Lithuania's Social Democratic Party (LSDP) performed poorly in the first round of parliamentary elections last Sunday and has now come under criticism for endorsing the incumbents in the second round of voting.
Critics say that the social democrats are betraying the left agenda, on which they campaigned, by supporting parties like the Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS). Even though labeled as “centre-left”, the LVŽS is nothing of the kind, they insist.
The LSDP finished fourth in Sunday's elections, securing eight seats out of 70 in the multi-member constituency with 9.3 percent of the vote. The runoff vote on October 25 will distribute 71 more seats, although three MPs were already elected in the first round.
The day after the election, the LSDP leader Gintautas Paluckas said the party would support LVŽS candidates in districts where no social democrats made it into the second round. In return, social democrat candidates will get the support from the LVŽS.
The LVŽS, which leads the current government, finished the election second, securing 16 parliament seats. The party has been tipped to lead a possible “centre-left” coalition, should the conservatives of the Homeland Union (TS-LKD), which got 23 seats in the first round, fail to seal their victory in the runoffs.
In addition to the ideologically ambivalent Labour Party, the LSDP is mentioned by observers as possible partners in the would-be coalition.
However, Paluckas' endorsement of the LVŽS – though he has insisted the party was not in talks with the LVŽS about partnering up after the election – has not been met with universal approval, even within his own ranks.
In an interview with LRT.lt, party old-timer Algimantas Salamakinas insisted that associations with the LVŽS and the Labour Party undermine the social democrats' progressive credentials.
“I never have nor ever will consider the ‘farmers’ [LVŽS] or the ‘labourists’ [Labour Party] to be leftists,” he said. “These parties ruined the left agenda, and the social democrats took the hit. That's why they were left with eight seats.”
Several other LSDP candidates defied Paluckas' lead, endorsing conservative or liberal politicians in the second-round voting.
“In constituencies where TS-LKD (conservatives) are running against the LVŽS, I would, however, support the conservatives,” Liutauras Gudžinskas, one of the authors of the LSDP platform, posted on Facebook. “Whichever way you look at it, the LVŽS is a party-firm run by one oligarch that has made numerous attempts to undermine democratic institutions over the last four years.”
Another LSDP candidate, Vaidas Navickas, wrote a similar post, criticising the LVŽS' record in government and specifically endorsing a conservative candidate running against Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis.
Navickas, who did not advance to the second round, said his voters “voted for the renewal of the social democrats, not a coalition with Karbauskis and Uspaskich”, the leaders of the LVŽS and the Labour Party, respectively.
Paluckas himself has conceded that his move was the lesser “of two evils” and a pragmatic choice aimed at maximising the chances of LSDP candidates to get into the parliament.
“You want to see your own candidates elected and improve the chances of implementing your platform. The price is declaring support for the ‘farmers’ candidates,” he said in an interview to the Elta news agency.
According to Paluckas, the LSDP's biggest weakness is its split electoral base. Voters who support left economic policies are often sceptical about “left cultural politics” like human rights and freedoms, such as same-sex partnership. At the same times, better-off urban voters “are suspicious of generous social policies and expansion of public services”.
As a result, the LSDP's electoral base gets eroded from two sides: the socially conservative parties like the LVŽS on the one hand and the liberals who are more bolder on issues like LGBTQ+ rights on the other, according to Paluckas.
As for the LSDP's place in the would-be parliament, Paluckas said the social democrats would definitely not join any centre-right coalition led by conservatives or liberals. “We have two options: either to join centre-left, or to be in the opposition,” he said, adding that the final decision will be made by a party vote.
“[Either way,] we will not compromise on our platform,” he told Elta.