How Will COVID-19 Impact Lithuania’s Parliamentary Elections?

  • Krišjānis Bušs

October 25th marks the second round of parliamentary elections in Lithuania, with citizens taking to the polls to fill 141 seats in the country’s legislature. As with other elections around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated electoral procedures, while also putting Lithuania’s current government to the test. So far, the public seems satisfied with Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis handling of the pandemic, with his approval climbing markedly since the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) last poll. However, the opposition party had a better showing in the first round of the elections, and citizens may well look to the crisis management skills of independent Ingrida Simonyte to lead them at this uncertain time.

Here’s a glimpse at some of the outcomes we could see following this weekend’s elections:

The incumbent Prime Minister’s approval ratings may be high, but the ruling party could still be in trouble.

The Lithuanian government has managed the pandemic successfully from both a public health and communications standpoint. Despite the Prime Minister’s high approval ratings, however, the first round of elections did not bring good news for the his Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU) party, which trailed behind the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU-LCD) with 17.5 percent of the vote compared to HU-LCD’s 25 percent. The ruling party therefore faces an uphill battle in convincing voters to give them the majority needed for another term in office.

Voters may be poised to elect Lithuania’s first female prime minister.

As Lithuanians enter the elections, both of the main parties have fallen short of a majority, leaving the second round to decide if independent Ingrida Simonyte will have the seats need to form the new government. Simonyte rose to prominence as Finance Minister during the 2009 financial crises, when she skillfully revived the country’s economic growth. Her reputation as an effective crisis manager makes her an attractive choice as the country manages the economic fallout of COVID-19 and prepares for the unknowns of a second wave.

Disinformation campaigns threaten to undermine the current government and Lithuania’s electoral integrity, but thus far they have not been effective.

As part of our Beacon Project initiative, IRI and our partners have conducted regular media monitoring to assess the pandemic’s role in disinformation campaigns ahead of the elections. In early 2020, there was an attempt by some of the most frequent sources of Russian disinformation to cast the Baltic governments’ COVID-19 management as incompetent, exaggerated and without the citizens’ interest in mind. IRI and the Vilnius Institute of Policy Analysis continue to monitor Lithuanian and Russian language media to uncover any foreign attempts at influencing the discussions during the elections period. While the full results of IRI’s monitoring will be published after the elections, preliminary findings show that pandemic-related disinformation does not appear to have hindered the campaigning of the main political parties or the integrity of the election thus far.

Ultimately, only time will tell if COVID-19 worked in the favor of Prime Minister Skvernelis, if voters fell prey to Russia’s recycled narratives, or if citizens turned to a respected crisis expert in times of uncertainty. Whatever the outcome, IRI will remain committed to supporting Lithuanians’ fight for democracy before, during and after elections.

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