With the municipal elections drawing closer, Farmer-Greens leader Ramūnas Karbauskis has proposed to allow civic committees to form electoral coalitions with one another and parties. Experts warn that this is a step, which weakens the party system.

"At the moment parties can form an electoral coalition, but not with committees, nor can several committees with one another. We are proposing to equalise the options," R. Karbauskis told Delfi, stating he finds no flaws to such a proposal.

"A certain period has simply passed and we must admit that committees should have the same right as parties in elections because why not. I do not have a single argument why this should not be," R. Karbauskis, who does not view civic committees as competition in the municipal elections and describes the proposal as the "expansion of democracy."

R. Karbauskis has yet to prepare any legislative projects regarding committee financing. However, he intends to consult the Central Electoral Commission regarding it.

Danger to parties noted

General Jonas Žemaitis Lithuanian War Academy pro-rector to science and studies, professor Jūratė Novagrockienė observed risks that such changes could bring about.

"This proposal is yet another step toward breaking down the party system in Lithuania. State policy is to strengthen political parties. This strengthening primarily manifests in, for example, them receiving financing from the budget. It is part of state politics. In all democracies, the state seeks to strengthen its political parties," J. Novagrockienė stated.

According to the political scientist, these steps may be being taken in order to easier find suitable partners in the municipal elections. Vytautas Magnus University docent Aistė Lazauskienė also notes this is a potential reason.

"We know that people are disappointed with parties and committees are on a roll. This trend is visible not only in Lithuania, but also abroad. There is increasingly less voting for parties in municipal elections. Thus, it could be a cunning step, seeking to draw more votes," A. Lazauskienė said.

According to the General Jonas Žemaitis Lithuanian War Academy scientist, this is yet another step in weakening political parties, alongside what they have done themselves.

"For example, the Social Democrats broke apart or the constant seeking those to blame or those innocent. Looking broadly, an image forms that everything is being done for a party system to disappear from Lithuania. This is yet another step," J. Novagrockienė criticised.

According to the scientist, politically it would be a very irresponsible decision.

"There is a pursuit of means to strengthen democracy, how to involve as many players as possible. But nevertheless, there are democratic procedures, there is very clear competition, where there are alternatives.

Meanwhile, here we see a short-term demand to form extra benefits for those, who now decided that they must enter one or another structure no matter the cost," J. Novagrockienė said.

Sounding an alarm over parties' future

Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) leader Gabrielius Landsbergis expressed concern already in March to his party's council over the rise of anti-establishment forces and the future of political parties.

Back then, having returned from a working visit to Brussels, G. Landsbergis recounted his impressions to fellow party members from the traditional European People's Party party leaders' meeting held prior to European Council meetings.

"Angela Merkel's speech was especially notable. (...) Her thesis was that she cannot recall a time when her party would have been as beleaguered as it is now. Besieged by anti-establishment movements, whose main message is that European parties have aged, cannot offer anything new and that it is time for them to close down," G. Landsbergis said.

He reminded that in Germany, the greatest challenge against the CDU is from the radical right wing AfD.

"Another pressure appears from new movements, whose symbol is now the French president. It was news for me to find out that similar movements initiated by him are being formed across Europe, a movement is even registered in Germany. The message is singular: that's it – this system has aged, we need a new one," G. Landsbergis said.

According to him, A. Merkel did not offer a solution, her topic was then taken by other state leaders, who also noted that all states are experiencing the same.

"She did not offer a clear solution. She simply said that we are entering a new reality where we will have to answer very serious and fundamental questions, how we are to continue living," G. Landsbergis said. According to him, the situation in Lithuania is the same. "There is a clear topic in Lithuania, whether parties have a future. Some of our colleagues from other traditional parties are seemingly doing their all to convince that they no longer do," G. Landsbergis said.

Growing political power

During the 2015 municipal elections and direct mayoral elections, civic electoral committees became serious competitors to traditional political parties, Central Electoral Commission (VRK) member Svetlana Misevičienė has said.

Civic electoral committees can participate in European Parliament and municipal elections.

In the 2014 European Parliament elections, the VRK had only two civic electoral committees registered, however neither gathered sufficient signatures needed by law and practically did not participate in the elections. The first start for civic electoral committees was in the 2015 municipal elections.

Prior to these, legal regulation changed. Up to then, the law specified that civic electoral committees are registered by the VRK and their names are just a letter. Afterward, the Constitutional Court ruled that civic electoral committees have the right to use a full campaign name. Regulations were changed and committees made use of various names.

58 committees participated in the 2015 elections. Five in Šiauliai, four each in Alytus and Kaunas, three each in Panevėžys, Raseiniai and Šilutės regions, as well as Visaginas. In most of Lithuania (including Vilnius and Vilnius region), there were no civic electoral committees founded.

"However, it would appear we will have a different situation in 2019," VRK chairwoman Laura Matjošaitytė has said.

In 2015, committees had candidates in 30 municipalities. The number of members elected into municipal councils was 116, four were elected mayor – in Alytus, Kaunas Panevėžys and Šiauliai. Most candidates to municipal councils were raised by civic committees in Šiauliai, Alytus, Šilalė, Kaunas and Mažeikiai,

Committees obtained a total of 121,142 votes. Mayoral candidates received 256,974 votes. During the 2015 elections. During the 2015 elections, 1326 party nominated candidates were elected to municipal councils out of 13,413 nominees. 120 members were elected from committees out of 1332.

Parties nominated 369 mayoral candidates, 52 of whom were elected, plus two mayors were chosen from coalitions. Committees nominated 33 mayoral candidates, four were elected. Also, one independent candidate was elected.

The largest number of votes among committees was obtained by Vieningas Kaunas (Kaunas United) (38,738 votes), Alytaus Piliečiai (Citizens of Alytus) (10,120 votes), Povilas Urbšys už sąrašą KARTU (Povilas Urbšys for the list TOGETHER) (6,581 votes) and Kaunas – kitokia Lietuva (Kaunas – a different Lithuania) (5,660 votes).

The most votes for mayoral candidates were cast for Vieningas Kaunas (117,288 votes), Alytaus Piliečiai (16,594 votes), Artūro Visocko Nepartinis Sąrašas (24,374 votes) and Povilas Urbšys už sąrašą KARTU (24,349 votes). Vieningas Kaunas obtained the most seats in municipal councils – 17 (nominated 42), followed by Alytaus Piliečiai – 13 (nominated 20) and Povilas Urbšys už sąraša KARTU – 8 (nominated 29).

Municipal elections in Lithuania will be held in February-March 2019.