With record-high turnout, the opposition Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) narrowly won the first round of the country’s municipal elections on Sunday, March 5th. The second round will be held next weekend, as more than half of the districts still need decisive run-offs to determine the winner.
Out of the 60 constituencies, 26 were able to announce final results after the first round on Sunday, with leading candidates winning with over 50%. The remaining 34 municipalities will hold run-off elections between the two largest parties on March 19th.
The Social Democrats came up as the clear winners of the first round, as they were able to double their previous number of mayors. Out of the 26, LSDP won ten mayoral seats outright, with another 14 candidates securing a place in the second round. The party has also won the most municipal council seats so far at 357, 80 seats more than in the previous election in 2019.
Nationwide, the LSDP received 17.5% of the votes, finishing ahead of the ruling conservative Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD), standing at 16.2%, followed by the Farmers and Greens Union (9%) and the Liberal Movement at 7%.
These results are regarded as considerable gains for the LSDP, as the party finished only in fourth place with 9.6% during the last parliamentary elections in 2020. Afterward, it was the Christian Democrat’s Homeland Union that got the chance to form the current government, in coalition with the center-right Liberal Movement (LRLS) and the progressive Freedom Party (LP).
Still, it is little surprise that the Social Democrats came out on top; the LSDP has been the most popular party since August 2021 when they overtook both the governing Christian Democrats and the Greens in the polls, making them the largest opposition force in the current parliament. And even though the socialists’ popularity has started to waver after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they are still leading the national polls with over 22%.
Interestingly, LSDP was not particularly popular in any of the big population centers—finishing at only fourth to sixth place in the cities, and losing the chance to participate in the run-offs. This includes the capital city, Vilnius, where the conservative candidate is projected to win next weekend. In the Vilnius council, the Homeland Union managed to secure 19 seats, while the Socialists received only 4.
During the first round, the authorities recorded a turnout of 49%, the highest figure for local elections in two decades, following a trend of a steady increase in political participation in Lithuania. Turnout in the runoffs could be even higher, as more people chose to cast their ballots in the early voting before the first rounds.
The next Lithuanian parliamentary election is still more than a year away, scheduled for October 2024, so conservative parties have ample time to correct their standing with the public. In the meantime, we look forward to the results of Sunday’s runoff round, to see whether they confirm the Social Democrat’s apparent victory or give more seats to the governing conservatives.