With Lithuania’s Constitutional Court decision upholding the parliamentary election results in 65 out of 70 multi-mandate electoral districts, and annulling the results in merely one vote-rigging scandal-embattled single-mandate election district, the lingering political bedlam seems to have been averted for now. However, evidently disappointed with the ruling, President Dalia Grybauskaite, the initiator of the constitutional inquiry, cannot agree with it and continues hammering the Labor Party, emphasizing that its presence in the new government is “absolutely undesirable.” If the Steel Magnolia (that is how the Lithuanian head-of-state is dubbed, due to her tough character) persists, the new left-wing government formation efforts may be doomed and the looming prospect of a new parliamentary election may take shape.
How long will the political uncertainty last? And where will it take Lithuania? What likely effect will the ruling of the Constitution Court have on the parties? And, importantly, how will the political limbo affect Grybauskaite herself? The Baltic Times sat down with Vladas Gaidys, a prominent sociologist, pollster and director of Vilmorus, a market and public opinion research company, for more insight into the situation.
What do you make of this situation in the country?
Though the imminent possibility of a political ordeal in the wake of the Constitutional Court’s ruling has been staved off for now, there are still many signs of a brewing political crisis in the country. It is obvious that the most likely new coalition made up of the left-wing parties cannot come to agreement with the president, whose approval of a new government is mandatory. The Constitutional Court has said clearly that the parliament has been elected legitimately. It must have been a piece of disappointing news for the president, who had reiterated before the ruling that the Labor Party cannot be a part of the coalition. If Grybauskaite stays put, the deepening of the crisis is perhaps inevitable. If she shows some leniency, the tension may dwindle. However, considering her tough character, it is pretty obvious she will not give up her position easily. If a solution is not found in the nearest days, the looming possibility of a new parliamentary election will look to be shaping up.
If a new parliamentary election is announced today, how are the parties likely to end up? Can we expect a major shift in public opinion?
Well, first of all, I’d predict that the situation is working clearly against Grybauskaite herself. She has been enjoying extremely high job approval ratings, but they have dropped a few percentage points in the wake of the scandal. I cannot tell yet if it is a temporary thing, or if it is a sign of a longer trend. We have to wait and see for further developments. But some things are clearly working against the president’s ratings. If before her appeal to the Constitution Court her courting the Motherland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats, the Conservatives, was perhaps not that evident to many people, now it is an obvious thing. Taking that into account, the president, at least temporarily, cannot count on the support of the left parties’ electorate. Its disappointment with Grybauskaite can drag out as long as to a new presidential election, which is not far. Speaking of the three left-wing parties that still are the most realistic candidates to form the new government, their support may even increase in the wake of the Constitutional Court ruling. However, I’d think that the increase will come, nevertheless, at the expense of the Labor Party as some of its voters will, at least temporarily, vote for the Order and Justice Party and the Social Democrats. However, the fluctuation will be insignificant in the longer run.
So if the new election were held today, its results would likely be pretty much the same as we saw on October 14. Perhaps the Labor Party would get fewer mandates and the Social Democrats would get a couple more mandates. However, the total of the three parties’ mandates would be the same. I believe that the Conservatives would retain the same number of parliamentary mandates, as they have a very solid and active electorate. Regardless of what is going on with the party, it can always rely on its voters when other parties’ voters, perhaps except for the Social Democrats, are more likely to swap sides.
How important were Grybauskaite’s personal characteristics in questioning the election results before the Constitutional Court?
Indeed, many see the relation between the drastic decision and the president’s propensity for sometimes extraordinary, blunt and tough decisions. I’m among those analysts who believe that the relatively small-scale vote-rigging cannot put in doubt the legitimacy of the whole election.
Are you saying that Grybauskaite has perhaps overreacted?
I’d rather not say if she has done so or not. Let’s perhaps let the lawyers talk about the constitutionality of the decision. But if the Constitutional Court had nodded to the president’s demand and announced that the election in the entire multi-mandate election district is illegitimate, it would have caused a great deal of political havoc in the country. In fact, annulment of election results is perhaps more characteristic of third-world underdeveloped undemocratic countries. I believe that the Court must have considered all this when deliberating its decision.
The Constitutional Court judges have shown their strong backbone in withstanding political rifts before, like announcing that the ruling Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats’ Family Conception program does not correspond to the Constitution. Perhaps a moderate, spark-and-fire-proof decision could have been expected in the ruling on the election as well?
The ruling on Family Concept was a lot simpler and less affecting of the political life and stability than the ruling on the elections. I really do not envy the judges and would not like to be in their shoes. Whatever decision they had announced, they would have been cursed. But with the decision being more or less in the interest of the left parties, there are a whole lot less flares than would have been if the Court had bowed to the Presidential Palace.
For us, Lithuanians, perhaps it is weird to think that courts, even the Constitutional Court, can be really impartial.
Indeed, the Court has undoubtedly been under tremendous pressure, but the judges have stood their positions. The human factor is always important when it comes to a judicial system. Such things like law enforcers’ outlooks, views, pasts and morals always matter a lot. Certainly, the political environment and its influence also affect law enforcers.
Some Labor Party heads fear that the ultimate goal of the president and the prosecutors is dissolving the party. How real does that look to you?
Banning or dissolving a party in a democratic country is hardly an imaginable thing. I really do not think that anyone can go as far as to push for sweeping the party away. It would be just too inadequate, I’d reckon.
How do you explain that Lithuanians love those who are being punched and vote for them regardless of the charges and all the wrongdoings?
As you understand, I’m speaking of the Labor Party and the Drasios Kelias (Drasa Way Party).
People tend to vote for the persecuted, or the being persecuted personalities and parties in protest to the judicial system they are not happy about. And this is characteristic not only in Lithuania, but to other countries, even more developed, as well.
Do you believe we’ll have the three left party ruling coalition and their government? Or will the president go for a new parliamentary election?
A coalition of the Social Democrats, Order and Justice Party and Labor Party still looks the most plausible. It would be logical to have these parties in the new government. But sometimes there is little logic in politics.