Surprises in Lithuania's elections

  • 2007-02-28
  • By Arturas Racas
VILNIUS - Municipal elections, held throughout Lithuania on Feb. 25, brought victory to the ruling Social Democratic Party, along with a number of surprises including the possible comeback of impeached former president Rolandas Paksas. Proving that biggest doesn't always mean best, the Social Democrats came in second in the sheer number of votes they garnered 's 174,286 of the 1,068,836 cast nationwide 's but still ended up the clear winners in the total number of seats they claimed in municipal councils

The recipient of the most votes nationwide was the Homeland Union (Conservatives), supported by 183,602 voters, or some 17 percent of election participants, Lithuania's Central Electoral Committee announced on Feb. 26. They did not, however, fare as well as the Social Democrats since, in accordance with Lithuanian law, votes are counted separately in each of the country's 60 municipalities.

As a result, the Conservatives received 256 seats in municipal councils compared to the Social Democrats' 302 seats.
Municipal elections, held once every four years, mark a major political undertaking for the country. This year a total of 24 parties, out of the 37 registered in Lithuania, fielded more than 13,000 candidates in the elections to fill a total of 1,550 seats.
The victory of the Social Democrat Party and the Conservatives was not at all a surprise, nor was the record low turnout 's only around 40 percent of the country's 2.7 million strong electorate participated

But a good showing by the Order and Justice Party, chaired by the impeached president Rolandas Paksas, surprised many. Paksas' party came in third in terms of the number of votes throughout Lithuania. It enjoyed the support of 137,287 voters, putting it nearly 20,000 votes ahead of the Liberal Center Party, which ended in fourth with 118,583 votes.
But again 's as in the case with the Social Democrats and the Conservatives 's quantity did not turn into quality. Order and Justice won 181 seats in municipal councils while the Liberal Center Party will have 182.
"The results of both the Order and Justice Party and the Liberal Center Party came as a surprise, especially taking into account the low turnout," Alvydas Lukosaitis, a political analyst at the Vilnius Institute for Political Sciences and International Relations told The Baltic Times.

"Paksas' party in fact demonstrated the same results as in parliamentary elections in 2004. That may not be seen as a big surprise. But their result in Vilnius, where they came first and won almost one third of the seats, was a really unexpected result," Lukosaitis added.
The final result for the Liberal Center Party, he said, can also be considered "glorious."
"They did better than in parliamentary elections and one could hardly expect that, taking into account the recent split in the party and corruption scandals related to party leader, Vilnius mayor Arturas Zuokas," Lukosaitis said.
Showings by other major parties did not surprise analysts.

The National Farmers Union, which belongs to the current ruling coalition, will have 141 seats in the municipal councils. Another party in the ruling coalition, the Civic Democracy Party, ended with just 17 seats.
The Labor Party, created by Russian-born businessman Viktor Uspaskich, who has been hiding in Moscow for almost a year, will have 111 municipal seats. Uspaskich was the 25th and last candidate on the party's list for the Kedainiai municipality, but voters promoted him to the third place in the list, according to preliminary data by the election commission.
If the results are confirmed, that will mean that Uspaskich will have a seat in the Kedainiai municipal government, as his party won 10 seats there. Uspaskich, founder and first chairman of the Labor Party, which won parliamentary elections in 2004, served as the Minister of Economics before a financial scandal forced him to step down and flee the country.
The Labor Party's former ally, the Social Liberal Party, headed by former parliamentary speaker Arturas Paulauskas, won 97 seats throughout Lithuania.

The Christian Democrat Party showed quite well, claiming 95 seats in the municipal councils, while Polish Election Action predictably did well in regions with high Polish populations, winning 53 seats.
Liberal Movement, a party established after its split with the Liberal Center Party and headed by Lithuania's former chief EU negotiator Petras Austrevicius, won only 51 seats.
None of the other parties received more than 20 seats.

Only five of the 60 municipalities saw any party winning an absolute majority.
The most impressive were results in the Vilnius region and Salcininkai, where Polish Election Action won 19 out of 27 and 20 out of 25 seats respectively. Druskininkai saw the Social Democrat Party taking 18 from 25 seats in the municipality.
However, head of the Central Electoral Committee Zenonas Vaigauskas, speaking to journalists on Feb. 26 said that election results in Pagegiai may be cancelled as the committee received many complaints of election law violations, including vote buying.
Salcininkai municipality is also under investigation, he added.

But even if the election results in the two municipalities were cancelled, this would be of less interest compared to the situation in the Vilnius municipality, where the impeached president may become mayor of the Lithuanian capital.
The situation here is highly complicated, with Paksas' party having 14 of the 51 seats and his three main opponents 's the Social Democrats, Conservatives and Liberal Movement 's having 20. Paksas, however, signed a preliminary cooperation previousagreement with Polish Election Action, which won 6 seats.
The party of Vilnius' current mayor Zuokas won 9 seats in the municipality, and Russian Union holds another 2 seats. But neither the three-party coalition nor Paksas wants to unite with Zuokas, who has been accused of corruption.
Additionally, Social Democratic Party and Conservative Party leaders in Vilnius had both publicly promised before the elections that a coalition with Zuokas would not happen.

"It seems that negotiations in Vilnius will be the longest and today nobody can say that there is any clarity there," Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said in an interview on public radio Feb. 27.
And he appears to be right, since it is not every day that Europe's only impeached president aims to become mayor of his nation's capital city.