Election Elections in Lithuania: results and perceptions
The European Parliament elections in Lithuania this year were held jointly with the second round of the presidential elections which were won by a landslide majority (57.9%) by the incumbent president Dalia Grybauskaitė supported by the conservative and liberal parties in opposition. The dual-track election campaign have been used by the opposition parties to leverage the popularity of President Grybauskaitė and make gains at the EP elections.
Published on balticworlds.com on juni 13, 2014
The European Parliament elections in Lithuania this year were held jointly with the second round of the presidential elections, which were won by a landslide majority (57.9%) by the incumbent president Dalia Grybauskaitė supported by the conservative and liberal parties in opposition. The dual-track election campaign have been used by the opposition parties to leverage the popularity of President Grybauskaitė and make gains at the EP elections. The opposition aimed to gain momentum and undo the popularity of the ruling social democrats (indicated by numerous opinion polls prior to the elections) and, if circumstances allow, even to consider with the help of the president re-elect to push social democrats into a “rainbow” coalition.
The tactical ploy of the opposition to use the EP elections for weakening or reshaping the existing government has not materialized, since the electoral gains have not been that significant (Table 1) and, of course, these were not national parliamentary elections. The EP elections have no direct implications for the domestic politics, except for the opportunity to re-shuffle some posts if officials get elected into the EP (as happened this time also). However, the outcome of the elections for the social democrats (who in relative terms lost only one percent of voters’ share comparing to the 2009 EP elections) have been perceived as a significant defeat due to inflated expectations as mediated by media, and this view have been shared by social democrats and the opposition alike. The political observers were quick to announce the demise of the social democrats, pointing out that the social democrats failed to capture the vote of a younger generation, including the first-time voters.
The elections have indeed preserved the political status quo in Lithuania producing no new contenders to the mainstream political parties and entrenching the political forces within the existing electorates, as was the case with previous EP elections as well. The governing coalition parties have retained their share of votes, while the opposition made some modest gains (a 4,47% increase of the share of votes comparing to the previous elections in 2009). The major change was registered with the major gains achieved by the liberals (who gained additional 9,19% comparing to the 2009 elections) at the cost of the conservatives but also by mobilizing young voters through social media.Table 1: Results of the 2014 EP elections in Lithuania (the change since the previous EP elections is indicated in the brackets)
|Governing coalition parties||Parliamentary opposition parties||Non-parliamentary parties|
|Socialdemocrats: 17,26% (-1,35%)||Conservatives: 17,43% (-9,46%)||Green Party: 3,56% (+2,29%)|
|Order and Justice Party: 14,25% (-1,35%)||Liberals: 16,55%(+9,19%)||Nationalists: 2%|
|Labour Party: 2,81% (+4,02%)||Peasant Party: 6,61% (+4,74%)||Liberal and Centre Union: 1,48% (-1,99%)|
|Polish and Russian electoral alliance:||8,05%||(-0,39%)|
|TOTAL for the governing coalition:52,36% (+0,93%)||TOTAL for the opposition:40,59% (+4,47%)||TOTAL for non-aligned:7,04% (+0.3%)|
In terms of the EP mandates the parliamentary political parties have shared all 11 mandates – no mandates have been gained by non-parliamentary parties: neither nationalists nor any other ”protest voice” parties have succeeded to gain more than 3%. Social democrats aimed to boost their number of EP seats from 3 to 4 or even 5, based on the opinion polls which predicted that they might gain up to 22-25% of votes while in reality gained only 17% which secured only two EP seats. Labour party aimed to gain two EP seats instead of one. They won only one for their party leader. Order and Justice Party (which has a number of vocal eurosceptics among its ranks) aimed to preserve their two seats which they succeeded to achieve. Polish and Russian electoral alliance hoped for more than one seat but gained just one. The Conservatives planned to keep their two seats – they succeeded just that. The Liberals doubled the number of votes but gained only additional seat. The Peasant Party aimed to use the presidential campaign of their candidate to promote the party and gain one EP seat for their presidential candidate which they did (for the first time). The nationalists failed to gain a seat which they hoped to achieve thanks to a high-profile referendum campaign for the extension of ban of the purchase of land by non-nationals which they ran prior to the elections. The abolition of the ban (after the maximum extension of 10 years since the membership in the EU) was a negotiated condition included in Lithuania’s EU Accession treaty and the referendum campaign for the repeal that condition was presented in media as an anti-EU campaign.
The surprise result of the liberals and a weak performance by the nationalists is in stark contrast with the results in other EU Member States where liberals suffered major defeats (such as in Germany) and where the nationalists gained an upper hand (as in France, the UK, Finland, Hungary, Greece). The unexpected result have been influenced by the events in Ukraine and the Maidan effect on the political discourse in Lithuania which made it impossible to promote in public discourse any criticism of the EU without being portrayed in the media as playing into the hands of Putin’s politics. The Conservatives have previously used the anti-Russian card to mobilize their voters on the home front. In 2009 the events in Georgia were used by the conservatives to win the elections. This time the Maidan effect had a somehow unexpected outcome – it did not translate into more votes for the conservatives but diminished the role of the nationalists who campaigned on the anti-EU ticket. This resulted in the lack of the debates on Europe during the EP campaign which is overshadowed by the presidential elections. In the meantime, the liberals have capitalized on their pursued strategy by positioning their ideas as a common sense and targeting the Facebook-generation on social media.
The perception of a self-inflicted defeat of the social democrats has less to do with the actual results of the elections which have produced no major surprises (as presented and discussed above) than with the influence of the inflated expectations generated by “political marketing” that takes place on social media. Since the reach of a traditional media sector in Lithuania is very limited (for example, the leading national broadsheet newspaper runs only ca. 40000 copies while the most popular TV news on national channels are watched by only some ca. 8% of viewers), most of the news reach the audience via news portals (five news portals in the country of 3 million inhabitants daily attract some 1.5 million unique visitors) and social networks (mostly Facebook which has ca 1.2 million users in Lithuania). This opens up an unprecedented possibility for “political marketing” on social media, which has been extensively employed especially by the Liberals during this double-election campaign.
The analysis of the changes in the voting preferences of the fans of Facebook pages of the major political parties and their affiliated political youth organizations in the run up to the elections and afterwards (Table 2) shows that Facebook likes highly correspond with election results for the parties whose electorate is less likely to go and express their preferences on social media, namely, social democrats, Labour Party and the conservatives. However, the liberals, the Greens and the nationalists who are the emerging political forces appealing mostly to younger urban voters have the largest “hidden” potential to dominate social media landscape (Figures 2-3).
Table 2: Comparison of the share of votes in EP election and the ’likes” received on Facebook
|Political party||Votes in EP elections, May 25, 2014||Facebook likes of party FB profiles, 4 June 2014
(calculated as a share from all analysed)
|Facebook likes of FB profiles of political youth organizations, 4 June 2014
(calculated as a share from all analysed)
|Peasant and Green Party||6,61%||5%||13,6%|
Figure 1: Facebook ’likes” for major political parties (source: FB)
Figure 2: Facebook ’likes” for political youth organisations (source: FB)
The analysis of the preferences on Facebook show that the perceived defeat of the social democrats have taken place not at the voting booths yet, but on ”social media” where social democrats failed to attract Facebook votes and convert them into ballots. The major challenge for social democrats as well as other parties which rely on older generation votes and are not pedling their political ideas to ”Facebook voters” is not only to capture fleeting votes in social media but, more importantly, to increase “vote conversion” from online likes to offline ballots. So far the Liberals have been the most successful in ”political marketing” on Facebook, also the conservatives have stepped up their efforts.
Whether Facebook voters who are in fact the users of the corporate marketing platform extracting value from social capital of users in exchange for a fraction of publicity (the message posts by users reach only ca. 4-5% of their friends, the rest could be reached only by promoting a post and paying Facebook for that) can fully substitute traditional media and thus fundamentally reshape the way election campaigns are being orchestrated remains to be seen. As the EP elections shows politicians have to keep checking their Facebook accounts and keep behaving as if electoral campaigns never end.