2019 European Parliament election: the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania narrowly won an MEP seat

2019 European Parliament election: the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania narrowly won an MEP seat

Dr. Kiryl Kascian

The Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance (EAPL-CFA) is a special creature in the political landscape of Lithuania. It claims to be a political representative of Lithuania’s Polish community and attempts to speak on behalf of the country’s national minorities. Its long-term cooperation with the Russian Alliance (RA), a political party which claims to represent Lithuania’s Russian community, is one of the visible manifestations of the tactics to attract a wider scope of minority votes. In the 2019 European Parliament election in Lithuania, the EAPL-CFA Valdemar Tomaševski (Waldemar Tomaszewski) received an MEP mandate for the third time in a row. In this text, I will address some aspects of this result referring to the party’s general political capacities and minority participation in the European Parliament elections in Lithuania.

Ethnic factor at the European Parliament elections in Lithuania

The available data suggest that in the 2019 European Parliament election in Lithuania ethnic Lithuanians constituted approximately 75 percent of all candidates, 16 percent of the candidates did not declare their ethnicity (tautybė), while the representatives of different national minorities made up only about nine percent of all candidates (ethnic Poles constituted five percent of all candidates, while ethnic Russians – 2.3 percent). Obviously, there were both ethnic Lithuanians and persons belonging to minorities among those 16 percent of the candidates who preferred not to indicate ethnicity in her or his profile at the website of the Central Electoral Commission of the Republic of Lithuania. However, only a few candidates with a minority background had realistic chances to get elected. The profiles of the eleven newly-elected MEPs suggest that nine of them are ethnic Lithuanians (Note: Rasa Juknevičienė from the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (Tėvynės sąjunga – Lietuvos krikščionys demokratai) and Bronis Ropė from the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (Lietuvos valstiečių ir žaliųjų sąjunga) didn’t declare ethnicity in their candidate profiles, but in the previous elections they indicated that they both are ethnic Lithuanians). The other two are an ethnic Pole Valdemar Tomaševski and Viktor Uspaskich, who preferred not specify his ethnic affiliation.

The analysis of all previous elections to the European Parliament in Lithuania also confirms this trend. All MEPs represented Lithuania at the European Parliament for the 2004–2009 term were ethnic Lithuanians. The 2009 and 2014 elections to the European Parliament brought the same results – ethnic Lithuanians received all but two mandates available for this Baltic country. It was the EAPL-CFA leader Valdemar Tomaševski who declared his Polish ethnicity on these two occasions. From the formalistic point of view, Tomaševski remains the only Lithuanian MEP with a minority background. Of course, one can mention Viktor Uspaskich from the Labour Party (DP) and the late Leonidas Donskis from the Liberals Movement of Lithuania (LRLS) to counter this statement. However, the Russian-born Uspaskich in 2009, 2014 and 2019 refused to specify his ethnic affiliation. Donskis served as deputy chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community but in his 2009 MEP candidate profile indicated Lithuanian ethnicity. Moreover, the DP and the LRLS are not minority political parties.

The cases of Uspaskich and Donskis, however, reveal the problem of Lithuania as the state with a relatively small number of the MEP seats. The presence of the persons belonging to national minorities in the electoral lists is frequently not enough to get elected. Due to a small number of MEP seats reserved for Lithuania, it is often highly likely that only one or two top-ranked candidates from the party list can receive an MEP mandate. Therefore, a candidate with a minority background must have a high profile in Lithuania’s politics to be among the top-ranked candidates of a mainstream political party. In addition to Uspaskich and the late Donskis, there are only a few politicians in contemporary Lithuania with the matching profile. The only exception is EAPL-CFA. Its electoral lists are dominated by the representatives of the Polish and other national minorities. Therefore, this party, its electoral alliances and rhetoric are the subjects of the analysis below.

The EAPL-CFA capacities under Lithuania’s electoral legislation

The votes in the European Parliament elections in Lithuania are counted according to the rules established by the Law on Elections to the European Parliament. It stipulates that the total number of votes cast for the parties (provided they received more than five percent) shall be divided by the number of MEP seats available for Lithuania. After this, all remaining mandates are divided among the parties that achieved the electoral threshold. The precise computations deem not to be necessary for this analysis. However, it is important to emphasize that in 2004, 2014 and 2019 the result of the EAPL-CFA was lower than the votes-to-seats ratio. In 2004 under the old version of the said Law, the EAPL-CFA got 5.71 percent of the votes but failed to receive any MEP seat. In 2009, the EAPL-CFA received one MEP mandate with the result which was higher than the votes-to-seat ratio. However, this became possible largely due to the country-wide voter turnout at the level of just 20.98 percent. The voters’ turnout in Šalčininkai and Vilnius districts (41,41 and 34,81 percent respectively) was the highest throughout the country. In contrast, in no other region of Lithuania, the turnout reached even 30 percent. In 2019, the EAPL-CFA received 5,24 percent of the votes. It failed to reach the votes-to-seat ratio and got one MEP seat.

The results of the European Parliament elections in Lithuania demonstrate the general capacities and the weaknesses of the EAPL-CFA. First, heavy country-wide polling is usually a huge problem for this political party, although it is capable to effectively mobilize its stable electorate. However, it can reach the votes-to-seats ratio in the MEP elections only if high mobilization of its electorate combines with the low country-wide polling. Second, the party could have never claimed more than one MEP seat even if it was capable to reach the votes-to-seats ratio.

The EAPL-CFA capabilities to attract the electorate

The EAPL-CFA largely remains a regional party because its electorate is overwhelmingly limited to the Polish and other minorities. Its political role is important in the areas with significant minority populations, especially those with ethnic Polish majority. In the municipalities with a small concentration of minorities, the EAPL-CFA’s role is marginal.

Many commentators pointed out that the votes of the Polish community could be insufficient for the EAPL-CFA to reach the electoral threshold set as five percent and more importantly to reach the votes-to-seats ratio at the European Parliament elections. Its long term cooperation with the RA can be seen as an attempt to attract the votes of ethnic Russians. The EAPL-CFA’s cooperation with the public organizations of other minorities rests on the same logic. Despite the rhetoric of its leadership, the EAPL-CFA’s support among ethnic Lithuanians remains as low as a statistical error.

On 3 March 2019, Lithuania held the municipal elections. Its results seem to be a good illustration of the EAPL-CFA capabilities to attract its electorate. It also reveals its structural problems. In several municipalities (including the city of Vilnius) the EAPL-CFA formed the coalition with the Russian Alliance. In four other municipalities, the EAPL-CFA competed independently, while in the city of Klaipėda the RA had its own electoral list. The total number of votes cast for the EAPL-CFA and the RA lists was as high as 61,657 (including 58,981 for their coalition). First, this figure was lower than in the 2014 European Parlament election (92,108, in coalition with the RA), the 2015 municipal election (87,152, both in coalition with the RA and independently), or at the 2016 parliamentary election (69,810 at the country-wide constituency). Second, it shows how dependent are the EAPL-CFA and its coalition partners from the RA of the urban electorate in the capital Vilnius and the third-largest city of Klaipėda. In 2014 municipal election in Vilnius the coalition of the EAPL-CFA and the RA came second and was able to attract 38,138 votes, while in 2019 it collected only 19,907 votes and was ranked fourth. In Klaipėda, in 2014 the coalition of the EAPL-CFA and the RA took third place with 5,905 votes. In 2019, the RA competed independently and its list attracted only 1,941 votes. Thus, it finished seventh and failed to meet the electoral threshold.

Indeed, the lists of parties, coalitions or committees in the municipal elections in Lithuania often differ from those in the Seimas or the European Parliament elections. However, the divergence between the results of the 2014 and 2019 municipal elections in Vilnius and Klaipėda shows that a significant part of the minority electorate in these two cities can be attracted by other political groups. In other words, the majority of the EAPL-CFA core electorate resides in the rural areas or small towns, while in the cities the level of competition for the electorate is significantly higher. If the EAPL-CFA fails to attract the votes of urban Poles, Russians, and other minorities, it has all chances not to meet the electoral threshold in the Seimas or the European Parliament elections in the future.

The EAPL-CFA in the European Parliament elections: a one-man show?

As demonstrated above, the EAPL-CFA is not capable to get more than one MEP seat in any European Parliament election in Lithuania. Its leader, Valdemar Tomaševski, was twice elected as an MEP in 2009 and 2014. He is the party’s chairman since 1999.

The coalition of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania and Lithuanian Russian Union “Together we are strong!” (Lietuvos lenkų rinkimų akcijos ir Lietuvos rusų sąjungos koalicijos „Kartu mes jėga!“) was formed to run the 2004 European Parliament election in Lithuania. The pre-election coalition list was headed by Sergej Dmitrijev from the Lithuanian Russian Union, and Tomaševski was placed second. Preferential voting brought Tomaševski the first place, though the coalition failed to obtain any MEP mandate. In 2009, Tomaševski led the electoral list of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania and remained first after preferential voting. The 2014 European Parliament election in Lithuania added some degree of personalism because Tomaševski’s name appeared in the title of the electoral list. It was officially called the Coalition of Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania and Russian Alliance “Block of Valdemar Tomaševski” (Lenkų rinkimų akcijos ir Rusų aljanso koalicija „Valdemaro Tomaševskio blokas“). It is obvious, that this list was led by Tomaševski. With 44,272 voting points, he comfortably secured his first place after preferential voting. The same level of personalism was kept at the 2019 election. This time the EAPL-CFA leader was placed first in the electoral list entitled “Block of Valdemar Tomaševski” – Coalition of the Christian Families Alliance and the Russian Alliance („Valdemaro Tomaševskio blokas“ – Krikščioniškų šeimų sąjungos ir Rusų aljanso koalicija). Interestingly, the reference to the Polish ethnicity was removed from the name of the coalition. Instead, the focus on Christian values was made. After preferential voting, Tomaševski kept the first place in his electoral list and got an MEP mandate for the third time in a row.

It is not uncommon that an electoral list of any party, coalition or committee contains the name of its political leader. It also implies that this person should be among those who got elected, provided that the list receives a sufficient number of votes. Of course, Tomaševski is the most internationally recognizable politician in his party. The electoral list called “Block of Valdemar Tomaševski” has a clear message to its potential voter. It suggests the name of the potential MEP, bearing in mind that the EAPL-CFA is per se not capable to obtain more than one MEP mandate. Thus, it implicitly suggests the voter who should receive her or his preferential points.

Orbánization of the EAPL-CFA rhetoric: towards Christian values?

In 2016, the EAPL’s name was expanded with the phrase “Christian Families Alliance” (Związek Chrześcijańskich Rodzin / Krikščioniškų šeimų sąjunga). According to Tomaševski, this decision was consistent with the spirit of the times because Christian and family values should the most important for contemporary society. He also emphasized that the name was not changed, but just amended. The need for this amendment was reasoned by the party’s adherence to the Christian Democratic ideas. Three aspects should be addressed with this regard.

First, the phrase “Christian Families Alliance” in the name of the party indeed means its adherence to this political doctrine. But does it contribute to the attraction of the new electorate by a minority party? The answer is no. The goal of any minority party is to address and represent the interests of a specific ethnic community(-ies). Its leadership should be aware of the numerical capacity of its electorate vis-a-vis the country’s electoral system. It is therefore crucial for such parties to mobilize their electorate within the community whose members typically have different political views. The phrase “Christian Families Alliance” seems to bring the opposite effect as it potentially provides other political parties in Lithuania with an additional opportunity to compete for the votes of the members of the country’s Polish minority. Moreover, a series of internal conflicts within Lithuania’s Polish minority in 2018 indicated its leadership crisis and contributed to the fragmentation of the potential EAPL-CFA electorate in the 2019 municipal election in Lithuania.

Second, Tomaševski’s appeal to the Christian Democracy in the new name of the party means that it has to compete with more or less the same political field with the TS-LKD, one of the strongest and influential political parties in Lithuania. It’s hardly imaginable that even a small part of the Homeland Union’s electorate could be attracted by the EAPL-CFA since it remains an ethnic Polish party in the public perception in Lithuania.

Oddly enough, it was Tomaševski who in Fall 2018 argued that the ideas of Christian Democracy in today’s Europe are often distorted. This brings us to the third aspect. A member of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, Tomaševski was the only Lithuanian MEP who in September 2018 expressed his solidarity with Viktor Orbán and voted against the European Parliament resolution calling on the Council to determine the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the EU values. In his comment, Tomaševski called it “manipulation” and accused “pro-immigrant liberal forces, promoting gender ideology” of “undermining the Christian roots of Europe”. Moreover, he called all forces supporting the concept of Europe of Nations and Europe and promoting Christian values to unite.

One cannot conclude that Eurosceptic views prevail among Lithuania’s Poles and other national minorities. Therefore, the provisions of the EAPL-CFA program are unlikely to mobilize additional minority votes. On the contrary, one can rather speak of the need to effectively retain its current electorate taken into account the values promoted by the EAPL-CFA and the composition of its current leadership. Therefore, Valdemar Tomaševski’s re-election as an MEP in 2019 is a huge success of the EAPL-CFA in its present condition.

Image: © Dr. Viktor Denisenko.

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