Viewing cable 08VILNIUS646
Title: LITHUANIA'S SEIMAS ELECTIONS: POPULISTS IN STRONG

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
08VILNIUS6462008-08-07 14:57:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vilnius
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RR RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHVL #0646/01 2201457
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 071457Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY VILNIUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2628
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 VILNIUS 000646 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/06/2028 
TAGS: PGOV LH
SUBJECT: LITHUANIA'S SEIMAS ELECTIONS: POPULISTS IN STRONG 
POSITIONS 
 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires a.i. Damian Leader for reasons 1.4 (b) 
 and (d). 
 
¶1. (U) This is the first in a series of reports on the 
upcoming parliamentary elections in Lithuania. 
 
¶2. (C) SUMMARY.  Lithuania will hold parliamentary elections 
on October 12.  It is unlikely that a single party will win 
even a third of the parliament's seats and a coalition will 
be necessary.  A Paksas-Uspaskich populist coalition is 
possible, but other coalitions are more likely:  a rainbow 
Conservative-Liberal-Social Democrat coalition or a 
center-left coalition including Labor.  We do not expect that 
any of the likely outcomes would lead to major changes in 
bilateral relations.  Recent rhetoric by Paksas, however, 
would raise concerns if his party were to become part of a 
ruling coalition.  End summary. 
 
Plenty of Room for Populists and Others 
--------------------------------------- 
 
¶3. (U) Lithuania holds parliamentary elections October 12, 
filling its 141-seat Seimas with 70 candidates chosen by 
party list, and 71 chosen in single-mandate districts. 
Because the latter require over 50 percent of the vote to be 
elected, most will go to a run-off on October 26 between the 
top two vote-getters.  As many as 11 parties have a realistic 
chance of winning at least one seat through the single 
mandate districts or by meeting the required five percent 
hurdle to win seats via party list. 
 
¶4.  (U) Lithuania's mixed election process, because it is 
combined with a relatively immature democracy, a media not 
inclined to serve as a political watchdog, and NGOs with 
limited capacity to do so, provides opportunities for 
multiple parties, including populist ones.  Many political 
commentators believe that business interests and others, 
including the clique of bureaucrats known as the "statesmen" 
(valstybininkai), who allegedly exercise control from behind 
the scenes, encourage and benefit from the disorder in 
Lithuanian politics and the current absence of strong 
leaders.  Others claim Russia is the real beneficiary of 
Lithuania's lack of strong parties, and believe (without 
producing evidence) that the Kremlin financially backs the 
populist parties. 
 
Four parties lead opinion polls 
------------------------------- 
 
¶5.  (U) Four parties have led the polls in recent months: 
two "traditional" parties, the Conservatives (Homeland Union) 
and the Social Democrats; and two "populist" parties, Labor, 
and Order and Justice.  The Conservatives and Social 
Democrats sit comfortably on the right and left wings of 
politics, respectively, not doing much to reach out to the 
center:  the highest either has polled in recent memory is 16 
percent.  A strong leader has dominated each until recently: 
former president and PM Algirdas Brazauskas, now retired, for 
the Social Democrats, and Vytautas Landsbergis, currently an 
MEP and formerly chair of the Conservatives.  Neither current 
SocDem PM Gediminas Kirkilas nor former PM and current 
Conservative party chair Andrius Kubilius has broad personal 
appeal. 
 
¶6.  (U) The Viktor Uspaskich-led Labor Party was the big 
winner in its electoral debut in 2004.  Despite Uspaskich 
spending more than a year in Moscow to avoid prosecution in a 
party financing fraud case that is still pending, the party 
is in third place in most polls, getting a considerable and 
sustained bounce since his return to Lithuania in September 
¶2007.  Uspaskich is a self-made millionaire, an ethnic 
Russian who immigrated to Lithuania in Soviet times.  He is 
often described as engaging and funny and having the air of a 
common man. 
 
¶7.  (U) Order and Justice, the party of Rolandas Paksas, the 
former President who was impeached in 2004, is routinely in 
first or second place in the polls.  For a large minority of 
Lithuanians, Paksas has the image of a near mythic hero -- an 
airplane stunt pilot, a principled fighter of corruption, a 
President unfairly brought down by an elite clique that could 
not tolerate an upstart outsider as head of state.  Because 
of Paksas's impeachment, he cannot run for the Seimas.  But 
his personal popularity is the driving force behind his party. 
 
¶8.  (C) Paksas and Uspaskich both portray themselves as 
persecuted victims of a corrupt elite.  Much of the 
electorate is so distrustful of politicians that it accepts 
this portrayal.  Public distrust is not without reason -- 
continuous scandals regularly remind the public that 
corruption exists at petty and high levels -- and it is hard 
to discount entirely the "corrupt elite" notion.  Paksas's 
 
VILNIUS 00000646  002 OF 003 
 
 
and Uspaskich's appeal stems from their promises to help 
average Lithuanians and clean up corruption, although the 
promises come without concrete policies.  The traditional 
parties, who have alternately held power for most of the 
period since independence in 1990, put out more substantive 
party platforms, but do little to reach out to the vast 
center or expand their party base. 
 
Who shall lead? 
--------------- 
 
¶9.  (C) Despite their strong position, political observers we 
spoke with predict the populist parties will not hold real 
power after the elections.  Alvydas Medalinskas, a 
commentator and former Paksas advisor, predicted an even more 
fractured Seimas than the current one.  Audrius Baciulis, 
political correspondent for the leading news weekly Veidas, 
told us he thinks the Social Democrats will find a way to 
maintain their grip on power.  He and others noted to us that 
in 2004 Labor won by far the most seats in the Seimas but 
settled for a minor role in the ruling coalition while the 
Social Democrats took the PM spot.  Then, after Labor 
collapsed in 2006, the Social Democrats consolidated their 
hold on power.  The theory that the Social Democrats will 
retain power is reinforced by the widely held view that only 
the Social Democrats have enough competent leaders to run the 
Government. 
 
¶10.  (C) Another widely held view is that if either populist 
party manages to lead a coalition it will be fragile and will 
collapse -- as Labor fell in 2006 and as Paksas fell from the 
Presidency in 2004.  Politicians, political commentators, and 
average Lithuanians, as well as the populists themselves, 
tend to believe this.  And for Order and Justice, just 
getting into a coalition might be challenging; one comment we 
hear repeatedly is that Order and Justice would be the major 
parties' last choice for a coalition partner. 
 
¶11.  (C) Although it is too early to predict, two coalitions 
currently seem the most likely possibilities.  The first 
would be a rainbow coalition for Conservatives, Liberal 
Movement, Liberal and Center Union, and Social Democrats. 
Conservative Party Chairman Andrius Kubilius told us he 
believes this would be the most likely coalition for his 
Party.  Another possibility is a Social Democrat-led 
left-center coalition, in many ways similar to the coalition 
currently in power but with the possible inclusion of Labor. 
Less likely is a coalition led by the two populist parties. 
Although they have expressed a willingness to work together, 
without the support of another party or two in the coalition, 
the populists would lack real experience in governing. 
 
What Would a Populist Mean for Us? 
---------------------------------- 
 
¶12.  (C) Given the ongoing investigation into the fraud 
allegations against the Party and Uspaskich, a return of 
Labor to power would perhaps not be the best development for 
transparency in Lithuanian government.  That said, the impact 
on bilateral relations would not necessarily be negative. 
Uspaskich was Minister of Economy in 2004-2005 and Post 
maintained good relations with him at that time.  If the 
widespread allegations that Uspaskich receives funding from 
Moscow are true, however, there is a legitimate concern that 
he might draw Lithuania closer to Russia. 
 
¶13.  (C) A return of Order and Justice to power would be 
another matter.  Although Paksas was, by all accounts, 
pro-American as President, of late he has been vocal in 
calling for closer ties with Russia and has been critical of 
Lithuania being too close to the United States.  He recently 
said in an interview with a radical daily, "Sometimes it 
seems that Lithuania has become a U.S. protectorate and an 
obedient implementer of American policy in this region."  He 
and others in his party also have made irresponsible 
statements counter to inclusive, democratic values.  In May 
2007, Vilnius Mayor Juozas Imbrasas, an Order and Justice 
party member and loyal defender of Paksas during impeachment, 
supported the city's refusal to grant the Lithuanian Gay 
League a permit to display the rainbow flag in the city and 
refusal of a permit for a European Commission information 
campaign promoting diversity.  In November 2007, Imbrasas 
mocked a city employee for taking paternity leave:  "I am 
outraged that this young, handsome, active man...took 
paternity leave.  Everyone's murmuring, laughing at (him)." 
One Order and Justice MP, Marija Ausrine Pavilioniene, left 
the party in May 2007, calling the party "homophobic." 
 
¶14.  (C) Post has quietly worked to remind Paksas of the 
value of working with America, but for some voters, our 
closeness to Lithuania means that bashing America is the 
equivalent of bashing the GOL, and that is a popular pastime. 
 
VILNIUS 00000646  003 OF 003 
 
 
 While he might feel comfortable being friendlier once his 
party is in power, we would not guarantee it. 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
¶15. (C) Were we betting people, even we would not bet on 
which parties will end up in the next government.  That said, 
the chances of a major shift in Lithuanian policies that 
would put them in conflict with our interests are unlikely. 
A greater risk will be a fractious coalition with no strong 
head to lead Lithuania in strengthening its democratic 
institutions and to guide it through the widely-expected 
upcoming economic downturn. 
LEADER