Lithuania’s Labour Party makes a comeback despite dark past

Despite a criminal investigation and a short-lived exile in Russia of its founder Viktor Uspaskich, Lithuania’s Labour Party is set to make a comeback in the October parliamentary election.

Dark past  In 2006, a criminal investigation into the party’s activities found that, in 2004–2006, it concealed 7.4 million euros in income and 4.3 million euros in expenditures.

The court summoned the party leaders, including the founder Viktor Uspaskich, to testify. However, Uspaskich fled Lithuania and hid in Russia. The police arrested him in Vilnius airport in 2007.

In July 2013, Uspaskich, along with several other party members, was sentenced to four years in prison for fraud. But the chair of the Labour Party avoided serving time when the court of appeals striked down fraud charges free years later.

The law enforcement is also investigating the Labour Party for bribery as part of the the MG Baltic case, the largest corruption case in Lithuania’s history.

Rebirth in 2020

In the 2016 election, the Labour Party did not cross the 5-percent vote threshold and won only two seats in single-member constituencies.

Uspaskich was battling law enforcement at the time and could not lead the party in the election. But his mid-term return increased the party’s popularity significantly and it now ranks fourth in most pre-election surveys.

The chair of the party, however, decided not to run for a seat in the parliament Seimas. Nevertheless, he often represents the party in debates and said he would accept the prime minister’s post if it won the election.

Vytautas Dumbliauskas, an associate professor at Mykolas Romeris University, said that the Labour Party’s popularity was closely tied to its leader, what he calls the “Uspaskich phenomenon”.

According to Uspaskich, he and his colleagues have not yet thought about who could become their coalition partners after the election, because they are focused on winning.

“Our goal is to win the election. We do not consider other options. The goal is to win and to form the government,” the Labour Party chair told LRT.lt.

According to Dumbliauskas, the party will compete for votes with centre-left and left parties, including the ruling Farmers and Greens Union and the Social Democrats.

“When analysing their election campaign, it becomes obvious that [the Labour Party] does not target right-wing voters,” Gabrielė Burbulytė, a political analyst at Klaipėda University, said.

According to Dumbliauskas, if any left-wing party won the October election, it would still need the Labour Party to form the governing coalition. If the conservative Homeland Union came in first, it might also offer partnership to them, because it would not have many other options.

“The Labour Party is ideologically fluid,” Dumbliasukas said. “If they were offered minister posts, they would agree to be in the government [with the Homeland Union]. Ideologically, it would only harm the conservatives because the Labour Party’s ideology is to be in the government.”

Burbulytė agreed that the party might play an important role in forming a centre-left coalition but did not think they could be in a centre-right government as the “parties’ programmes are too contradictory.”

LRT.LT

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