Lithua­nia: three names stand out in bud­ding pres­i­den­tial race

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Of 47 names be­ing men­tioned by re­spon­dents asked who they want to see a new pres­i­dent in Lithua­nia in 2019, three names are clearly on top of the list. Gi­tanas Nausėda, chief econ­o­mist of SEB Lithua­nia Bank, leads the pack with 15.6 per cent of sup­port, fol­lowed by Saulius Skver­nelis, the cur­rent Prime Min­is­ter (12.5 per cent), and Vis­val­das Mati­jošaitis, Mayor of Kau­nas, Lithua­nia‘s sec­ond-largest city, who is favoured by 12 per cent.

The lat­est poll of the kind, con­ducted by Vil­morus last Satur­day, keeps the trio well above the rest and the names’ sup­port re­mains pretty the same like in pre­vi­ous polls. Nei­ther Nausėda, nor Skver­nelis or Mati­jošaitis has said the the Pres­i­dent’s Of­fice is in their plans.

«How­ever that they con­stantly ap­pear on top of the rat­ings clearly show the re­spon­dents‘ affin­ity with them. I reckon the peo­ple first like their sin­cer­ity they em­anate and their in­de­pen­dence. Nine years ago, many Lithua­nian vot­ers voted for cur­rent pres­i­dent Dalia Gry­bauskaitė be­cause they thought that she, as the-then Euro­pean Com­mis­sioner, was very in­de­pen­dent and not en­tan­gled with the Lithua­nian po­lit­i­cal par­ties or busi­ness. The same could be said about her pre­de­ces­sor, pres­i­dent Val­das Adamkas, who hav­ing come from the United States, was also seen as an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date,» Vladas Gaidys, head of Vil­morus, a mar­ket re­search and polling com­pany, told BNN.

He at­tributes the trios‘ pop­u­lar­ity to their reg­u­lar TV ap­pear­ances, but he warns promi­nence ex­poses them to more risks.

«It goes with­out say­ing that the lime­light they find them­selves in sub­jects them to a big scru­tiny and who knows what the jour­nal­ists out there will dig out about them or the other po­ten­tial can­di­dates some­day. I‘d say Skver­nelis, the premier, and Mati­jošaitis, the mayor, are more vul­ner­a­ble than Nausėda, the banker – due to the na­ture of their work, i.e. the need to take de­ci­sions on daily ba­sis,» Gaidys pon­dered.

The poll­ster says it is too early to project the pos­si­ble can­di­dates’ stand­ings be­fore the elec­tion sched­uled in May of 2019.

«We have now 47 names men­tioned as pos­si­ble pres­i­den­tial race can­di­dates, but I‘d not be sur­prised if there pops up a 48th or a 49th name to­mor­row and who for­ays into the group of lead­ers at some point,» the Vil­morus CEO noted.

Vy­gau­das Ušackas, the EU‘s for­mer am­bas­sador to Rus­sia, comes fourth in pres­i­den­tial polls, Vil­ija Blinke­vičiūtė, Lithua­nia‘s So­cial Demo­cratic MEP, is fifth, In­grida Ši­monytė, a MP and for­mer Eco­nom­ics min­is­ter, is sixth, Žy­gi­man­tas Pav­il­io­nis, a MP and for­mer am­bas­sador to the United States is sev­enth and Naglis Puteikis, a MP who for­mally be­longs to the rul­ing Farm­ers and Greens Union, but prides in his in­de­pen­dence, is sev­enth in most of the polls. With no con­fir­ma­tion from the pro­jected pres­i­den­tial race can­di­dates on their plans, most po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts are ex­ces­sively cau­tious so far.

«The game has not of­fi­cially started yet. All the polls are of a pre­lim­i­nary na­ture. We will see many falls and rises (of the can­di­dates) along the way. I am tak­ing the polls rather scep­ti­cally,» Mažvy­das Jas­tram­skis, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and lec­turer at the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and Po­lit­i­cal Sciences of Vil­nius Univer­sity, told BNN.

He re­minded the once im­prob­a­ble run down the pres­i­den­tial stretch by Rolan­das Pak­sas, who, elected to the of­fice, was later im­peached and stripped of his pres­i­dency.

«In 2002, with just a half of year be­fore the elec­tion day, he had a mere 5 perc cent of sup­port in the rat­ings, but thanks to an in­cred­i­ble run in the last six months he man­aged to come vic­to­ri­ous,» the an­a­lyst re­mem­bered.

Jas­tram­skis also notes that, un­like in the past pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, there is no a sin­gle firm leader in this pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. «Those cou­ple of points that the pre­sumed can­di­dates edge each other can be erased in a mat­ter of days,» he sug­gested. Asked whose pres­i­den­tial hopes are likely to dim and whose are likely to strengthen over the next year, Jas­tram­skis pon­dered that Skver­nelis, as the coun­try‘s prime min­is­ter, is «per­haps in a more vul­ner­a­ble» po­si­tion than the oth­ers.

Ramū­nas Vilpišauskas, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and Po­lit­i­cal Sciences of Vil­nius Univer­sity, also was re­luc­tant to draw any far-reach­ing con­clu­sions.

«Plenty of things re­mains to be seen yet. The short-term prospects of the econ­omy will be a fac­tor de­ter­min­ing the peo­ple‘s mood. This is clear. A lot de­pends on how the can­di­dates will carry out their pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns, what is­sues they will be fo­cus­ing on, who will se­cure the largest po­lit­i­cal par­ties‘ sup­port,» Vilpišauskas told BNN. «If the pop­u­lar op­po­si­tion Home­land Union and Lithua­nian Chris­tian Democrats (TS-LKD, also known as the Con­ser­va­tives) de­cides to back up Nausėda, which seems like a pos­si­bil­ity, then his stand­ings would cer­tainly be ramped up,» the an­a­lyst pon­dered. A re­cent Vil­morus poll, gaug­ing the pop­u­lar­ity of the Lithua­nian po­lit­i­cal par­ties, showed that the TS-LKD sits on top, fol­lowed by the rul­ing Lithua­nian Farm­ers and Greens Union (LVŽS) and the Order and Jus­tice party (TT) just ahead of the So­cial Democrats (LSDP). Gaidys, of Vil­morus, says the pop­u­lar­ity of the con­ser­va­tives saw a slight in­crease over the month, LVŽS were sta­ble af­ter los­ing half of its elec­torate over the past year.

The con­ser­va­tives are sup­ported by 17.8 per cent of the res­i­dents and 29.2 per cent of those vot­ing.

«I must say that the rat­ings of the Con­ser­va­tives ob­serve sta­ble growth since Jan­uary of 2017. It also went up this month, giv­ing them a strong po­si­tion in the first place,» Gaidys noted.

The rat­ings of the LVŽS has been sta­ble since Septem­ber, the party has sup­port of 14 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion and 23 per cent the vot­ing share.

Mean­while, the Lithua­nian Cab­i­net this week ap­proved a bill paving the way for de­vel­op­ing an on­line vot­ing sys­tem and will now send it to the par­lia­ment for ap­proval.

Jus­tice Min­is­ter Milda Vainiūtė un­der­lined dur­ing the Cab­i­net’s meet­ing that the in­tro­duc­tion of on­line vot­ing would sup­ple­ment the cur­rent vot­ing op­tions.

The bill sets out the ba­sic prin­ci­ples, rules and re­quire­ments for on­line vot­ing. If it is ap­proved by the par­lia­ment, the Jus­tice Min­istry will draft amend­ments to in­di­vid­ual laws on par­lia­men­tary, mu­nic­i­pal and pres­i­den­tial elec­tions to al­low elec­tronic vot­ing.

The aim is to in­tro­duce an on­line vot­ing in­for­ma­tion sys­tem by July 2019 so that vot­ers could use it dur­ing the next par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in 2020.

The min­is­ter said that it would cost an es­ti­mated 2 mil­lion eu­ros to de­velop such a sys­tem.

«This is one of our gov­ern­ment’s pri­or­i­ties. It would prob­a­bly help us (…) to le­galise dual cit­i­zen­ship by mak­ing it pos­si­ble for a wider range of vot­ers to par­tic­i­pate (in a ref­er­en­dum),» she said. Sev­eral pre­vi­ous bills to le­galise on­line vot­ing have failed to pass the par­lia­ment.

Sup­port­ers of on­line vot­ing ex­pect the sys­tem to boost voter turnout, while crit­ics fear that the poor cy­ber se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion may make the on­line vot­ing sys­tem an easy tar­get of an at­tack aimed at chang­ing the elec­tion out­come. Ques­tions are also raised re­gard­ing anonymity.

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