Tomaszewski’s big game with an unpredictable outcome

Tomaszewski’s big game with an unpredictable outcome

On 7 September 2018, in his interview with the Lithuanian national broadcaster LRT, Waldemar Tomaszewski announced that he would consider his participation as a candidate in the upcoming 2019 presidential elections in Lithuania. This statement implies the beginning of a bigger game, in which he seeks to return to Lithuania’s domestic politics after two consequent terms as a MEP. Reasons and implications of this decision of the leader of the “Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance” (EAPL-CFA) are analyzed by our expert Witold Janczys.

Tomaszewski underlined that he was proposed to run for the presidential election during his meetings with numerous voters in spring this year. His fellow party members also encouraged him to participate in the presidential campaign.

The intentions of the EAPL-CFA leader are not surprising. This party is traditionally linked with Lithuania’s Polish community and positions itself as a nation-wide political power. Hence, its refuse to nominate a candidate at the upcoming presidential election would be interpreted as a demonstration of weakness. Yet, at presidential elections in 2009 and 2014 Tomaszewski was able to show good results.

In 2009, Tomaszewski received 4.7 percent of the votes and demonstrated the fourth result. He won in the districts of Vilnius and Šalčininkai, and was second in the city of Vilnius. In 2014, Tomaszewski managed to collect 8.4 percent of the votes in the whole country. He won in the districts of Šalčininkai and Vilnius, as well as in the town of Visaginas. In these administrative units he collected 71.8, 52.8 and 51.9 percent respectively.

Tomaszewski’s results demonstrate that a significant part of Lithuania’s population believes that traditional parties cannot offer them anything significant. Moreover, these parties typically ignore the needs of national minorities. It is not very clear whether Tomaszewski will be able to fully attract his potential electorate base. In this regard, it worth focusing on the relations of the EAPL-CFA leadership with the Poland’s officials.

Warsaw has consistently been declaring its negative attitude towards Tomaszewski’s attempts to appeal to some segments of the Russian-speaking electorate using pro-Kremlin symbols, including the St. George’s ribbon. At the same time, Poland prefer not to notice that the EAPL-CFA was able to overcome a five percent threshold at 2016 parliamentary elections largely thanks to the votes of ethnic Russians. As a result, it has currently eight seats at the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania.

This Polish-Russian minority coalition in Lithuania is primarily a matter of pragmatism. As described above, the EAPL-CFA is not capable to pass a five percent electoral threshold in a nationwide vote based on open list proportional representation. A somewhat smaller Russian minority is even more diverse in terms of its political organization. Hence, they might view the EAPL-CFA as a tool to be present at the nation-wide level. This mutually beneficial cooperation frequently puts the matters of principles and Lithuania’s national interests aside. Thus, the EAPL-CFA’s self-perception as “the most honest parliamentary party” can probably be interpreted from this perspective.

In fact, the EAPL-CFA leader needs to participate in the upcoming presidential election. On the one hand, it will show presence of the Polish national minority at a distinctive political power at Lithuania’s political landscape. On the other handr, because of the pressure from Warsaw, Tomaszewski may not be able to attract votes of ethnic Russians, Lithuania’s second-largest national minority. The votes of ethnic Poles (and probably some smaller national minorities) won’t most probably be enough to repeat the results of the previous elections, particularly after the recent scandals around the Union of Poles in Lithuania. Tomaszewski’s return to the big game is to show who is who for both Vilnius and Warsaw. It might result to both his great victory and crushing defeat, which would either confirm his strength as a leader, or would be a sign that his positions have been weakened.

Note: This text was prepared in cooperation with InBaltic.

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