For the past years, a small Baltic state called Lithuania was ruled by conservative coalitions that consistently failed to lead the state to progress and change its stagnant political status quo. Yet, the recent elections have produced a historic result – the country is in the hands of the first liberal coalition, comprised of three female-led parties. While it is not clear how the reforms implemented by the ruling bloc will evolve, it seems that Lithuania is finally on the path of intensive social progress.
This November USA is not the only one undergoing political transition. A small state in the Baltic region, Lithuania, held its parliamentary elections which take place every four years. The recent one was of particular importance as it led to the formation of a liberal coalition comprised of three female-led parties, a phenomenon that has never occurred before in the Baltic region. The ruling coalition is promising social progress in terms of LGBTQ+ rights, gender and ethnic equality. However, the new political season might entail some downsides, too.
For the past 4 years, Lithuania was ruled by a centre-left coalition made up of the Farmers and Greens party (LVŽS) and the Social Democratic Party (LSDP). The two parties ran on relatively conservative political views, aiming to please the elderly and the unemployed and holding the lower middle class as their key electorate. However, the coalition suffered a huge backlash due to failure to implement effective socioeconomic reforms, while being corrupt and negligent towards the nation. Despite claiming to stand for “social wellbeing”, the alliance was heavily criticised for failing to deal with ethnic intolerance and LGBTQ+ discrimination – issues that became highly prominent in the period 2016-2020. Failure to showcase social progress led to the fall in LVŽS and LSDP popularity, while implementation of radical reforms didn’t help either. The coalition tried battling substance abuse by imposing strict laws on alcohol purchase and drug possession (e.g. criminal sentencing of 2 to 8 years for any amount of marijuana possessed). However, the status quo seems to be changing as the new coalition is about to take power.
The elections of October 2020 have led to a creation of a liberal ruling bloc consisting of three parties: the Homeland Union (TS-LKD), the Liberal Movement (LRLS) and the Freedom Party (LP). Out of the three, the latter one deserves its own spotlight as this party established itself only in the summer of 2019. The Freedom Party advocates for equal LGBTQ+ rights, protection of small businesses and marijuana legalisation among plenty of other issues that have been consistently neglected by the past coalition. It’s crucial to note that majority of Lithuanian electorate is comprised of the middle-aged and the elderly who tend to be less aware of the latter problems and hence see them as irrelevant. Thus, the emergence and success of the Freedom Party came unexpectedly, yet many, esp. the youth, are waiting for the new reforms that would lead the country to significant social progress. The composition of these parties is noticeable since all three are female-led, making this a historic election for the entire region of the Baltic states. In particular, one of them is TS-LKD leader Ingrida Šimonytė who ran for the post of President last May. Highly praised for her progressive views and policy reforms, she is best known as an economics expert. While the allocation of the Prime Minister’s post is still unclear, it is more than likely that Šimonytė will be taking over the PM’s position. In any case, the new Prime Minister of Lithuania will be a female, marking a historic moment since this is the first time a woman is allocated the PM’s position within the state. In the entire Baltic states’ history, she would be only the second female Prime Minister, since Laimdota Straujuma was appointed as PM in Latvia 4 years ago. Therefore, it seems that Lithuania is starting a completely new path striving for inclusion, equality and social progress.
The intended reforms are also worthy of attention. The main goal of the coalition is eliminating corruption, nepotism and the culture of lying; this is particularly important in the context of Lithuania. The contemporary ruling coalition lost the nation’s trust by failing to ensure a steady flow of information. For instance, during the COVID-19 outbreak the government failed to provide real numbers of cases and did not implement protective measures timely, resulting in mass collateral damage (e.g. number of infections skyrocketing from 40 to 2000 in the scope of 4 months). Moreover, the coalition is planning to change the educational system by enhancing funds for school vouchers and teacher preparation systems. This way, the stagnant Lithuanian schooling system would finally have a growth prospect. This is even more likely considering that the coalition plans to spend 1.5% of Lithuania’s GDP to fund promotion of IT classes nationwide and to majorly increase teachers’ wages – an issue that has caused several protest breakouts in the recent years. The liberal bloc is also planning to reform the healthcare system. All three parties intend to give medical professionals more voice in determining patients’ needs and are working on improving the system as a whole. Hence, it seems that Lithuanians will finally witness a complete reformation of the state for which they have been waiting.
Despite the bloc’s liberal alignment, there might be some conflict over specific issues. For instance, while the LP sees marriage equality as one of the most important issues, the LRLS does not. This means that the latter might have to look for support in the Opposition, while the Freedom Party will have to persuade the Homeland Union in approving the reform. Reforms affecting spheres like the state economy are likely not come into force soon, too, since even prior to the election LP seemed to have barely any economic policy apart from obscure tax reforms. Although TS-LKD and LRLS have proposed more extensive plans for future economic reforms, it might still cause problems since compromising could be hard. Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that Šimonytė has already faced massive backlash due to implementing austerity measures during the 2008 economic crisis. Despite her expertise in state recovery, it is unclear to what extent the electorate will trust and support the policies proposed by her and the TS-LKD.
At the end of the day, Lithuania hopes to see the liberal coalition bring social progress in terms of human rights together with complete reformation of the state’s stagnant institutions. While there might be problems caused by disagreements within the ruling parties, only time will show how successful the coalition will be. As for now, Lithuania is in the hands of three inspiring women – let that be not taken lightly.