BNN ANALYSES | Social Democrats bag victory in Lithuania’s local elections

Linas Jegelevičius
Lithuania’s municipal council and mayoral elections on the 5th of March turned up victorious for the Social Democrats, now in the Parliament Seimas’ opposition, who scooped up 18 percent of all votes. They were followed by the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU-LCD or Conservatives), who currently head the national government. Their tally was 16 percent.
The Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU), which is the biggest opposition party in the parliament, garnered 9 percent, followed by the Liberal Movement, 7 percent.
With 6.6 percent, the Democratic Union «For Lithuania», a new party led by former prime minister Saulius Skvernelis, was the fifth.
Meanwhile, Freedom party came empty-handed in the mayoral races, but managed to collect nine mandates in Vilnius’ new Council, down from 17 in the current Council.
Analysts say the performances give a hint how the parties are likely to score in the general election next year.
«The biggest surprise to me came from Skvernelis’ party, which established a couple of years ago, was among the top three most popular parties in many polls, but they did very poorly in the election, failing to win any seats in Vilnius Council. Meanwhile, the Conservatives did pretty well considering the adverse background against them – the war, the post-pandemic and the scandal (a Conservative MP resigned in late January from Seimas amid minor molestation allegations – L. J.),» Kęstutis Girnius, a prominent Lithuanian political analyst of American descent, told BNN.
Vilija Blinkevičiūtė, leader of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP), said on Monday, the 6th of March, that her party won the local elections.

«I can say with confidence that we, the Social Democrats, won the municipal elections, because we have as many as ten mayors elected in the first round, twice as many as in the previous elections in 2019,»

she told a news conference.
The party will also have the largest number of members on municipal councils: 357 seats across all 60 municipalities, which is 100 seats more than in the previous elections. The LSDP won 274 seats, including those of mayors, four years ago. In all, 14 LSDP candidates will vie for the mayoral seats in the run-off mayoral elections. Ten LSDP mayors were elected outright in the first round.
Although Blinkevičiūtė said the Social Democrats’ victory in the local elections is important for next year’s parliamentary elections, some insist that she did not «blink an eye» to contribute to the party’s success last Sunday.
«As euro parliamentarian, she is in Brussels all the time. The Social Democrats hold a national convention later this spring and I am sure she will be contested fiercely by some other prominent Social Democrats, like Mindaugas Sinkevičius, her deputy and mayor of Jonava (a town in central Lithuania – L. J.) He definitely stands a good chance. The rumour is that Blinkevičiūtė wants to continue her stint as euro parliamentarian and is not eager to wade into the rough waters of national politics,» a Social Democrat in Klaipėda, Lithuania’s third-largest city, told BNN.

In all, 26 municipalities have elected mayors in the first stage of voting, including in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city, while 34, where no candidate garnered no more than 50 percent of the vote, will square off in runoffs.

Valdas Benkunskas of the HU-LCD, and Arturas Zuokas, an ex-Vilnius mayor representing the Freedom and Justice party, will jostle for the position of Vilnius mayor in the mayoral election runoff on the 18th of March. According to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), Benkunskas, an incumbent Vilnius vice mayor, received 30.79 percent of votes in the first round of voting on Sunday, and Zuokas got 21.4 percent.
MP Mykolas Majauskas, an independent candidate in Vilnius who was thrown out from the HU-LCD fraction in the Seimas recently, came in third with 10.65 percent, followed by an openly gay Freedom party MP, Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius, who got 9.91 percent and MEP Waldemar Tomaszewski, leader of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance (EAPL-CFA), with 8.51 percent.
The HU-LCD will boast the highest number of seats (19) in the 51-seat Vilnius Council, the Freedom and Justice party and the Freedom Party will have nine each, the EAPL-CFA will have seven, the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania will have four, and the National Alliance will have three. The latter party has entered the council for the first time.

«I think the Conservatives’ candidate stands a good chance of pulling off victory in runoff in Vilnius. Especially that Freedom Party, the coalition’s junior partner in the Seimas, will undoubtedly rally behind him,»

Girnius emphasised to BNN.
In the mayoral race in Vilnius, Vytautas Sinica of the National Alliance collected 3.74 percent, Social Democratic candidate Rasa Budbergytė got 2.51 percent and 2.02 percent voted for Lukas Savickas of the Democrats «For Lithuania».
Meanwhile, Lithuania’s second city Kaunas handed an easy victory to the incumbent mayor, Visvaldas Matijošaitis, who gathered a comfortable 60 percent of the vote. His closest rival, former health minister Aurelijus Veryga of the Farmers and Greens Union, had 13 percent of the vote.
Matijošaitis’ political committee «United Kaunas» will have 26 seats in the city’s 41-member Council. The HU-LCD will have the second-biggest group in the council, with 8 mandates.
In Klaipėda, Lithuania’s third biggest city on the Baltic coast, Arvydas Vaitkus, running on the ticket of the political committee «Loyal to Klaipėda», and Audrius Petrošius of the HU-LCD will head to the runoff (with 24 and 21 percent of the vote respectively). After having served three mayoral terms, Vytautas Grubliauskas was left just fifth.
Vaitkus’ political committee also secured most seats, 8, in Klaipėda’s 31-member city council. Freedom and Justice as well as the conservatives won 7 each.
While voter turnout in the election was below 50 percent, it was the highest turnout for local elections in two decades, according to the CEC. In all, 39.56 percent of eligible voters showed up at the polls last Sunday and another 9.41 percent voted early, bringing the total turnout to 48.97 percent. In 2019, voter turnout was 47.9 percent.
The newly elected Lithuanian mayors and councillors will see some big changes at their desks, which is due to the new Law on Local Self-Government, passed by the Seimas last year.  From now on, mayors will act like executives – they will no longer belong to municipal councils. Yet, they will still organise council meetings.
However, the mayors will be entitled to veto power. They will be able to return decisions taken by the council, and the council will have to vote on them again.  The mayors will also be responsible for the preparation of municipal budgets and will be held accountable for their implementation.