Moacir P. de Sá Pereira on October 14th, 2008

The first round of the Seimas elections are done, and while it is too early to figure out precisely what the Seimas will look like for the next four years, it might be useful to the readership to understand what has already happened and who did what. I’m a dilettante when it comes to pretty much everything involving Lithuanian current events, so any augmentation is greatly appreciated.

So, to begin, what happened? Seimas, though unicameral, has deputies who come from two sources: 70 from the vote this Sunday past, and 71 from a vote in two Sundays. The first group are distributed via a  proportion based on their performance at the election. The second group will be made up of deputies who represent specific ridings (districts). So we now know who will make up just under half of the Seimas, but we won’t be able to speculate about ruling coalitions until the second group gets elected.

Who won? Officially:

No other parties managed the 5% threshold. Now, if Iržikevičius is right, the TS/LKD coalition will make huge gains on their 17 seats in the second round, followed by modest gains by the Socdemai, and marginal gains from the other parties.

Now comes the analysis, which is the part I’m shaky on. See, it’s very easy for parties to form and collapse in Lithuania. The Naujoji sąjunga, which had 11 seats in the previous Seimas, will have no similar representation this time around. And the second most popular party on Sunday, Tautos prisikėlimo, did not even exist ten months ago. What gives?

Clearly, there’s a general woe among the electorate. As Lietuvos žinios reports, Lithuanians are uncertain about the future and, at the same time, distrustful of the current government. As a result, a party with no real policy or platform other than “let’s make Lithuania great again!” and “no more corruption!” can grow into power, where its enigmatic position lends itself to be part of either a conservative or socdem coalition.

Tautos prisikėlimo deserves a bit more attention than just that, though. For starters, it follows the trend of Lithuanian parties’ organizing around a leader: Paksas and his falangists, Uspaskich and his workers, and, even, Kirkilas and the socdemai. (The godfather of TS/LKD is enjoying his senescence as an MEP in Brussels.)

Lithuania's new political power player. lrytas.lt

The new power broker in Lithuania? lrytas.lt

But unlike the leaders of the other parties, the leader of TP, Arūnas Valinskas, has no political experience. And I don’t mean “no” as in “Obama-level” or “Palin-level.” I mean no electoral experience. He finished law school five years ago, after working at it on-and-off since the 1980s. In the meantime, he’s been a blazing star in the center of the Lithuanian show business universe. Valinskas brought us Dviračio šou (Lithuanian sketch comedy/satire), Kelias į žvaigždes (“Lithuanian Idol,” basically) and other reality and game shows. And though he’s committed to quitting show business to join the Seimas, his further intentions are unclear. Of course, it doesn’t help that his party has gleefully played in realm of the carnivalesque on its march to 13 seats. Comparing yourself to Lenin doesn’t help, though it gives more weight to one voter’s point that, as long as Lithuania is going to make an ass of itself on the European stage, it might as well have it done by professional actors.

I’ve been told unofficially, and have read, that some suspect that the TP is a front for the socdemai. I suppose the idea goes that TP appeals, via an unspecific charisma, to disaffected, young potential socdemai. In a way like how people were able to reflect their hopes and dreams about the political future of the US onto the (seeming) tabula rasa of Barack Obama, perhaps the educated yet cynical youth of Lithuania were drawn to TP. I have no idea.

But if it is a socdemas project, then I don’t know why Valinskas announced that his party would be a “center-right” party. Though that expression means rather little, it is an odd one to make, considering that he was much more forceful in saying what the TP would not do: enter into a coalition with either the revanchist (Valinsko word) Paksas or Uspaskich. In one sense, it’s a center-right position to be against the other two. The standard Cold War phobia sees both men (and, hence, the parties they run as demagogues) as agents of Russia, eager to sell Lithuania out to her larger neighbor. On the other hand, Pakso crypto-falangist party should make any decent left-winger puke, too, built as it is on an authoritarian nationalism already totally obvious just from the party’s logo.

Still, it’s a strange phenomenon, at least to me, seeing TP emerge like this. And while Valinskas promises that he will not be in the running for the PMship (probably a non-starter unless he’s part of a very weak socdem coalition that badly needs TP support), his party will be a force for the next four years.

Elsewhere is written about how the elections are a repudiation of the center-left/left in Lithuania. Surely, that’s true in parts. If the numbers hold out for TS/LKD, they could have about 65 seats in the next Seimas. Add in the liberals, and you’ve got a distinctly non-left coalition running things, without any need to deal with the leftists. On the other hand, the vote can be read as a repudiation of close ties to Russia. Paksas and Uspaskich, conspiracies notwithstanding, are close to Russia, and the cutting out of Uspaskich’s party from a strong showing stunts the ideologically aligned socdemai as well. Kirkilas is in the wrong place at the wrong time to remain Prime Minister. Finally, the vote could be, as mentioned above, a vote just about change. The TP performance is hard to read against either of these three variants, as the party is allegedly “center-right,” simplistically “pro-Lithuania”, and all about renewal. They’re the exact mirror of something like the socdemai in 2008.

As for relations with the diaspora community, I jokingly told a friend yesterday that TS/LKD is the default setting for the entire diaspora. Despite my opinions, Landsbergis remains, without a doubt, one of the most beloved Lithuanian politicians out here. In fact, if it weren’t for Adamkus’s decades of living in the US, Landsbergis would have no competition for love from America. The naïve ethnic construction of Lithuanian nationalism so prevalent in the diaspora mirrors very closely the nationalist goals of the TS/LKD. Throw in the potentially disproportionately religious nature of the diaspora community and its bewildering attachment to GOP politics in the US, and you’ve got a match made in heaven.

Does that mean that dual-citizenship is closer than before, though? Considering the issue is a constitutional one, at first it would seem no. On the other hand, TS/LKD might be able to mobilize the kind of political capital to push a referendum through that the Socdemai were incapable of–their recommendations for a constitutional amendment never made it out of committee. Who knows.

So we’ll see what develops, and I welcome any additional input.

An idea for a future post grows out of this: the shame of TP’s using the subversive potential of the carnivalesque to further a “center-right” agenda, instead of the radical/revolutionary one that is its true calling. Radical puppetry, indeed.

UPDATE: My joke about the TS-LKD’s being the default setting for the diaspora is truer than I imagined. Of the small number of Lithuanian citizens in Chicago who bothered voting, 85% cast votes for the conservatives. The second-place party, shock of shocks, were the falangists. I can imagine the fire in octogenarian veins seeing “Partija Tvarka ir Teisingumas” must light.

Lietuviams.com has also assembled voting results from Ireland (TP), Belgium (TS/LKD), and Russia (TS/LKD) as well as the UK (TS/LKD).

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