By Willa Davis

Vilnius Old Town Photo: Pixabay

This October, Lithuanians took to the polls to elect a new parliament, or Seimas.  During its time as an independent state, Lithuania has been home to thirteen different parliaments (Lithuania’s 2020, 2020), in both Kaunas, its interwar capital, and Vilnius.  While the setting of the 2020 election was slightly different this time, with the occurrence of the Covid-19 pandemic, this did not stop Lithuanians from casting their votes.  

On Sunday, October 11th, voters took to the polls throughout the country to participate in the first round of elections.  The outcomes of the first round, although not conclusive, suggested that the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD), led by Gabrielius Landsbergis (Lithuanian party, 2020), were the front runners, gaining 24.8% of the vote and 23 seats (Lithuania’s general, 2020).  The Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS) who are led by Ramūnas Karbauskis (Lithuanian party, 2020), and belong to the incumbent government, came in second place with 17.5% of the vote and 16 seats (Lithuania’s general, 2020).  Viktor Uspaskich’s Labour Party (DP) took third place with 9.5% of the votes and 9 seats (Lithuania’s general, 2020).  The Social Democrats (LSDP), headed by Gintautas Paluckas (Lithuanian party, 2020), came in fourth place with 9.3% of the vote and 8 seats (Lithuania’s general, 2020).  Lithuania’s rather new Freedom Party (LP), which is led by Aušrinė Armonaitė (Lithuanian party, 2020), arrived in fifth place with 9.0% of the vote and 8 seats (Lithuanian general, 2020).  The Liberal Movement (LRLS) came in last place with 6.8% of the vote and 6 seats (Lithuania’s general, 2020) to the disappointment of the party’s chairwoman, Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen (Lithuanian party, 2020).

Lithuania uses a mixed electoral system, in which voters cast parallel ballots for both single-member and multi-member districts (How Lithuania’s).  Ballots for single-member districts are dedicated to electing a single representative for a given area.  Individuals elected in single-member districts constitute 71 of the Seimas’ 141 members (How Lithuania’s, 2020).  On the other hand, ballots cast for multi-member districts are focused on open party lists, in which voters can select a party list of their choice and then order the candidates within the list according to their personal preferences (How Lithuania’s, 2020).  Individuals elected in multi-member districts amount to 70 of the Seimas’ 141 members (How Lithuania’s, 2020). 

While some single-member districts manage to get a voter turnout of at least 40% and a candidate more than 50% of the votes during the first round, most single-member districts require a second-round run-off.  In other words, Lithuanians cast two ballots during the first round of elections and then, generally, proceed to cast a third ballot during the second round of elections (How Lithuania’s, 2020).  The 2020 parliamentary elections in Lithuania proved to be no different, as only three single-member district candidates managed to obtain the necessary number of votes to secure a victory during the first round, on October 11th (Lithuania’s general, 2020).

On Sunday, October 25th, Lithuanians took to the polls once again to elect the remaining 68 single-district members of the Seimas, who failed to gain more than 50% of the vote during the first round of elections on October 11th.  With polls closing at 8:00 P.M. Eastern European Standard Time, the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) have been declared the winners of the 2020 parliamentary election (Conservatives seal, 2020).  The TS-LKD won 50 seats total, giving them a solid victory over the former governing party, the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS).  The Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS), which is home to Lithuania’s current prime minister, Saulius Skvernelis, received 32 seats (Duxbury, 2020, Conservatives win Lithuania).  This distribution in seats illustrates the devastating blow to the Farmers and Greens Union, who won 53 Seimas seats during the 2016 election (Lithuanian PM, 2020).  The Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) have, on the other hand, made electoral gains, as they previously held only 31 seats in Lithuania’s Seimas (Lithuanian PM, 2020).  While pre-election polls suggested that the Farmers and Greens Union had a high rate of approval amongst the Lithuanian population, due to their perceived handling of the Coronavirus pandemic, it appears that voters eventually chose to back the TS-LKD (Coronavirus pandemic, 2020).

At this point, the TS-LKD and its leading candidate for prime minister, Ingrida Šimonytė, have been tasked with forming a coalition with other parties that wish to contribute to a center-right platform (Conservatives seal, 2020).  According to DELFI EN, Šimonytė has begun talks with the leaders of both the Liberal Movement (LRLS), who secured 13 seats and the Freedom Party (LP), who obtained 11 seats (Conservatives win, 2020).  If the TS-LKD, the LRLS, and the LP manage to reach a coalition deal under Šimonytė, they will have 72 of the Seimas’ 141 total seats (Conservatives win, 2020).  According to POLITICO’s correspondent, Charlie Duxbury, Šimonytė faces a difficult path ahead, as she must form a stable coalition and overcome her reputation as a figure of austerity (Duxbury, 2020, Conservatives win Lithuania).  Šimonytė led Lithuania through the aftermath of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, as finance minister, and was tasked with getting the small Baltic nation out of a challenging economic situation (Duxbury, 2020, Conservatives win Lithuania). 

While the Coronavirus pandemic presented the Lithuanian government with a difficult electoral setting, both elections were able to proceed as planned.  Despite the fact that a large number of Lithuanians appeared to be satisfied with the incumbent government’s virus response, the outcome of the election suggests otherwise.  As cases continue to rise in Europe and scientists continue to work on developing a vaccine, it is difficult to say how the situation will develop.  Lithuania appears, however, to be as resolute as ever and ready to tackle the situations that lies ahead.  In the past months it has presented itself as a regional leader in the midst of the post-electoral protests in its neighboring country of Belarus, offering both physical and political shelter to members of the Belarussian opposition, such as Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Bičkauskaite, 2020, Can Lithuania).  Lithuania and Belarus have become an example for Europe and the United States, as they are both home to powerful female triumvirates at this time.  It is clear that Lithuania’s new, female led government (Seputyte, 2020, Women lead), and the Belarussian oppositions leaders, Veronika Tsepkalo, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and Maria Kolesnikova, will continue to strengthen the Baltic states and Eastern Europe’s democratic principles.

Willa Davis is a contributing writer at the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC), where she covers the history, economics, and politics of the Baltic states.

References

Bičkauskaite, M. (2020, October 1). Can Lithuania become regional leader amid Belarus crisis? LRT. https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1243022/can-lithuania-become-regional-leader-amid-belarus-crisis

Coronavirus pandemic catapults Lithuania’s ruling party onto top of polls. (2020, October 7). LRT. http://lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1196420/coronavirus-pandemic-catapults-lithuania-s-ruling-party-onto-top-of-polls

Conservatives seal victory in Lithuania’s run-offs elections. (2020, October 26).  LRT. https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1260757/conservatives-seal-victory-in-lithuania-s-run-offs-elections

Conservatives win parliamentary election – can form coalition with liberals. (2020, October 25). DELFI EN. https://en.delfi.lt/politics/conservatives-win-parliamentary-election.d?id=85574449

Duxbury, C. (2020, October 26). Conservatives win Lithuania election: Preliminary results. POLITICO. https://www.politico.eu/article/conservatives-win-lithuania-election-preliminary-results/?fbclid=IwAR2whgC0tOh6fOBlDy3E2OZ9gvu4SYQ62MsaKqxCt_IlSLC2Zmn19TYTVMU

How Lithuania’s mixed election system works – explainer. (2020, October 5).  LRT. https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1242990/how-lithuania-s-mixed-election-system-works-explainer

Lithuania’s general elections give victory to opposition conservatives. (2020, October 12). LRT. https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1250268/lithuania-s-general-elections-give-victory-to-opposition-conservatives

Lithuanian party leaders in post-election press conference – key takeaways. (2020, October 12). LRT. https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1251179/lithuania-s-social-democrats-disappointed-with-lacklustre-performance

Lithuanian PM to run in October election on ruling party list. (2020, June 8). LRT. https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1186303/lithuanian-pm-to-run-in-october-election-on-ruling-party-list

Lithuania’s 2020 Seimas election – key facts and figures. (2020, October 9). LRT. https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1249568/lithuania-s-2020-seimas-election-key-facts-and-figures

Seputyte, M. (2020, October 25). Women lead opposition to victory in Lithuanian general elections. Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-25/women-lead-opposition-to-victory-in-lithuanian-general-elections

Šuliokas, J. (2020, October 12). Lithuania’s general elections – key takeaways. LRT. https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1250972/lithuania-s-general-elections-key-takeaways

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