The newly formed Social Democrat Labour Party has assured itself the backing of the ruling "Farmers," however it cannot fend off criticism from its former Social Democrat comrades. Analysts believe that the two organisations will have to rely on the appeal of their leaders when competing for voters' favour.
The Lithuanian Social Democrat Labour Party (LSDDP), which was founded last weekend and is planned to be registered in a few weeks, immediately declared its intent to become an equal partner in the ruling coalition with the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS) and to compete in the municipal council elections due next spring.
The LSDDP, headed by former Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas, who is currently Seimas vice speaker, has formed a core from politicians, who withdrew from the Lithuanian Social Democrat Party (LSDP) and controversial figures, who left the Labour Party (DP). It declares it will represent classical ideas of social democracy and this will apparently differentiate it from Gintautas Paluckas' Social Democrats.
Representatives from both parties assure that voters will not be confused by the near identical party names.
"I believe the people will choose based on leaders. They will see G. Paluckas and G. Kirkilas. Gintautas – youth, Gediminas – experience. We will see what the people choose," MP Juozas Bernatonis, one of the LSDDP's deputy chairmen said.
G. Paluckas thinks similarly. "They will not become competition for us. There have been similar names a number of times before in history – you cannot cheat the voters through names. They see the people behind the name. Those, who gathered in that so-called party, have completely exhausted their political potential, voters' patience and credit of trust. There is absolutely no point to talk about anything being new about them," he assured.
Meanwhile political experts recommend to recall that it is not just the LSDP and LSDDP, who are competing for left wing votes, MEP Viktor Uspaskich, who was convicted for fraud in bookkeeping, intends to return to DP leadership.
"Today voters perhaps don't yet think about three parties with similar names, but with the elections nearing and the kaleidoscope of party names to be launched, it could cause if not a headache for the voters, then at least disregard for this chaos. I would think that this problem will be resolved by personalising the parties, granting them very clear "faces" – G. Paluckas' party, G. Kirkilas' party and so on," Vytautas Magnus University (VDU) professor Lauras Bielinis explained.
Karbauskis: our partners gaining strength is beneficial to us
During the LSDDP founding congress just last Saturday, G. Kirkilas, who was elected its chairman and presented the party's goals, specified that in the near future they plan to negotiate with their "Farmer" partners regarding the coalition agreement because currently it is only signed by two Seimas groups, also there are plans to discuss cooperation in the 2019 municipal elections.
"This means that in the coming elections, we will be a truly potent force," G. Kirkilas claimed.
LVŽS leader Ramūnas Karbauskis did not disagree with the LSDDP leader.
According to Karbauskis, "when considering the political future of Lithuania," the fortunes of every politically dominant party depend on not only themselves, but also their partners.
"In this situation you could say that the Conservatives are truly unfortunate because they have only one partner – the Liberal Movement, which in my eyes has no prospects just because of the legal processes linked to corruption. Another partner, which is currently a very obvious Conservative partner is the LSDP led by G. Paluckas. But its prospects are also dubious because I do not believe that their voters would receive positively such cooperation with the Conservatives," the LVŽS leader said.
R. Karbauskis assured he believes that voters will turn away from the Social Democrats and "there is much expectation that they will turn specifically to the LSDDP." "I am glad that a party appeared that could become a reliable partner. I believe that it could push the Social Democrats led by G. Paluckas into the history books in the left flank," he stated.
In this case, R. Karbauskis did not dismiss the possibility that they may have both joint electoral rolls in municipal elections and agreements on non-competition in certain municipalities. "I am not jesting when I say that the LVŽS likely has the best prospects to become the winner of the municipal council elections because there is no-one else, who could win. And our partners gaining strength is beneficial to us," the "Farmer" leader said.
LSDDP deputy chairman and parliamentary group prefect Andrius Palionis echoed such sentiments.
"I believe everything is possible. It could be that in some municipalities we will have the stronger candidates, in others – the "Farmers". Of course, it is the people's choice, which roll to support, it also greatly depends on the leader, the candidate for the post of mayor in this case. If there is a strong leader, I believe it is more beneficial for both the LVŽS and for us to support that leader, rather than compete," the politician claimed.
L. Bielinis believes that the current tensions between the LSDP and the LDDP could attract voter attention for the parties, but the political scientist still doubts either party's prospects for the coming municipal elections.
"Theoretically looking, each of them will win less and overall they will have fewer votes than when they acted together as the LSDP. Of course everything will also depend on how energetic they will be, how clearly they will declare their options, ideas, goals and how they will demonstrate new faces," he mused.
Law enforcement tail yet again
L. Bielinis was even more sceptical about the third organisation on the spectrum – the DP, which is also intent on competing on municipal posts. It is well known that the plans to organise a new election in the DP and to take the post of leader, following up with taking the significantly deteriorated organisation to an electoral victory, part of whose members transferred to the LSDDP, are declared by V. Uspaskich.
"V. Uspaskich as a political figure likely understands himself that he has exhausted his potential. Perhaps he would like to return, but to return to the political sphere now and return victoriously, is only possible for him by exhausting massive resources and I do not believe he has them," the VDU professor explained.
There are talks in the political couloirs that V. Uspaskich's return to politics in Lithuania could be undermined by not just the unfavourable conclusion of the fraudulent bookkeeping trial, but also a long term investigation by Lithuanian law enforcement into wide scale graft and bribery, in which the French engineering group Alstom, which has implemented million euro projects in Lithuania, appears.
As BNS reported last spring, V. Uspaskich was questioned during this investigation as a special witness. Based on Lithuanian law, special witness statements are requested when there is data on committed crimes, but not enough of it to present accusations.
When Delfi inquired Šarūnas Birutis, who currently leads the DP, whether these circumstances won't hamper the party, he responded he has little information on the investigation. "So far we do not see that it could somehow hamper the party in the elections. A witness is a witness, even if special. But there are no accusations. As such, I do not think it is any sort of problem," he said.
Bernatonis: I am no oracle
When speaking of the situation where two parties declare social democratic values compete in the Lithuanian political sphere, Mykolas Romeris University lecturer, political scientist Rima Urbonaitė mused that this could end poorly for both parties.
"I fear that both parties might just kill one another off through the mutual struggle. Satisfying personal ambitions may raise the question of survival for the Social Democrats as a political group. In such a case, their electorate could be successfully "absorbed" by the LVŽS," she said.
"Farmer" leader R. Karbauskis denied plans to weaken the newly formed LSDDP or absorb it in the future during his talks with Delfi.
"The LVŽS is rather conservative, if we are to talk about party enlargement. We value unity in values. The problems of parties are often linked with them having members with greatly differing values in them and often it is those, who dominate, for whom the greatest value is authority and not anything else. I cannot say how much our values will differ to the LSDDP's because I do not know either their programme or specifically the people founding it, though the value base of some of their leaders does leave me with certain doubts.
But I do not see a merger no matter what because the LVŽS is not a social democratic organisation. As for the LSDDP seeking cooperation with us – that's obvious. They do not have any dotations, just people in various municipalities, who may be supported by the public," R. Karbauskis noted.
J. Bernatonis was less categorical regarding the LSDDP's future.
"It was not considered in either their party or ours. We represent social democrat ideas, thus a merger with any party would be difficult. But we will see – it is hard for me to tell what will be. I am no oracle and I believe that no-one can predict it today," he told Delfi.
Meanwhile Social Democrat leader G. Paluckas assured that the LSDDP and "Farmer" pursuit of cooperation with one another is encouraged by "an instinct of survival in government."
"In essence it compromises and denies all the principles of the new politics promised by the "Farmers". Just remember the statements before the elections how they will never join the "moustached beavers" or the DP, which was embroiled in fraud investigations. Today this principle has dissipated like smoke in an effort to remain in government," the LSDP chairman said.
A struggle between personalities, but which?
Communications consultant Paulius Tamulionis believes that the left wing parties gearing up to compete may be obstructed by not only their similar names.
"There is competition between the LSDP and LSDDP and what will remain after these two will likely go to the DP. But the question is, what do people "buy" – the party name or a personality, a leader? We saw an example during the LVŽS breakthrough when a previously insignificant party came to power because a popular politician appeared in it. Wherever Saulius Skvernelis had turned back then, he would have taken them to victory. As such, it is more a question of a political leader's popularity or appeal, not one of names," he stated.
P. Tamulionis believes that currently both the new LSDDP and the old LSDP are in a difficult situation.
"Speaking of the LSDDP, the biggest issue is that they lack an appealing leader. There are various familiar names, but a leader, who would gather a team around himself, which believes in him, that is nowhere in sight. Who looks like more of a leader – G. Kirkilas or his deputy, former DP chair, Živilė Pinskuvienė, who is now his deputy?" he questioned.
Meanwhile the Social Democrats have a clear leader according to him and it is a wholly other question of whether he appeals to voters or not. However, the consultant emphasised, the LSDP's problem is a failure to assemble a team next to the leader.
"So that's the difference – the LSDDP lacks a leader, who could be voted for, the LSDP – a team, which stands by their leader and which he could rely on," P. Tamulionis emphasised.