Labor Party loses momentum, right-wing parties score big

  • 2004-10-27
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - The widely prophesized scenario did not come true after all. The second round of the Oct. 24 parliamentary elections ended hopes of an overwhelming Labor Party victory, as the populists took fewer seats than expected. Right-wing parties, in the meantime, mustered a solid showing that strengthened their bargaining position in coalition talks that began the following day and continued well into Oct. 27, when The Baltic Times went to press.

After the poll, essentially a run-off ballot in 66 districts after the first round two weeks ago, the Labor Party came in first place among participating political factions, winning a total of 39 parliamentary seats. While impressive for an upstart party, the result was significantly below what its Russian-born leader, Viktor Uspaskich, had been striving for and far below the 71 needed to form a majority in the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament).

For Work For Lithuania - the alliance of current ruling parties the Social Democrats and Social Liberals - won 19 more mandates, bringing their total to 31, which was below Social Democratic leader and Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas' expectations.

The right-wing parties, on the other hand, had an excellent showing, with the Homeland Union (the Conservatives) mustering a total of 25 mandates after the two rounds - the second-highest among individual parties - and the Liberal and Center Union pulling together another 18. Together the two parties, which cooperated throughout both rounds of the election, have a total of 43 seats, making them the single largest force in the new Parliament.

The result was cause for celebration in right-wing quarters, with party leaders immediately claiming victory.

"The unit of the right wing should have the right to form the government," said Conservative leader Andrius Kubilius. (See interview on Page 18 and story on Page 5.)

Meanwhile, the coalition of impeached President Rolandas Paksas, For Order and Justice, won 11 mandates, while the Union of Farmers and New Democracy Parties, led by presidential candidate Kazimira Prunskiene, secured 10 seats in the new legislature. The Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action won two seats, and independent candidates obtained five.

Central Electoral Committee Chairman Zenonas Vaigauskas did not rule out that the final results could be recounted in select districts due to a narrow victory.

Uspaskich, the millionaire Labor leader who formed the party a year ago, expressed his disappointment about the party's less-than-expected result but said that the party would play a key role in forming a new Cabinet of Ministers.

The Social Democrats, for their part, also expressed regret at their weak showing, though they ultimately saw a silver lining in the day's results.

"So far all ruling parties have been swept away by the electorate. But now we've not only stayed - we also are one of the cores for forming future politics," Ceslovas Jursenas, co-leader of the Social Democratic Party, told a press conference on Oct. 25. "We favor the election results. The pendulum has clearly stopped from swinging."

Parliamentary speaker Arturas Paulauskas, who also served as interim president after Paksas was impeached in April, lost his run-off race in the Fabijoniskes district to Raimondas Sukys, deputy chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs and a member of the Liberal and Center Union. Sukys won 59.1 percent and Paulauskas 40.9 percent.

According to data provided by the Central Electoral Committee, 31.20 percent of all registered voters cast their ballots by 7 p.m. Another 8.06 percent of the electorate voted by post or from homes earlier this week, pulling up the overall voter turnout to almost 40 percent. Compared with previous parliamentary elections over the last decade, this was a record-low turnout.

Some 2.48 million voters had the right to vote in the Oct. 24 election.

Also, the next Parliament will have almost two times as many female members compared with the current one. In 2000, 15 women won parliamentary mandates, while the number this time around was 29.