Lithuania. Parliamentary Elections. October 14 and 28, 2012
Report by: Hannah Lidicker
Although the international community praised Lithuania’s austerity measures and their success at preventing grave economic crisis in Lithuania, the Lithuanian electorate voted out the austerity government.
Lithuania voted out Prime Minister Kubilius’ center-right party in favor of the Social Democrats and the Labor Party – or a possible coalition of the two. However, President Grybauskaite attempted to keep the Labor Party out of the government amidst voter fraud allegations.
The Lithuanian Constitutional Court issued a ruling in mid-November confirming that the Labor Party had committed some fraud and vote-buying during the 2012 Parliamentary elections.
The Parliament, however, did not fully support the ruling. President Grybauskaite officially appointed Algirdas Butkevicius, the head of the Social Democratic Party, as Prime Minister.
Lithuania held two rounds of Parliamentary elections in October 2012. Before the elections, analysts predicted that the center-right government led by Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius since 2008 would be voted out in favor of center left parties – namely the Social Democratic Party and Labor Party (and possibly a coalition of the two). Of the two, the Social Democratic Party was favored because of concerns about the Labor Party’s connections with Russia.
The results of this election are surprising to many observers because of Lithuania’s impressive comeback from the European economic crisis that hit the country in 2008. Although Lithuania was one of the countries worst hit by the crisis (with GDP growth rates dropping to -14.8% in 2009), the nation achieved modest but positive growth the very next year and by 2011 had almost reached the level of pre-crisis growth rates. Prime Minister Kubilius’ austerity measures and conservative spending habits were praised by Brussels and the rest of the international community for their success in preventing enormous debt, inflation and other economic problems in Lithuania. The recent 2012 election results, however, indicate the Lithuanian electorate’s dissatisfaction with the austerity government.
After the first round of elections on October 14th, 2012, it was considered quite clear that the Social Democratic Party, led by Algirdas Butkevicius, would win the Parliamentary majority. As expected, the Social Democratic and Labor parties met to discuss the possibility of a coalition government before the second round of elections was completed.
These parties proved victorious in this election because of their anti-austerity platforms. They both pledged to raise minimum wage, raise taxes on the wealthy, and improve relations with Russia. They also campaigned to push entry into the Euro market back to 2015 in order to be permitted to run a higher deficit over the next couple of years.
The October 14th, 2012 first round of elections generated a flurry of voter fraud allegations against the Labor Party. In addition to accusations of vote-buying, the Labor Party’s leader Viktor Uspaskich is also under suspicion for his connections with Moscow, his shady party financing and the disputed authenticity of his university degree.
In the second round of elections on October 28th, 2012, the Social Democratic party won 38 seats in the 141 seat “Seimas”. The Homeland Union party (Andrius Kubilius’ party) won 33 of the seats and the Labour Party won 29. The Order and Justice party (led by an ex-president and characterized by Russia-related scandals) won 11 seats. Controversy regarding a Social-democratic and Labor party coalition, however, caused some delay in the appointment of a Prime Minister.
The Labor Party and Social Democratic Party met in early November to determine a plan for a coalition government. President Grybauskaite, however, expressed her strong reservations about the inclusion of the Labor Party in the coalition and eventually vetoed the coalition pending an investigation into the allegations of vote buying and fraud and a ruling from the Lithuanian Constitutional Court, President Grybauskaite wanted to exclude the Labor Party from the new government.
Although the Constitutional Court issued a ruling in mid-November confirming the allegations of voter fraud and vote-buying in some districts, the Lithuanian Parliament failed to generate the support necessary to follow through with the Court’s recommendations. President Grybauskaite appointed Algirdas Butkevicius as Prime Minister in late November with the support of most of Parliament, although perhaps in an act of compromise the more controversial Labor Party activists were excluded from the new government.
However, the Labor Party has since announced plans to merge parties with the Order and Justice Party, a national liberal conservative party. This unexpected political move would create the largest party in Parliament – with 39 seats to the Social Democrats’ 38. It would also cause the Labor Party to cease to exist, likely along with all of the charges the party faces for fraud. Furthermore, this merger would likely be highly politicized and highly controversial due to the two parties’ leadership. The Labor Party is led by Russian-born millionaire Viktor Uspakich and the Order and Justice Party is led by ex-President Rolandas Paskas, who was impeached for abuses of office that included potential links to Russian mobsters. The Prosecutor General’s Office requested that the Vilnius Court block the merger, but was denied. Prosecutor Saulius Verseckas of the Prosecutor General’s Office issued an appeal in hopes that the Vilnius Court will reconsider and block the party merger, but his appeal was not approved. However, the new party will be liable for the Labor Party’s operations. 
Dalia Grybauskaite’s popularity has suffered some since the political upheaval at the end of 2012, although they remain extremely high compared to other nations with 63% of Lithuanians claiming to view their President favorably. The Prime Minister is the most popular politician in Lithuania, with approval ratings slightly above 64%. This may have implications for the next round of Presidential elections, to be held in May of 2014.
Mr. Butkevisius’ government is now working to fulfill the campaign promises of reduced austerity measures. The conflict in the nation seems to have died down, despite unexpected and potentially intimidating political moves by Lithuania’s more controversial parties and leaders.