portal that the group supports the initiative to allow writing names in all letters of the Latin alphabet, but there is a lack of political will to achieve this.

When asked why the project remains stalled in Seimas since 2017, the member of Seimas advised to ask its initiators and responded that “perhaps there were more important matters.”

“It was immediately stated that there isn’t any political will, but this was probably in the previous term,” V. Kravčionok mused.

Taxes and wages

In its programme, the LLRA-KŠS also promised to pursue a “principle of tax solidarity – the wealthy pay more (1 euro in tax for those earning the minimum monthly wage). However, currently, those earning minimum wages continue to pay 20% income tax and 6.98% for social insurance payments.

The programme spoke in favour of “solidarity taxes for business structures in our country, which earn the most, but contribute little to the budget.”

The programme pledged the minimum monthly wage would be linked to the average monthly wage in a way that the minimum wage would not be less than 50% of the average income size in the country.

Promises were also made to tax retail networks more. Just in October last year, the ruling coalition registered a large retail tax project in Seimas. It proposed a 1% tariff on retail income over 2 million euro received for goods sold to customers.

In late 2019, the legislative project garnered support, but would later stall in Seimas. It remains as such to this day.

The party’s programme also proposed to abandon Sodra payment “ceilings.” Currently, the Sodra payment “ceiling” is 84 average monthly incomes.

Work in Seimas and municipalities

Similarly to the LVŽS, the LLRA-KŠS pledged in its programme to seek a reduction in members of Seimas from 141 to 101.

A referendum ran in 2019 on reducing the number of parliamentarians from 141 to 121, but it failed because of an insufficient number of citizens voting.

Also, the LLRA-KŠS programme proposed to establish a knowledge and political experience threshold for candidates to Seimas. It was proposed that only citizens “with certain experience or knowledge of state management” could become members of Seimas. Also, candidates to Seimas should be elected at least once to municipal councils or at least run twice in municipal elections.

The party suggested establishing two tiers of municipal government in the country. According to the LLRA-KŠS, the number of council members elected in municipal elections is too low.

“Expanding municipal rule and increasing the number of council members elected could be achieved by establishing a second tier of municipal rule in the elderships, of which there are 550 in Lithuania,” the party proposed in its programme.

It was promised that the number of ministries would be reduced, for example by merging the Ministry of Economics and Innovation with the Ministry of Energy. Just as back in 2016, Lithuania retains 14 ministries.

Promises, promises…

Mykolas Romeris University political scientist Rima Urbonaitė points out that the LLRA-KŠS often discusses the same questions in every programme – the writing of names, tax progressivity being examples. However, these remain unresolved. Results are not achieved even upon entering government.

“It is clear that this party has a tendency of making a wide range of promises, which targets namely distributing money and maintaining as broad as possible social policy, that’s clear,” R. Urbonaitė told tv3.lt.

The political scientist observes that while the party claims it represents ethnic minorities, the LLRA-KŠS does little to resolve their issues, bar asphalting roads in Vilnius region. She points out that the years-long issue of name writing keeps getting postponed by the “Poles” for an ever later election.

“It would seem that being in government, the questions relating to ethnic minorities are untouched despite being pertinent. I believe that we have a paradox where the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania’s desire to represent ethnic minorities is greatly distorted or understood in an odd way.

They seemingly keep hold of it so that there would be something to fight for and complain about. It is natural that this time, their voters should wonder what this party has achieved in government in namely this regard. This is because we do not hear it in the political agenda,” R. Urbonaitė said.

Nicked from the neighbours

R. Urbonaitė also observes that a part of the LLRA-KŠS electoral programme is “borrowed” from Polish parties.

“Reducing VAT and other things are the so-called socioeconomic policy, left-wing policy. Much has been adopted from Poland. They copy-pasted it. Thus, I was joking that at one point, Seimas had a discount event for Polish political produce,” the political scientist said.

Nevertheless, proposals related to taxes and grants, according to R. Urbonaitė, often overshadow calculations in party programmes on how exactly these measures will be funded. Or even worse – the programmes are even devoid of ideas on how to gather more budget revenue.

“There are always proposals to increase grants and reduce taxes, but you will never find these programmes indicating how much it costs the country. Taxing shopping centres, which they sought to implement, might help, but this would not be a sufficient sum.

Imagine if we cut the VAT, which is one of the main sources of budget revenue. The VAT cut would be a major challenge and a serious problem,” R. Urbonaitė emphasised.

Finally, the party’s proposal to establish knowledge and experience thresholds in Seimas elections is described as complete populism by R. Urbonaitė.

“A knowledge threshold could appeal to some, but we know well that in a democratic state, electoral rules are very different. If we apply professionalism thresholds, the question arises as to how it will be done. Who will organise it and who will establish what knowledge is necessary? It’s complete populism and a misunderstanding,” the political scientist said.

Tomaszewski: a part of the work was implemented

The tv3.lt news portal asked LLRA-KŠS chairman Waldemar Tomaszewski to evaluate what of its 2016 pledges the party succeeded with and what was forgotten.

“In 2012, we also failed to achieve our plans in regard to children’s money, but now we were successful. It was increased. Looking at our neighbouring countries, our goal was for all children to be allocated 120 euro each,” W. Tomaszewski told tv3.lt.

He also reminds that the Seimas ruled that the elderly above the age of 75 will be supplied with compensated medicines free of charge. The promised family card was also created. However, not all initiatives saw the light of day.

“The lustration law was rejected after deliberations. Unfortunately, there was resistance. The data of former [KGB] collaborators was classified. Why do we have to keep it classified for all those 75 years? What are we afraid of? But we propose to return to this initiative. We will also propose commercial bank taxation initiatives,” W. Tomaszewski said.

According to the party chairman, the party’s Seimas group will once more propose changes to the life protection law in Seimas, limiting the termination of pregnancies.

“Life starts from conception and must be protected. Currently, pregnancy can be aborted up to 12 weeks or an unborn child can be aborted voluntarily. We will propose changes to this to only permit it in cases related to crimes such as rape or when there is a danger to a woman’s life. In all other cases, terminating a pregnancy would be prohibited. This is a normal practice in countries such as Portugal, Poland and Ireland,” W. Tomaszewski said.

The Seimas elections are due on October 11.

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