Campaigns and elections

2012 Lithuanian Parliamentary Election: Pre-Election Report

Oct 13 '12

Continuing our series of election reports, we presented the following pre-election report on tomorrow’s Lithuanian parliamentary election from Dan Mallinson, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the Pennsylvania State University.

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On October 14, Lithuania will hold the first round of its quadrennial parliamentary elections. This election has implications not only for Lithuania, but also for energy and foreign policy in Eastern Europe. At the most basic level, all 141 seats in the Seimas are open for election. Lithuania uses both first-past-the-post and party-list proportional voting to fill its unicameral legislature (71 and 70 seats, respectively). Beyond the parliamentary elections, Lithuanians will also have the opportunity to weigh in on the country’s participation in a deal that would site a new nuclear power plant in Visaginas (see photo above for a picture of the now closed Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant. The Visaginas plant will likely be sighted very close by).

While thirty-four parties are vying for seats in the Seimas, polling throughout the summer and fall have consistently shown the strongest support for the Social Democrat (SD) and Labour Parties. Both are currently in opposition to a ruling coalition led by the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU-LCD). While a swing back towards the opposition would continue the pendulum pattern of parliamentary elections in Lithuania, the weak support for HU-LCD has been blamed on citizen weariness over Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius’s strict austerity measures. Put into place following the 2008 global financial crisis, the austerity measures contributed to a large contraction in the fifth smallest economy in the European Union, but have also fostered a faster recovery.

There are three key things to watch for in the first round of voting. First and foremost, the performance of the parties, particularly SD, Labour, and HU-LCD, will speak to how a ruling coalition may form. Granted, some of the constituency seats may not be filled until the October 28 run-off, but the first round should give a good idea of which parties will come out on top. At this point, there has been speculation that SD and Labour will form a center-left coalition, but there is also skepticism considering their difficult partnership from 2006-2008 and disagreement over the Visaginas nuclear power plant project. Of additional interest is whether new parties will be as successful in this election as in the past. The last three parliamentary elections saw great success for brand-new parties that ran against the existing government, but no new party appears poised to do so this time.

The second thing to watch is the national turnout. Turnout peaked in Lithuania in 1992 and declined substantially since. This decline has sparked a conversation about voter apathy and how to combat it. Such apathy may not only force more constituencies into run-off elections, but it may also result in the second failed nuclear power referendum in the last four years. In 2008, Lithuanians broadly supported keeping the now-shuttered Ignalina nuclear power plant open, but less than 50 percent of voters participated in the election, thus annulling the results. At this point, expectations are low that enough Lithuanians will turn out to validate the referendum results.

That being said, the third thing to watch in this election is the outcome of the referendum. Lithuania important a substantial portion of its electricity from Russia, but is also not in the greatest financial position to undertake the construction of a new nuclear power plant. Lithuanians supported nuclear power four years ago, but early polling suggests they may not be so supportive this time around.

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[Photo courtesy of the European Commission’s Enlargement Archives. Photo is property of the European Commission. Reproduction is authorised until 2012, provided the source is acknowledged.]