Podcast: Problems Passing on the Torch
12 October 2021
Summary of the video chat meeting on Lithuanian elections held on 12 October 2020 with analysis based on the earliest election results and a discussion about Lithuania’s foreign policy.
The first round of parliamentary elections in Lithuania took place on 11 October 2020, and the second round is scheduled for 25 October 2020. Vilnius has been a strong supporter of the Belarusian people in their protests against Lukashenko.
Recently, Lithuania also welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron for an eye-catching visit.
During a recent Visegrad Insight Transatlantic Breakfast meeting, on 12 October 2020, we investigated the key reasons behind Lithuania’s growing importance in the wider region and whether the currently happening elections could shift the country’s foreign policy priorities in the months to come.
Speakers at the meeting were:
The conversation started by taking a look at the preliminary election results (which came out in the morning after Lithuanians went to the polls on Sunday 12 October). According to Ruslanas Irzikevicius, there was a lot of similarity to the last elections’ results, with the conservative party Homeland Union coming first, and the Farmers and Greens Union second in the first round of the elections.
However, Irzikevicius urged that it was still too early to make concluding remarks and that everything is still to be decided in the second round of elections at the end of October. He explained that even though the opposition conservative party Homeland Union came first in the first round, everyone was still cautious about claiming victory since in the last elections the conservative party that won in the first round, was defeated in the second round of elections.
However, Irzikevicius said it was not a likely option this time since Lithuanians are generally eager to vote for the political force that has not been recently in power. Since the Farmers and Green Union have been in the government up until now, the voters might not be too enthusiastic about them, likely giving the conservatives an advantage.
Irzikevicius also noted that the newly-established Freedom Party, a splinter party formed by the former Liberal Party members, could become a new force in the Parliament. It took a surprise fifth spot in the first round of elections, with nobody initially expecting that it would surpass the five per cent threshold.
Monika Bičkauskaitė also spoke about Lithuania’s role in the context of Belarus crisis. The country has been very vocal in supporting the sovereignty of Belarusian people and pushing the EU and the US to take a strong stance against Lukashenko. Lithuania also helped Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya get to Lithuania and supported her visit to other countries where she met leaders of the EU.
However, Bičkauskaitė stressed that Lithuania should not be thought of merely as a mediator between Eastern Partnership countries and the rest of Europe. She talked about the country’s institutional and societal preparedness to fight against cybersecurity threats from the Russian side. She referred to a cyber defence centre established together with the US and under Lithuanian leadership as an example of the country’s institutional readiness to work in the field of regional security.
The centre will launch in 2021 in its full capacity; it is to become a regional hub where an international team of experts work together to tackle cybersecurity issues and threats.
There also remains a possibility that Linas Antanas Linkevičius, the current Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs (MFA), might be forced out of his seat as a result of the elections. Linkevičius has been a strikingly popular politician and has taken a lot of initiative in pushing Lithuanian foreign policy in a particular direction. In case he is forced out of his seat, the country’s expanding foreign policy might see a slight slowdown.
Nevertheless, Bičkauskaitė believes that in terms of foreign policy, Lithuania will continue to focus on Russia, cyber threats, and Belarus and that it will likely not change much with the prospective new foreign affairs minister hopefully following the path established by his predecessor.
In the off-the-record part of the Visegrad Insight Transatlantic Breakfast, participants continued to analyse a variety of scenarios that lead to changes in the Seimas and Lithuania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They also shared their ideas for potential eligible candidates for the MFA post.