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BACKLASH

  • 2004-06-17
What a week it's been. Elections, voter disquiet, government instability...

From Narva to Nida, the Baltic states seemed to have reached critical mass; everyone is exhausted and in acute need of a lengthy rest. The European Parliament elections, if anything, were a barometer of the public mood. And it isn't good. Not keen on the subtleties of EU mechanics and decision-making processes, Baltic voters - those who bothered - cast their ballot on the basis of trust. The parties in power had a poor showing simply because the electorate does not trust them. It is an interim death sentence, and it occurred in nearly all EU countries last week (the notable exceptions being Spain and Greece).
In Estonia the ruling coalition - Res Publica, the Reform Party and the People's Party - together mustered 26.9 percent of the vote, or about every fourth voter. Only the Reform Party won a seat. And party leaders cannot write it off on low turnout: They had appealed to voters to get out of their armchairs, but the latter didn't bother. Refusal to participate is just another form of voter expression - and usually negative. As a result, the center-left forces won the day, taking four out of the country's six seats.
In Lithuania the situation was unique in that the day had two elections - presidential and EP - which managed to draw out 48 percent of impeachment-and-politics-weary Lithuanians to the polling stations. Thus the verdict for the ruling parties is even more damning: only 19.2 percent combined support for the Social Democrats and the New Union Social Liberals, though the SocDems will be sending two of its representatives to sit in the EP. Lithuanians are fed up with the hackneyed slogans of center-left dinosaurs and have instead turned to a new face for fresh inspiration. Its name: the Labor Party.
The upstart party scored a smashing success, amassing 30 percent of the vote and turning Lithuania's political landscape on its head. The vegetable salesman Viktor Uspaskich has undoubtedly become Man of the Year, and he has the momentum to affect the outcome of the presidential runoff on June 27 and the parliamentary election this fall. After Labor's breathtaking performance on June 14, many are anticipating Uspaskich to replace Algirdas Brazauskas later this year.
Finally, Latvia. Here the ruling coalition fared so awfully, so pathetically, that there is reason to believe that the tripartite minority - the People's Party, the Greens and Farmers Union and Latvia's First Party - will crack under the defeat. PM Indulis Emsis and his allies are trying to pull off revolutionary spin control to mask their shame - the three parties only scrapped together 14 percent of the vote, and only the People's Party won a seat - but the clouds of doom are thickening over their heads. Latvia looks ripe for another government change, but whether it takes place largely depends on how skillful New Era and For Fatherland and Freedom play their cards.
What else can you say? There's never a dull moment in Baltic politics.