Just the Facts: Lithuanian Parliamentary Elections 2016

Elections to the Lithuanian Parliament began on Sunday 9 October. In accordance with the electoral system in Lithuania, this was followed by a run-off election to elect the remainder of the Parliament, which took place on Sunday 23 October.  The outgoing government, in power since 2012, is composed of a coalition between the Social Democratic Party, the Order and Justice Party and the Labour Party and is led by Social Democrat leader Mr Algirdas Butkevičius.

Background

The Lithuanian Parliament, the Seimas, is made up of one chamber, which is elected according to a mixed voting system.  Of a total of 141 seats, 70 are filled in a nationwide election based on proportional representation using a list system, whereby the electorate primarily votes for a party or an electoral coalition of parties, with up to 5 preference candidates within the party or electoral coalition chosen.  In order to qualify for seats in the nationwide vote, parties must obtain at least 5% of the national vote, with electoral coalitions needing 7%.  Turnout must exceed 25% of the electorate for the vote to be legally valid.  The remaining 71 seats are decided via single seat constituencies, whereby the electorate votes for individual candidates.  If no candidate achieves an absolute majority of votes, a run-off election is held between the top 2 candidates in that constituency, requiring a simple majority.

The Social Democratic Party of Lithuania has been the largest party in the Seimas since the 2012 Parliamentary elections, leading a coalition government with the Order and Justice Party and the Labour Party.  The second largest party has been the centre-right opposition Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats.  Since gaining independence in 1991, Lithuania has been characterised by a fragmented multi-party system, where coalition governments are common.

Emigration and economic growth were key issues in the 2016 elections, which were the sixth Parliamentary elections since independence.  Neighbouring Russia featured heavily in foreign policy debates, with membership of the EU and NATO strongly supported across the political spectrum.

Result of first round

A reported 50.6% of the electorate turned out to vote in the first round on 9 October.  The largest party in the outgoing coalition, the Social Democratic Party, witnessed a drop in support from the 2012 Parliamentary elections, securing 14.4% of the nationwide vote.  The Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats topped the poll with 21.7% of the vote, followed by the Lithuanian Peasants and Green Union Party on 21.6%.  This gave the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats 20 seats out of the 70 decided in the first round, with the Peasants and Green Union Party winning 19.  Of the 14 party or electoral coalition lists in the nationwide vote, 7 obtained enough votes to qualify for seats in Parliament.  3 candidates in the single seat constituencies vote gained the necessary majority to be elected to the Seimas after the first round, leaving 68 of the 71 seats to be decided in the run-off election on 23 October.

Overall result

Voter turnout decreased to 38% of the electorate in the run-off election.  After both rounds were completed, the Peasants and Green Union Party had gained a total of 54 seats out of 141, increasing their share from a single seat in the 2012 Parliamentary elections.  This is the largest win by a single party in 20 years.  Although led by billionaire industrial farmer and land owner, Mr Ramūnas Karbauskis, the leader of the party’s electoral list was Mr Saulius Skvernelis, a former Interior Minister and former national police chief.  The Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats won a total of 31 seats.  Its leader, Mr Gabrielius Landsbergis, son of Mr Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuania’s first head of state after independence, had been tipped to become Europe’s youngest Prime Minister at 34 years of age, after the party’s narrow victory in the first round of the elections.  The incumbent Prime Minister, Mr Algirdas Butkevičius, lost his seat when his Social Democratic Party came in third position with 17 seats.  The Liberal Movement won 14 seats, while both the incumbent coalition partners, the Order and Justice Party and the Labour Party, suffered losses; the former returning 8 seats and the latter failing to reach the 5% threshold and retaining just 2 MPs through the single member constituencies, representing a loss of 27 seats in the outgoing Parliament.

Mr Skvernelis, who alongside Lithuanian MEP, Mr Bronis Ropė, is tipped to replace Mr Butkevičius as Prime Minister, said after the result “We will forge a rational coalition government and we’ll choose people who want to bring about changes”.  Such a scenario would see the first Prime Minister from a party other than the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats or the Social Democratic Party for 15 years.  Coalition talks will now begin between the Peasants and Green Union Party and both the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats and the Social Democratic Party, with a new government expected to take office in early December 2016.

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