VILNIUS - The people will decide on Oct. 12, who will succeed the current Social Democrat government led by Gediminas Kirkilas.
The Lithuanian public will also vote on the referendum for the extension of the lifespan of the controversial Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, whose Chernobyl-style reactor shutdown is scheduled for the end of 2009 in accordance with Lithuania's European Union accession treaty.
This election is groundbreaking because it has a record number of women vying for seats 's 43 of the top 160 candidates in the top 16 parties are female. It is the highest percentage of women to run for office in Lithuania's history.
Some votes have already been cast using overseas mail ballots. It has been noted, however, that overseas voters are not as active as in previous years.
Angonita Rupsyte, senior specialist at Parliament's Information Technologies and Telecommunications Department, which handles absentee voters, said that about 900 votes had been cast by the time The Baltic Times went to print. Ballots will continue to be received and counted until Oct. 12.
Preliminary lists of voters abroad made by Lithuania's diplomatic missions and consular offices include 12,789 Lithuanian citizens, a drop from just over 16,000 in the 2004 elections, when more than 9,000 citizens voted from abroad.
The Homeland Union-Christian Democrats party holds the lead based on an opinion poll held three weeks ago by the daily Lietuvos Rytas. The populist Labour Party and the Order and Justice Party came in second and third respectively. The incumbent Lithuanian Social Democratic Party is fourth and new all-entertainers Rising Nation Party came fifth. The results were based on 88 percent of the votes, with 12 percent uncounted.
Although Lithuania is not facing the same economic tumult as the other two Baltic countries the new government will have tougher economic times ahead. The new prime minister will also have to deal with how to handle relations with Russia and the problem of what to do to meet Lithuania's energy shortfall. TBT looks at the main contenders.
The Social Democratic Party (LSDP), led by Gediminas Kirkilas, which now form the minority government, began their campaign with slogans like "For a country that cares about its citizens." LSDP's manifesto says that work is the core social value and the source of economic well-being. The party has promised to create a competitive high-tech industry with qualified professionals to make salaries and pensions rise.
They are in favor of social-minded business, renewable energy and progressive ecological agriculture. Social democrats promise to reform the tax system and support progressive taxes, which means that taxes increase with income. Education is a weak point of their policy. Besides some vague statements on improving the educational system and teachers' quality of life, their platform does not call for the radical changes that are necessary for improving the situation. The party also promises to pay lots of attention to equal rights, healthcare and culture.
The Homeland Union'sChristian Democrats, led by Andrius Kubilius, emphasize their commitment to traditional values and morality. Their main aim is to solve social problems step by step, concentrating on stopping the recession and improving the situation in the areas, which could cause a breakthrough. They criticize their main political opponents, LSDP, for leaving the country to carry heavy, unsolved problems. They also believe they can restore confidence in traditional European politics and guarantee stable state life. They promise to create a competitive economy, help people, create a wealthy society and call for awareness of possible Russian aggression, though details are scarce. They state that supporting a traditional family consisting of married parents and two children is of great importance, because this would help increase Lithuania's population to 4 million until 2050.
The Labour Party, led by Viktor Uspaskich, concentrates on the economic health of the country. The party wants to set precise investment priorities concerning Lithuania's economy, stimulate the growth of business, create a business-friendly environment by putting a privileged tax system on newly established businesses and cutting real estate taxes for innovative companies. Also, they believe that companies that have more than 25 percent market share should be considered monopolies. The Labour Party states that people's income taxes must be reduced from 24 to 20 percent.
The Order and Justice Party, led by Rolandas Paksas, continues to follow its populist line. They started a vast political campaign, including a motion picture called "Pilot" about the party's leader, impeached president Rolandas Paksas, who by law cannot be elected a member of the Seimas. The party's name sums up the core points of the program. It is followed by a statement that free and creative people are fundamental for a democratic state. The developing of the country must be strategically planned according to their program. The party promises a safe, healthy and wealthy countryside. They also look forward to supporting small and average companies and believe that ethnic minorities are an inseparable part of the society.
Rising Nation Party, also known as the celebrity party, headed by Arunas Valinskas, is the new kid on the block and has already drawn plenty of attention to itself 's no surprise, since the majority of members are entertainers, some of whom are very well known in Lithuania. The biggest star here surely is Valinskas, a famous producer and TV show host. They usually mock the current Seimas and present themselves as the only party that can really change things. But their program does not differ much from other parties programs regarding their populist approach to problematic issues. They state that it is their top priority to make quality education available for all children and youth, regardless of social background.
The party will try to pass the law on universal income declaration and supports the idea of progressive taxes by gradually reducing them for people who earn less. They also hope to make it possible for every citizen to complain to the Constitutional Court. Rising Nation Party states that if they are elected they will seek for Lithuania to become a regional leader.
On Oct. 12, voters participating in the Election to the Seimas 2008 will have to fill three ballot papers. The first one is of a single-member constituency, and the voter will mark the name of the candidate for the Seimas member he is voting for.
On a ballot paper of the multi-member constituency the voter shall mark the list of candidates whom he is voting for and, expressing his opinion about the candidates on the list and will enter the election numbers of the 5 chosen candidates in the designated spaces of the ballot paper. In this way preference votes are given for the candidates.
The third ballot is for the referendum on whether Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant should continue to operate until the new one is complete.
More than 1,650 representatives of various political parties are official candidates to the Seimas, where only 141 seats are available. Seventy-one are elected on the single-member constituencies and 70 on the multi-member constituency.