Monday, 6 October 2008

12 October: Parliamentary elections in Lithuania

The outgoing Parliament (Seimas) is led by a complex multi-partite coalition led by the Social Democratic Party. Centre left coalition members are The Union of Peasants, Civic Democracy Party, the Liberal and Centre Union and the New Union/Social Liberals. 16 political parties are competing in the elections of 12 October 2008. 141 members of parliament will be elected for a four-year term. About half of the members of this legislative body are elected in individual constituencies (71), and the other half (70) are elected by nationwide vote according to proportional representation. A party must receive at least 5% of the national vote to be represented in the Seimas.

At least 3 political parties are within reach of getting 11 - 14% of the vote that would make them winners of the election. Latest political polls show that Homeland Union - Cristian Democrats will get 12.4%, Order and Justice 11.4%, Labour Party 8.7%, Social Democrats 7,2% and the National Revival Party - 7%. Other parties would not pass the necessary threshold, but Peasants, the Liberal Centre Union and the New Union are within reach of 5%. It is expected that the Liberal Movement might win number of individual constituencies that would allow for their presence in the Parliament.

Leading Social Democrats are heading for a major defeat - a drastic drop from 20% that they got in 2004 to the current all time low 7.2%. Prime Minister Kirkilas has seen his popularity drop. On the other hand Conservatives are preparing themselves for forming of a coalition. So is Rolandas Paksas, the impeached President with his Party "Order and Justice".

Political analysts are drawing attention that the outcome of the vote on Sunday, might not produce the strong majority, but rather weak coalition of "democratic" forces that would unite in order to avoid Paksas leading the Government. If the right- wing parties do not increase their vote shares, there is a possibility for a reinstatment of the current coalition that would be led by a weak partnership of Labour and Social Democrats with participation of the New Union, Peasants and the Liberal Centre Union.

The electoral campaign was strongly influenced by the new rules for political advertisement which introduced stricter regulation - only limited time on the National TV used exclusively for party debates, visual ad's only in dedicated places, etc. It has resulted in a different but more constructive campaiging compared to previous elections. Electoral debates are dominated by energy security (shutting of Ignalina nuclear power plant and building of a new NPP together with the neighbouring countries), education policy (triggered by a start of a new school year and unsolved problems in higher and university education), raising prices and to a lesser extent Lithuanian foreign policy stance. Annual tax declarations that have been released last week have created another topic for public discussion – most interesting issue is the number of millionaires in the Parliament and Government and comparison of politicians' annual declarations with those of previous years (that reveal how much richer or poorer they became in the course of one year or the whole term).

Another new political entity is the Nation's Resurrection Party, consisting of mainly show business personalities. The party is led by Arunas Valinskas, a television entertainer who also holds a law degree. Valinskas maintains that Resurrection aims to be a serious political player, however he recently told voters not to expect economic miracles from the party, but promised plenty of mirth and merriment if the country slips into an economic crisis.

The conflict between Georgia-Russia has renewed discussion in Lithuania on threats from its Eastern neighbour and likelihood of the NATO Allies to defend us and our interests. All parties were clear supporters of Georgia. At the same time continuation of rational policy with Russia and careful examination of western Allies in case of need were dominant across the political spectrum, with Conservatives calling for tougher stand towards Russia on the European level and for rethinking of current Lithuanian defence policy to cut conscription.

Very interesting and important element of these elections is referendum on re-negotiation with the EU the closure of the second Ignalina nuclear reactor (INPP), organised at the same time. Proposed by the Liberal Movement party, it will ask the public whether INPP should remain operational past the end of 2009. This deadline was a part of the EU-accession requirements. The issue is of utmost importance as there is no alternative in place yet to replace energy production generated by this plant (Lithuania imports all oil and gas resources, has a few hydro power plants). In this context, being against this notion is a political suicide, therefore all parties support the referendum and call their voters to vote for it. Only the Homeland Union – Christian Democrats dissaprove of it, as well as the President of Lithuania who considers this initiative a populist gesture and misleading of Lithuanian people, as Lithuania has to adhere to its international commitments.

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