Facebook Blogging

Edward Hugh has a lively and enjoyable Facebook community where he publishes frequent breaking news economics links and short updates. If you would like to receive these updates on a regular basis and join the debate please invite Edward as a friend by clicking the Facebook link at the top of the right sidebar.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Lithuania's 2008 parliamentary election

by Manuel Alvarez-Rivera, Puerto Rico

Voters in Lithuania, the largest and southernmost of the three Baltic republics, go to the polls on October 12 and 26, 2008 to choose members of the country's 141-seat unicameral legislature, the Seimas. The election will be Lithuania's fifth parliamentary vote since 1991, when the country - which unilaterally declared itself independent in 1990, after five decades of annexation by the Soviet Union - was internationally recognized as a sovereign nation, along with neighboring Latvia and Estonia, which also regained their independence from the U.S.S.R.

Lithuania's Central Electoral Commission has first round and runoff election results, now available in both Lithuanian and English. First round results are also available at the bottom of this posting, under Update.

Members of the Seimas are elected every four years under a mixed electoral system, in which 70 parliamentary mandates are distributed on a nationwide basis by the largest remainder method of proportional representation (PR), among party lists polling at least five percent of the vote and coalitions that secure at least seven percent; voters may indicate a preference for five list candidates, and a minimum turnout of 25% is required for the proportional poll to be valid. Meanwhile, the remaining 71 seats are filled in single-member constituencies by the runoff voting system. To win a constituency mandate in the first round of voting, a candidate must obtain an absolute majority of the vote, and turnout in the constituency must be at least 40%; however, if turnout in a given constituency is less than 40%, a candidate can still be elected by winning an absolute majority and a number of votes equal to or larger than 20% of the number of registered voters in the constituency. Otherwise, two weeks after the first round a runoff election is held among the constituency's top two candidates, and the candidate with the largest number of votes is elected to office.

In many ways, Lithuania's political development since 1991 closely resembles that of Estonia and Latvia, in that the post-independence party system has been highly fragmented and volatile, leading to a succession of mostly short-lived governments, which on average have held office for little more than a year - a problem common to all three Baltic republics during their previous period of independence. However, Lithuania also shares an interesting political parallel with Latvia: towards the end of the last century, both countries chose as their respective heads of state émigrés with highly successful professional careers in North America - Lithuania's Valdas Adamkus (a former administrator in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and Latvia's Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga (a psychology professor at Canada's University of Montreal) - and both emerged as highly respected figures who brought their respective countries a measure of stability. In fact, Adamkus, who held the presidency from 1998 to 2003, was returned to office in 2004, following the impeachment of his successor Rolandas Paksas after barely a year in office.

That said, Lithuania differs markedly from Estonia and Latvia in that it never had a large ethnic Russian population, and Lithuanians still constituted the overwhelming majority of their country's population at the time of independence. Moreover, the number of ethnic Russians in Lithuania has declined from nine percent of the population in 1989 to five percent in 2007, while Lithuanians now constitute nearly 85% of the Baltic nation's declining population, up from 79% in 1989 and slightly above the prewar figure of 84%; Poles are now Lithuania's largest ethnic minority group, accounting for six percent of the population. Just as important, ethnic Lithuanians also dominated Lithuania's Communist Party, and after independence the party successfully recycled itself as the Lithuanian Democratic Labour Party, holding office from 1992 to 1996, and again since 2001, having previously merged with the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party under the latter name. To be certain, the emergence of sizable ex-Communist parties has been a fairly common occurrence throughout Eastern Europe, but the success of Lithuania's ex-Communist Social Democrats has been unique among the Baltic republics.

However, Lithuania's party system, once dominated by the Social Democrats and the conservative Homeland Union, has become increasingly fragmented since 2000, and several new groups have secured parliamentary representation in recent parliamentary elections, among them the populist, pro-Russia Labour Party, led by Russian-born millionaire Viktor Uspaskich; the "For Order and Justice" coalition of impeached president Paksas; and the Liberal and Center Union. Moreover, the electoral system hasn't done much to control parliamentary fragmentation, since many parties that fail to overcome the nationwide PR threshold still manage to secure constituency seats; this phenomenon, which has also taken place in other Eastern European countries with similar mixed electoral systems (such as Ukraine before 2006), underscores the fluid nature of Lithuania's party system.

In the 2004 Seimas election - which had a record low voter turnout of 46% - Labour emerged as the largest single party, but former president and Social Democratic Party leader Algirdas Brazauskas, who had become prime minister in 2001, remained in power as head of a new center-left coalition cabinet which included Labour, Brazauskas' "Working for Lithuania" coalition of Social Democrats and New Union (Social Liberals), and the Peasants and New Democrats. However, in 2006 the coalition government came apart following the withdrawal of the Labour Party, and Brazauskas stepped down after nearly five years in office - the longest tenure of any democratically elected Lithuanian (or for that matter Baltic) head of government. Gediminas Kirkilas subsequently formed a Social Democratic minority government, which has ruled Lithuania for the past two years.

While Lithuania doesn't have the thorny problem of integrating its small Russian minority (all the more so because the citizenship law is far more inclusive than those of Estonia or Latvia), relations with Russia are nonetheless tense, and - like the other Baltic republics - Lithuania has pursued a foreign policy strongly oriented towards the West in general and the European Union (EU) in particular. Given its poor relations with Russia - not to mention the painful memories of the 1940-90 annexation to the Soviet Union - it was hardly surprising that Lithuania eagerly sought membership in the EU as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), securing both in 2004.

Lithuania's economy has enjoyed strong growth in the years since independence, but the country remains among the poorest members of the European Union: as of 2006, only Bulgaria and Romania (which joined the EU in 2007) were ranked below Lithuania in terms of per capita gross national income. Meanwhile, the global financial crisis has already had a tangible impact on this year's election: on October 8 the government, which is trailing in opinion polls, announced it would increase the insurance level on banking deposits from 22,000 euros to 100,000 euros (just under 75,000 U.S. dollars at current exchange rates) - twice the EU's recommended level. Polls suggest a fragmented election outcome, and the ruling Social Democrats may once more prove to be key players in the formation of a new government - provided they retain their parliamentary representation.


With all 2,034 districts reporting, the results of Sunday's nationwide multi-member constituency vote, updated as of October 19, 2008 were as follows:

Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) - 243,823 votes (19.7%), 18 seats
Rising Nation Party (TPP) - 186,629 votes (15.1%), 13 seats
Party "Order and Justice" (PTIT) - 156,777 votes (12.7%), 11 seats
Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) - 144,890 votes (11.7%), 10 seats
Coalition Labour Party + Youth (KDP+J) - 111,149 votes (9.0%), 8 seats
Liberals' Movement of the Republic of Lithuania (LRLS) - 70,862 votes (5.7%), 5 seats
Liberal and Centre Union (LICS) - 66,078 votes (5.3%), 5 seats
Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action (LLRA) - 59,237 votes (4.8%), no seats
Union of Lithuanian Peasants and Peoples (LVLS) - 46,162 votes (3.7%), no seats
New Union (Social Liberals) (NS(S)) - 45,061 votes (3.6%), no seats
Others - 106,048 votes (8.6%), no seats

The election had a 48.6% voter turnout rate, up from 46.1% in 2004.

No candidate won an absolute majority in 68 out of 71 single-member constituencies, and runoff elections were held in these on October 26. Meanwhile, in the remaining three constituencies the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party won two mandates, and the Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action obtained one seat.

In the 68 constituencies that held a runoff vote, Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats emerged as the leading party in 25, and came in second place in an additional 20. However, the Rising Nation Party - headed by TV reality show host Arunas Valinskas - only managed to finish second in nine constituencies, while the Order and Justice Party won the largest number of votes in just five, and arrived second in 11. On the other hand, the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party topped the poll in 13 constituencies (excluding the two seats won outright on the first round), and came in second place in 11.

In addition, the Labour Party made it to the runoff election in four constituencies, while the Liberals' Movement of the Republic of Lithuania contested nine constituencies, the Liberal and Centre Union candidates ran in ten, the Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action in four, the Union of Lithuanian Peasants and Peoples in six and New Union (Social Liberals) in one; minor party and independent candidates were also on the ballot in eight constituencies.

Following the October 26 runoff vote, which had a 32.4% voter turnout rate, the definitive distribution of Seimas seats stood as follows:

Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) - 45 seats
Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) - 25 seats
Rising Nation Party (TPP) - 16 seats
Party "Order and Justice" (PTIT) - 15 seats
Liberals' Movement of the Republic of Lithuania (LRLS) - 11 seats
Coalition Labour Party + Youth (KDP+J) - 10 seats
Liberal and Centre Union (LICS) - 8 seats
Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action (LLRA) - 3 seats
Union of Lithuanian Peasants and Peoples (LVLS) - 3 seats
New Union (Social Liberals) (NS(S)) - 1 seat
Independents - 4 seats

Three weeks after the election, TS-LKD leader (and former prime minister) Andrius Kubilius formed a center-right coalition government with TPP, LRLS and LICS, which subsequently won a vote of confidence in the Seimas.