What the Conservative and “Farmer” break promises

Gabrielius Landsbergis and Saulius Skvernelis
DELFI / Andrius Ufartas

The Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) and the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS) cannot be certain they will remain far ahead of all other parties on the ratings charts or that it will only be a choice between the two parties during the next elections, commenters tell LRT.lt. Meanwhile political scientist Rima Urbonaitė states that while a bipartisan arrangement cannot be predicted in Lithuania, two alternatives are emerging.

A survey commissioned by Delfi performed by public opinion and market research company Spinter Tyrimai on October 16-28 shows that if the Seimas elections were to be held this coming Sunday, most voters would support the opposition Conservatives. The party had support among 19.1% of respondents in late October, 2.1% up from the previous month. In second was the LVŽS at 17.1%, up from 16.6% in September.

The two parties leave their next closest rivals in the dust in the ratings. The Social Democrat Party‘s popularity is just above 7%, not even half of either of the leaders. The Liberal Movement would receive even less support (5.6%), after it follows the Lithuanian Centre Party led by Naglis Puteikis (5.4%).

Unlike certain other parties, the TS-LKD and LVŽS are not marked by law enforcement suspicions. Can it be claimed that in the next elections, which there will be three of in 2019, the choice will be between these two parties?

Leadership reflects the party system’s weakness

According to Mykolas Romeris University lecturer, political scientist R. Urbonaitė, the ratings show that so far the voters have only two alternatives – the “Farmers” and Conservatives because the SocDems are “plummeting” and likely will continue to, particularly if a second social democrat party appears.

“These parties could be the two main rivals in the coming elections, but what will happen to the rest? There is demand for liberalism, someone will also vote for social democrats. The Conservatives and the “Farmers” could become rivals.

So far the “Farmers” have decent ratings, much is talked about them and this has an impact on the surveys. Confidence in them before was fantastic, then fell and is now stabilising. However it is unclear whether they won’t make a mess of it. Those who declare transparency are also at risk – imagine what would happen if some sort of corruption information emerged about the current cabinet of “Farmers”? The people’s opinions would then change. These parties are benefitting that the SocDems are falling down, while the Liberals are currently maintaining a certain minimum,” R. Urbonaitė told LRT.lt.

The “Farmers”, she notes, have declared ambitions for the upcoming municipal council elections a number of times. “If the people see that our pledges are being done and life is changing, we will win all the municipalities by a landslide and will take more than half the country’s mayor posts,” the LVŽS chairman told LRT.lt in an interview in November.

According to R. Urbonaitė, if the Social Democrats fail to cope with their problems in the municipal council elections as well, they will lose even more posts, an even wider path for competition between the LVŽS and TS-LKD will open. “The Conservatives remain the most stable, while the other parties are “hanging” in the air, concerned with only their survival. Overall these results show that there is a niche for newcomers – 40% of voters do not answer in the surveys. This is a niche for new saviours,” R. Urbonaitė observed.

Institute of International Relations and Political Science political scientist Mažvydas Jastramskis told LRT.lt that this survey data shows that people currently do not see many trustworthy alternatives and among them only have “two ones that aren’t so bad” – the Conservatives and “Farmers”.

“The two largest parties do not even have 20% ratings, thus we can talk about a fragmented party system where there are currently two similar leaders, but not much can be said otherwise. However even these leaders are not overly strong. Their leadership reflects the overall weakness of the Lithuanian party system,” M. Jastramskis explained.

The TSPMI scientist also believes that such ratings signal the presence of a large niche for new movements.

“We just need to look at Lithuanian history – until a new stronger alternative appears, such ratings continue. However that the other party’s ratings are falling, while the first two’s are not rising greatly, signals that there is a vast niche for new movements,” he explained.

M. Jastramskis points out that in the West leading parties typically have over 20% ratings, while in Lithuania the leaders do not even reach that mark. “Voters always had distrust for parties in Lithuania, but the situation is worsening now. I fear that it will “pierce” the nadir and it could be that in the next Seimas elections we will have 2-3 current parliamentary parties, while it is unclear who everyone else will be,” the political scientist noted.

Social Democrats and Liberals could recover?

How likely is it that the country’s other two parliamentary powers, the Social Democrat Party and the Liberal Movement, will recover despite their shaky ratings?

The chief editor of the 15min.lt news portal, political analyst Raimundas Celencevičius states that the Social Democrats’ ratings are consistently decreasing primarily because during their work in the majority with the “Farmers”, they were unable to clearly present themselves as a separate political entity and their current decision to move into the opposition may help them regain their face and start building ratings again eventually.

“The same “Farmers” are this giant with clay legs – they are strong only as long as Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, who has remained popular so far, stands with them. Mr. S. Skvernelis promised half a year ago that he will likely join the LVŽS, perhaps even becoming its chairman, but did not do so and it is still unclear how he is planning his political future. If he decided to participate in the presidential elections and won them, the “Farmers” would lose their leader and would unlikely maintain their popularity,” R. Celencevičius told LRT.lt.

Another important question according to the analyst is regarding the Social Democrat rebels. “So far they have nothing, but the name including “Labour” may lead to the thought that perhaps they are aiming for the Labour Party electorate because this party is currently headless, but neither its members, nor voters have disappeared anywhere,” R. Celencevičius continued.

The chief editor of the 15min.lt portal says that so far the TS-LKD and LVŽS are the two most popular parties, however there are no elections where this popularity could be tested. “I believe the Conservatives should likely maintain their current popularity or could even increase it because the party consolidated and calmed down after the internal struggles. Yes, it could be unbalanced by the presidential elections because the party will have a number of representatives, right wing politicians, who will seek party support. Hence fracturing could begin again. But among the right wing parties, they retain the best prospects to be a major player. On the centrist or left wing side there is a massive void at which 3-4 parties could aim and the “Farmers” are quite possibly not the favourites because they are highly dependent on S. Skvernelis’ decision,” R. Celencevičius thinks.

Vytautas Magnus University (VDU) professor Lauras Bielinis states that both the leftists and the Liberals will still manage to mobilise and present surprises for the public. “I think that the results will change. There is much time yet and I am certain that they will find opportunities to climb out of these crises they have entered,” L. Bielinis told LRT.lt.

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