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Enter the Chameleon

By Krzysztof Głowacki, Economist, CASE

The agrarian Peasants and Green Union party has convincingly, if surprisingly, won the parliamentary elections in Lithuania as voters expressed their dissatisfaction with the ruling establishment.

The Peasants are organized around the leadership of millionaire farmer Ramūnas Karbauskis. The party lacks a coherent ideology and represents a mixture of individuals united by the self‑proclaimed drive for political change. While this set of attributes bears semblance to political developments elsewhere in Europe, it lacks the fierce populist bite found in these other countries. Indeed, despite Karbauskis’s occasionally revisionist rhetoric, the Peasants-led government is in fact expected to keep Lithuania on its current course within the EU, the Eurozone, and NATO.

On the home front, the party’s elastic platform will enable it to consider any of the other parties as a coalition partner. Regardless of whom is chosen, the most important challenges for the new government will be pressing social issues, such as the outflow of economic emigrants to wealthier EU states. All parties made sure to embrace this issue in their electoral programs, building popular stories around low national wages but lacking details about concrete solutions. It is estimated that the country has lost 370,000 of its 3.3-million population since accession to the EU in 2004.

The elections saw the ruling Social Democrats relegated to third place, behind Christian Democrat runners-up Homeland Union. Three other parties also made it to Seimas, Lithuania’s unicameral parliament: Liberal Movement, Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, and Order and Justice. While the liberals improved on their result from four years ago, the other two parties, considered more Eurosceptic and less progressive, did not.

The victory of the Peasants increases their parliamentary representation from a single MP to fifty-four of them, marking another European ballot which has resulted in ousting elites in favor of political outsiders. It is a benign revolution, however, one that is unlikely to be a game‑changer for the country and for the region.

(Title inspired by:
http://www.eastbook.eu/2016/10/21/czy-zieloni-chlopi-obejma-wladze-na-litwie/)

CASE — Center for Social and Economic Research is an independent, non-profit economic and public policy research institution, established in 1991 in Warsaw.

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