Tales of two elections: Lithuania and Montenegro

Election results in the two European countries that vote in parliamentary elections on October 14 2012 are likely to be quite different, with the government in Lithuania set for defeat and the majority coalition in Montenegro set to continue its long-standing tradition of victory.

The two countries have a substantial list of differences, those in population and in GDP being among the most significant. Baltic state Lithuania is a European Union member; Montenegro opened EU membership negotiations just four months ago. But what they do have in common is that both are wrestling with their economic futures while neither is at the core of the European economy.

The economy is the decisive issue in Lithuania (while at the same time, by-the-by, Lithuanians are being asked to vote in a referendum on a proposed nuclear power station project, as Bulgarians will be asked to do in a few months’ time).

Lithuaniahas been held up as an example of how to successfully negotiate difficult austerity measures, but it is those very measures that are set to cost current conservative prime minister Andrius Kubilius his job, once the two rounds of elections – October 14 the first, the second two weeks later – are over.

Economic growth has been restored but growth is slow and, for the fortunes of the government, has come too late. Emigration has stepped up, unemployment is at an official 13 per cent andLithuaniaremains one of the EU’s poorest countries.

The social democrats, according to opinion polls, currently may expect to take the largest share of votes among the five parties said to be heading for surmounting the threshold to get seats in parliament. A new coalition, likely to be made up of the social democratic and labour parties, would then take the helm of a country with a population of 2.9 million and an estimated GDP for 2012 of $64.3 billion.

Austerity or otherwise?

Crucially, however, a new government would be hardly likely to be able to move substantially away from a policy of austerity measures. Social democratic leader Algirdas Butkevicius favours an increase in minimum salaries and the introduction of a progressive income tax to ease the burden on lower-income earners.

Kubilius, as quoted by Lithuanian television LTV, said that his was not a government that could not recognise its mistakes or work that it had not done. “But I would like to emphasise those reforms…require consensus and joined efforts. Many of our initiatives did not receive effective support in parliament”.

Andrius Kubilius. Photo: European Peoples Party

A month ahead of the elections, he insisted that there was consensus on austerity measures rather than the route of populism.

“I see the statements of different political parties, very strong statements, on the basis fiscal discipline as a prerequisite of future activities,” Kubilius said, as quoted by news agency Reuters.

“Of course we see some kind of mismatch of what some parties are declaring about their proposals…but I think that usually reality after elections brings very quick understanding that there is no way for some kind of rather populist ideas to be implemented.”

With a change of government and amendments to economic policies,Lithuania’s euro zone membership ambition – the current government pencilled in 2014 for accession to the euro – could be kicked further down the field.

As to the nuclear power station referendum, which is on the question of a proposed joint project withLatviaandEstoniaand in which the commercial side is led by Japanese companyHitachi, social democrat leader Butkevicius was quoted by Lithuanian television LTV as saying, “We are analysing the business project. This project also has been submitted to foreign experts. Only then will we see all the answers. When all doubts are scattered, we will speak about it. For now, we say no to the legislative project that was presented to us”.

Going by the polls, so will voters, but because the referendum outcome will have only advisory status, political leaders could override the majority vote in the referendum.

Meanwhile, in Montenegro

Moving from the Baltics to the Balkans, a look at Montenegro underlines its differences from Lithuania. Its population is said to be more than 625 000 and its GDP $7.28 billion.

In its own way, it has had some nods of approval from the European Union, going by the progress report approved by the European Commission on October 10, just six days before the election.

The For a European Montenegro alliance, made up of the Democratic Party of Socialists of Ranko Krivokapic and Andrija Popovic’s Liberal Party, was said to have a 47 per cent share of the vote. The Socialist People’s Party came in a distant second, at just less than 15 per cent, in a poll by the Podgorica-based Centre for Democracy and Human Rights.

Igor Lukšić, prime minister of Montenegro. Photo: Benedikt Loebell/World Economic Forum

This would herald continuity in the country, of which the EC said that it had made further progress in establishing a functioning market economy, improved its ability to take on the obligations of EU membership and continued to sufficiently meet the political criteria for EU membership.

However, there were a number of notes by the EC in areas familiar in the saga of the bloc’s expansion into the former communist states of South Eastern Europe.

The track record on law enforcement has improved, but “efforts need to be pursued in the area of rule of law”. This, according to the EC, is in particular to finalise the ongoing constitutional reform to bring stronger judicial independence, and to further develop the track record of implementation, “notably in the fight against corruption and organised crime”.

The EC, in its comments on economic matters in Montenegro, said that the country had made further progress in establishing a functioning market economy.

Macroeconomic stability has been broadly maintained. The banking sector is still recovering, with bank deposits gradually increasing. Further improvements have been made in market entry procedures and bankruptcy recovery. The telecom and energy industries have been liberalised and the respective regulatory authorities have become more assertive, the EC said.

“Nonetheless, persisting structural problems of the Montenegrin economy and the fragile international financial environment continue to put the recovery of country’s economy in danger. Large external imbalances persist. Unemployment is high. The inflationary pressures and the public debt have continued to increase. The difficult economic situation of the aluminium producer needs to be addressed. The country needs to attract further investments to develop its infrastructure. Lingering weaknesses in the rule of law and the large informal sector negatively affect the investment and business environment.”

Just how fast, and to what extent, the pace of any reform proceeds in Montenegro is less likely to be determined by pronouncements in EC reports and more likely within the internal machinations of the Democratic Party of Socialists, the dominant political force of Montenegro since the country’s separation from Serbia in 2006 and a political force with its roots way back in the Montenegrin Communist League in the old order.

(Main photo, of Lithuania’s parliament hall: AndreasLT)




Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.