Tuesday, 11 October 2016

My analysis of the 2016 Lithuanian elections

Lithuania recently held its 2016 Parliamentary elections, and they were a real turnaround politically.

Lithuania, like Germany and Hungary, uses Mixed Member Proportional representation, with an almost equal division of single member constituency seats (71) and list seats (70). A lot of the Lithuanian SMCs, especially in the capital of Vilnius, had to be redrawn or broken up because of major disparities in constituency size back in 2012; the Lithuanian Constitutional Court (their Supreme Court) ruled that each constituency's population must not vary more than 10% from the average (relatively tight given Lithuania's small population, but certainly much fairer than a 5% variance limit). However, unless one candidate receives at least 50% of the votes initially in an SMC, there has to be a second round of voting with the top two candidates in the poll. This year in Lithuania, only three candidates have been elected in the first round; the other 68 SMCs will go to a second round of voting later on.

With regards to the 70 list seats, it was a wonderful comeback for the agrarian Lithuanian Peasant & Greens Union; back in 2012 they had no list seats and only one seat at all via an SMC; this time they managed to win 19 list seats and 42 of their candidates in SMCs are in the run-offs. However, despite their wild surge in popularity they did not quite top the list poll, finishing only 0.11% behind the Christian democratic Homeland Union (Lithuania's equivalent of Britain's Conservatives albeit more moderate). Despite fluctuating ratings, the Liberal Movement achieved 8.94% of the vote in the end meaning it will be in more or less the same position as 2012; however it will be able to have a greater influence given that the Homeland Union and Peasant and Greens Union parties are now likely to lead formations of a new government as they combined will now have the most seats. Meanwhile, the 'Labour Party' (in actuality, a typical centrist oligarch party) only achieved 4.69% of the list vote, losing all of its list seats; with only 5 of its SMC candidates in the run-offs it could lose all representation in the Seimas. The Social Democrats did not fare much better, since despite only losing 5 of their 18 list seats they will now also lose a majority of their constituency seats. Like Poland, Lithuania has a tighter threshold for coalitions in that the requirement for coalitions to gain list seats is 7% as opposed to 5% for individual parties; the new Anticorruption Coalition fell foul of this tougher threshold by only polling 6.06%, not quite enough to gain representation. The hardline nationalist Order and Justice Party meanwhile only just got through on 5.33%, its support declining further from 2012, and its long-serving leader Rolandas Paksas has consequently resigned.

Sadly, the Lithuanian Green Party despite expectations and greater national recognition than ever before failed to win any list seats, securing just 1.94% of the list vote. However, their current MP, Linas Balsys, has a chance in the second round of voting in his constituency, New Vilnius, to give the Greens representation in the Seimas for the first time in modern Lithuanian history. The second round of constituency voting will also give the Centre Party, Political Party 'List Lithuania' and the classical liberal Freedom Union at least an outside chance to get into the Seimas.

Lithuanian party politics is one of the most fragmented in Europe by far, as demonstrated by the fact it is rare for even the leading parties to poll 25% individually in the list vote or in a constituency vote. In the SMCs, it was not uncommon for more than four candidates to receive at least 10% of the votes cast apiece or for a candidate to finish first in the first round with less than 20% of the valid votes cast.

In spite of fair proportional representation and two rounds of voting for single member seats, the turnout in the 2016 Lithuanian parliamentary election was dismal: nearly half of the eligible electors of Lithuania did not vote! The number of invalid or blank votes was also astonishingly high at 4.12%, despite the wide array of candidates available for voters of Lithuania to choose from. By comparison, the lowest turnout in a British general election so far in modern times is 59.4% in 2001, and we are still stuck with first past the post.

UPDATE: The second round of voting in Lithuania's SMCs has now finished, and I am pleased to say that the Lithuanian Green Party will be in the Seimas after all, since Linas Balsys won his run-off.

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