On Sunday, Lithuania will go to the polls for the second round of voting in the 2020 election.
In the last election, in 2016, a leftist victory was secured by a landslide, as the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LVZS) took 49 seats out of 141. Homeland Union, its conservative opponents, won 36 seats, with smaller parties barely scraping double digits.
This year, the country looks set for different results. The recent first-round of voting saw Homeland Union claim 24.8 per cent of votes, compared with 17.5 per cent for LVZS, which leads incumbent Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis’ coalition. Mr Skvernelis very likely will be gone after this election if Homeland Union get a majority. This means the Homeland Union candidate is last year’s presidential runner-up Ingrida Simonyte, who will very likely become the new Prime Minister.
It is certainly an exciting time for all parties involved, as none of the current coalition partners in the first round, except LVZS, managed to reach the 5 per cent of votes required to enter Parliament.
Although Lithuania has not been as badly hit by the coronavirus crisis as other EU states, and had always maintained a lower national debt than almost all others, the current PM has been criticised for failing to reduce unemployment, mounting debt due to lockdown costs and leaving his country unprepared on the precipice of a second wave of cases. All these, and more, constitute Lithuania’s most pressing concerns in the next few months.
Also key is addressing the demographic challenge, principally by promoting family values and the raising of children. Lithuania’s population is shrinking fast, now standing at 2.7 million compared with roughly 3.7 million in 1991, when the USSR dissolved. Even those Lithuanians who have courageously stayed to build up their country from the ashes of Communism risk being overrun by an influx of migrants from other countries in Eastern Europe and Asia seeking the benefits of EU membership.
Assuming a conservative victory or conservative coalition on Sunday, the ruling party must also work hard to track Russia’s military advances to the east, and Belarus to the south. The rogue state has just built a dangerous nuclear plant, Astravyets, just 50 km from Vilnius, and will become fully operational in 2021. The threats posed to Lithuania’s citizens by such countries on the peripheries of Europe should never be underestimated. Diplomatic nuance is necessary for the winning party, this year more than ever before.
Trading with our European and British partners is also vital, and contributing our efforts to the Brexit process by offering the best of Lithuanian trade in exchange for the best of Britain, is also a priority. For too long, Brussels has antagonised the UK in trade talks, reducing the chance of favourable terms and low tariffs moving forward. The strong bond between Lithuania and the UK, seen not only in Boris Johnson’s ancestry but in the hundreds of thousands of migrants living and working here, and in numerous existing trade links to the Baltic Sea, can only grow with the prospect of a continent-wide free trade agreement next month.
Sunday’s victors must therefore be open to reforming the EU for the better, in accordance with the principles of devolution, solidarity and mutual respect. Standing up for Lithuania’s ancient values of Christianity, family and country can never be compromised in the grey halls of Brussels and Strasbourg, whatever the cost. I truly hope that Homeland Union, and the coalition partners they may work with, do not forget the long years Lithuania spent under one tyranny, and simply trade that for the next.
Considering the world events now before us, Sunday’s election is truly a sign of the times. For all those voting in Lithuania, the US and further afield, the chaos, disorder and uncertainty of recent days must surely be the best argument for conservatism we have seen in a long while.