KLAIPEDA - Twenty seven Lithuanian political parties are gearing up for the square-off in the parliamentary elections to be held on Oct. 14. However, only a few can expect voters’ considerable support.
Only two parties elbow for victory
If the election was held today, Social Democrats and Laborists would retain the biggest chances of victory, but their support has been slowly trimmed in recent months. Meanwhile, the popularity of Drasos kelias, a political party formed following the high-profile double homicide and pedophilia saga in Garliava, 17 kilometers from Kaunas, has been insignificantly inching up, but still a few percent shy of the five percent needed which would secure the dubious political novice’s berth in the new Parliament. These are the latest findings by public opinion and market researcher Spinter tyrimai.
To get into the numbers, the poll conducted in late September gave 16.3 percent of all votes to the Social Democrats while the Labor Party was preferred by 14.5 percent of the respondents. Compared to a similar poll in July, the first party saw a 1.6 percent drop in support and the latter’s popularity went down by 2.4 percent. Meanwhile, Drasos kelias inched up from 1.6 percent in July to 3.7 percent in late September.
Former chief advisor to former President Valdas Adamkus and currently professor at Vytautas Magnum University, Lauras Bielinis, chalks up the fluctuations to the similar voter base of the three parties.
Drasos kelias is the dark horse?
“I reckon their electorate often overlaps. I mean their voter is one who doesn’t rely much on a well-grounded and reasoned assessment system, but mostly reacts to irritants. We see that both the Labor Party and Drasos kelias possess similar possibilities in irritating the voter and, subsequently, trigger his or her reaction. However, I don’t think it is a lasting thing, as when the voter reacts to irritants he is susceptible to being lured to other parties. I believe that is what we will be seeing in the last weeks before the elections,” Bielinis told Delfi.
Meanwhile, Vytautas Dumbliauskas, associate professor at Mykolas Romeris University, disagrees with the former presidential advisor, saying, “I don’t believe that the Laborists will allow anyone, including Drasos kelias, to take their votes away. I don’t think that the Labor and Drasos kelias parties’ electorate is the same. In fact, speaking of the overlap, the electorates of Order and Justice Party and Drasos kelias are more likely to overlap to a certain extent.”
The associate professor points out that the Labor Party leader, Viktoras Uspaskichas, has denounced the candidates thrown into the electoral campaign by the Garliava events on numerous occasions. “It means that, in a sense, the Labor party leader repudiates the votes, reckoning that those who believe that the little girl has been molested will not vote for him no matter what,” Dumbliauskas reasoned.
Only a few questions remain
“The majority of the mandates, I believe, will have Social Democrats, who will gather many of them not only according to the party lists, but also in single-member electorate districts as well. Especially taking into account the work they do and the number of Social Democrat mayors, who provide the administrative resources locally,” says Mindaugas Jurkynas.
Nevertheless, some other political analysts put the Labor Party on the highest perch. Could it be a looming coalition of the two? Not necessarily. “As far as I’ve heard from off-the-record chit-chat, the Social Democrats are not particularly keen on forming a coalition with Labor. They are still, obviously, mindful of the sour collaboration in Parliament in 2006,” Dumbliauskas says.
Kestutis Girnius, a U.S.-born political analyst (and TBT contributor), does not expect “any surprises” in the election results. “There is no doubt that leftist parties will notch up the majority of votes. The only question I have is whether Drasos kelias will pass the five percent barrier, which would secure the party a number of seats according to the party list,” Girnius told The Baltic Times.
Despite the strong election campaign, he says the Conservatives will be handed a loss in the primary. “I believe they will square off with the Order and Justice Party for the third place in the ranking,” the analyst predicted.
Among the liberal forces, Girnius says Liberalu Sajudis (Liberal Movement) stands the best chances.
“Liberal and Central Union will be left outside Parliament, and Zuokas’ TAIP as well,” Girnius predicts.
Referendum should fail
When it comes to the non-binding referendum on the Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant, Tomas Janeliunas, a political analyst, believes it will not surpass the 50 percent barrier, which is necessary to overcome to secure passage.
“In a similar referendum in the 2008 parliamentary elections, the initiative garnered 48.13 percent of all voters’ support, which was not enough to deem it passed. Considering the similar topsic is put [again] for voters in October this year, I believe the plebiscite is doomed,” Janeliunas told Lrt.lt.
He, however, believes that allowing e-voting would see a lot larger turnout among the youth. “If Parliament’s next tenure succeeds in providing the right, it would definitely increase the youth’s political activity,” the political analyst noted.
Algis Krupavicius, another political analyst, pays attention to the general number of vote casters on Oct. 14 which, he says, could be a significant factor. “Since the Central Election Commission predicts that the overall voter number will be smaller than that in 2008 election, that means the proportion of voters participating in the elections, and the overall listed number of voters, will change, perhaps will go over 50 percent,” the political analyst says.
Janeliunas also heeds the data discrepancies, saying, “We have one number in the election lists, but, in reality, it is quite different, especially due to emigration.”
The reckoning of factors able to boost the voter turnout, Dumbliauskas points out to the presence of new parties in the elections. “We have got quite a few of them. Drasos kelias, Emigrant Party, Democratic Labor and Unity Party, Lithuanian People Party, Union TAIP and some others. Maybe the larger list of parties will pep up voters to show up at the ballot booths. However, it is hard to predict. For the turnout, even such factors as weather and October 14 errands planned in advance may be deterrents. If I were to guess, I’d say that the turnout will not exceed the 50 percent barrier,” the political analyst said.
Vladimiras Laucius, a political analyst, is even more cautious predicting the turn-out on election day. “The weather factor has to be considered. If the voting activity decrease goes over five percent, it would spur discussions that people are getting more and more disappointed with politics and parties. High emigration would also be blamed. If the turnout increases, it would be a puzzle for everyone as to why it did so,” Laucius reckons.
When talking about youth activity in elections, the political analysts showed unanimity: young people are politically disinterested and apathetic. “I work with students and I see that they are considerably passive. If there are 100 students in the auditorium and I ask them to raise hands if they belong to a party, only a very few hands go up. Our civil activity is very low. Only certain student groups, like those in social sciences’ faculties, are active. But beyond that, all are really passive,” says Dumbliauskas.
To boost youth engagement in civic duties, a showy public campaign ‘Man ne dzin’ has been started. Billboards and placards inviting young people to vote will be raised and hundreds of fliers, aiming for the same, will be handed out. But the political analysts remain wary. “Such public campaigns might encourage a little bit of the youth to be more active, but no breakthrough through the lingering apathy will follow,” says Janeliunas.
“Obviously, an option of e-voting, and no other, would significantly contribute to the increase of youth activity. Especially among young people living abroad,” says Laucius.
Estonia is the first European country to have launched e-voting. It introduced it in 2005, and a whopping 15-plus percent of Estonians chose this method of voting in an election last year.
Estonia for catch-up
Major Lithuanian parties have long mulled allowing Lithuania’s electorate to cast their vote by clicking a button, but the effort has been mired in squabbles and rows. “All liberal Lithuanian parties have been long supporting the initiative, but the ruling Homeland-Lithuanian Christian Democrat Party has been bristling against it. Perhaps fearing that older voters, its traditional electorate, wouldn’t be the decisive force securing their victory,” Arunas Valinskas, deputy chairman of Lithuania’s Liberal and Center Union and head of Parliament’s Information Society Expansion Committee, said recently.
He notes that the Kubilius-led government has pledged to introduce e-voting by the parliamentary elections, but has done nothing in the pursuit. “The Conservatives like to emphasize the modernity of their party, but their chairman Kubilius balks,” Gediminas Kirkilas, a Social Democrat, notes.
In response, Kubilius says he is not repudiating the idea, but all facets of e-voting have to be taken into consideration. “Especially an opportunity for scams,” he belabored.