The biggest surprise of the first election round was the great performance of the Conservatives. They won 15.08% of the votes – substantially more than it was predicted by the resident surveys and most political analysts. Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, who is often portrayed as the least favoured and least popular politician in Lithuania, gained nearly 32% votes at his Antakalnis constituency, whereas his main opponent received approximately 12% votes. In addition, 35 Conservatives made it to the second round – even 23 of them came first in their respective constituencies, Kęstutis Girnius wrote in alfa.lt on 22 October.
The success of the Conservatives elated the party and its supporters to the extent that some of them now hope that this party will win more mandates than any other party. In that case, it would be Andrius Kubilius who President Dalia Grybauskaitė would have to entrust with forming the government.
Such a scenario is overly optimistic. I think that the Conservatives, together with the Liberal Movement, will win slightly less than 45 mandates, which would be an insufficient foundation to build the government on. I have to admit that I was one of those people who mistakenly predicted rather gloomy results for the Conservatives. I might be wrong again. Their success was pleasantly surprising – just like the electors’ ability to understand that the government led by the Conservatives ruled Lithuania rather efficiently, even though the standard of living declined during their term.
There are currently two questions under consideration. The first one is whether an opposition party will invite the Conservatives to form a coalition. The second one is whether the Conservatives should accept such an invitation. The answer to both questions is the same – ‘no’.
I do not think that the Social Democrats or Labour Party would refuse their previous plans to form the governing coalition together with Order and Justice. These parties were co-operating in the opposition for the last four years. The Labour Party and the Social Democrat Party are similar. They both claim to be supporting workers and not-so-wealthy people, but they are also consistently defending the interests of the nomenclature and larger-scale businesspersons. Their interrelations are far from the best. There were some major disagreements at the time when both parties participated in the 13th government. Several months ago, however, their coalition collapsed after a fierce argument regarding a nuclear power plant. Later, their relations got better, but there was little mutual trust remaining.
It is not always easy to find a common language with the Order and Justice members. The leader of the party Rolandas Paksas is inclined to overrate his abilities. He reacts sensitively to the real and imaginary insults, and he is also used to demanding more, and higher, posts than would be appropriate in accordance with the number of mandates won.
However, all three opposition parties would rather communicate among themselves than attempt coming to an agreement with the Conservatives. They know that the Conservatives would be a difficult, demanding, and not easily manageable partner. The Conservatives quarrel amongst themselves more than other parties; some of them would be sceptical about any kind of agreement; and the party leadership would not be able to ensure political discipline. There is a high probability that if the Conservatives joined a coalition, they would leave it with a lot of noise. I would be surprised if the Labour Party or Social Democrats decided to work with, in their opinion, a capricious and a potentially destabilising partner. They and the Conservatives have a different principal and ideological stance, especially on the actual matters of safety and energy independence. Both parties would find it difficult to explain to their electors as to why they were bunched together with the ‘vicious’ Conservatives.
The Conservatives are not going to be invited to the coalition. Even if they were, they would have to refuse. Governance is tempting. Political science textbooks say that political parties seek to govern and implement their programmes. Sometimes, tasteless compromises are necessary. The party that cared about the political chastity more than about implementing its programme would soon lose its authority and electorate. Being in the government would allow fighting for the correct decisions, influence the new partners, and turn their policy in a more righteous direction. However, all of this would have a high price.
Some Conservatives, like Irena Degutienė, feel a certain attraction to the Labour Party, which I find difficult to understand. Already three years ago, they considered inviting the Labour Party to join the coalition. They explained that the Labour Party parliamentarians had a considerable amount of experience and skills in working in the parliament, and the party is not any more corrupt than the Social Democrats who, in the years of their governance, heaped their own and their supporters’ pockets.
However, the Labour Party is not a normal party. It is being accused of the fact that, in 2004-2006, it failed to include in the official report over 24 million litas of income and avoided paying to the state over 3.8 million litas of taxes. The court has not pronounced a ruling yet, so the blame is not proved. On the other hand, the party has been out to temporise the case, which it would not do if it were as innocent as it claims to be. Secondly, one cannot forget Viktor Uspaskich’s escape to Moscow. He says that he went to Russia to sort out some family affairs. That it true, except he did not return to Lithuania after a search for him was announced. In October 2007, 17 members of the Labour Party group went to see him in Putin’s Russia and took part in a press conference during which Uspaskich was throwing unfounded accusations towards his country. The landing of the Labour Party in Moscow still remains an unprecedented phenomenon.
Presently, the Labour Party is reproached for buying off votes, especially prisoners’ votes, during this election. The material collected by the public prosecutor’s office allows suspecting that the Labour Party candidate Rimvydas Podolskis was buying off votes. If the Conservatives rushed to form a coalition with the Labour Party, it would seem that they are conniving in serious violations of democracy.
Sometimes, the great coalition with the Social Democrats is discussed taking as example other countries, for instance, Germany. However, the great coalitions are usually formed in case of major crises or in order to create a solid governing majority. Others explain that the Conservatives, if they were in the coalition, could win the Social Democrats over and convince them to support the construction of a nuclear power plant. Those people who think like that are overrating their rhetorical abilities. After all, the principled attitudes of the parties are different (although practical actions – not always); thus, it would leave the impression that the Conservatives have recanted their principles by giving in to the desire of staying in the government. This would be a precarious step that could disappoint its consolidating electorate.
There is a time for governing and a time for being in the opposition. The Conservatives should understand that, even though the final say is after the triplet.