2020.10.12 10:27

Lithuania’s general elections – key takeaways

Justinas Šuliokas, LRT.lt2020.10.12 10:27

Lithuania’s general election is far from over and the make-up of the 13th parliament, Seimas, will not be known until after the decisive runoff vote in two weeks. However, we can draw some tentative conclusions.

Results in the multi-member constituency (70 seats):

Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) - 24.8% (23 seats)
Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS) - 17.5% (16 seats)
Labour Party (DP) - 9.5% (9 seats)
Social Democrats (LSDP) - 9.3% (8 seats)
Freedom Party (LP) - 9.0% (8 seats)
Liberal Movement (LRLS) - 6.8% (6 seats)

Elections at a glance

Sunday’s vote gives a clear lead to the conservative Homeland Union which has spent the last two terms in the opposition. The incumbent Farmers and Greens Union is second, with the Labour Party a surprising third. The two liberal parties – Freedom Party and the Liberal Movement – also made a decent showing, thanks mostly to the urban vote that had more weight in the election with a turnout of less than 50 percent.

What we don’t know

Only a little over half of the parliament seats have been distributed after Sunday's vote, with 68 mandates to be decided after runoffs on October 25 (three single-member constituencies produced winners in the first round). While Homeland Union candidates are the most numerous among those who advanced to the second round of voting, the runoffs have historically been unfavourable to frontrunners in general and the conservatives in particular. Expect the gap between the Homeland Union and the Farmers and Greens to narrow – if not reverse, as happened in 2016.

In the last elections, the conservatives were also leading after the first round, only to have their victory snatched two weeks later.

Are we looking at a conservative-led government?

Unless the runoffs present a major upset for the Homeland Union, its lead candidate Ingrida Šimonytė – who scored a resounding victory in her single-member constituency – is likely to be Lithuania’s next prime minister.

The conservatives’ (23 seats) natural allies in a hypothetical centre-right coalition would be the Liberal Movement (6 seats) and Freedom Party (8 seats), although they may not be enough to secure a majority.

Another option discussed by observers is a “centre-left” coalition led by the Farmers and Greens (16 seats). None of their current partners crossed the 5-percent threshold, but the Labour Party (9 seats after the first round) is a likely partner, as is the Social Democratic Party (8 seats).

The Labour Party could be the kingmaker, observers note, as its rather loose platform and ideology do not preclude joining either coalition.

Key surprise

Freedom Party was balancing on the 5-percent threshold in most pre-election opinion polls and its key campaign issues – LGBTQ+ rights and cannabis legalisation – did not seem to endear them to “the average voter”. Nine percent of the vote is more than anyone had expected them to win.

Key upset

The Social Democratic Party seems to be the biggest loser in Sunday’s vote, falling behind the Labour Party and within close reach of the Freedom Party newcomers. The biggest party in the country by membership, the social democrats had been betting on attracting more voters with their renewal under the leadership of Gintautas Paluckas – but the results are worse than in 2016.

Voting during the pandemic

The Central Electoral Commission had to put an extra effort to ensure a safe election during the coronavirus pandemic. Early voting was extended to four days and more electoral commission members were hired to manage voter flows and collect ballots from people in mandatory self-quarantine.

Still, reports on Sunday suggested that a number of voters at home could not cast their ballots – something that the Central Electoral Commission promised to address – while the turnout was lower than in any other election in recent years.

Expatriate vote

Lithuanians living abroad could for the first time elect their own representative in a special expatriate constituency. Aušrinė Armonaitė of Freedom Party and Dalia Asanavičiūtė, a former leader of the Lithuanian community in the UK running with the conservatives, advanced to the second round. Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius, however, was left overboard.

Read more: Lithuania's general elections give victory to opposition conservatives

Read more: How Lithuania’s mixed election system works – explainer