Kęstutis Girnius
© DELFI / Andrius Ufartas

In a few years Lithuania will experience three elections over half a year – municipal council elections, presidential election and European Parliament elections. Political scientist Kęstutis Girnius notes that the presidential election will be the major event which will significantly differ compared to previous ones in a certain regard, while the other two elections in 2019 will be the “small parties before the great ball”, Lrt.lt reported.

February 2019 will feature the municipal council elections, the presidential election will happen in May and the EP elections will be hosted in June. Is this not too many in one go?

Institute of International Relations and Political Science (TSPMI) political scientist Mažvydas Jastramskis says that if we look at practices from democratic states in the West, such situations are typically preferable – in the USA the presidential and Congress elections are held at the same time.
Parallel elections, according to Jastramskis, allow for a more effective organisation of the election process, also helping people not lose interest in politics. “On the other hand in our country the political climate gets far tenser, far more reports appear, the role of security services in elections rises. Thus considering the Lithuanian political context, it is a question whether it will be healthy to hold three elections,” mused the expert.

Meanwhile K. Girnius states that the municipal elections are very unitary, their problems mostly linked with specific cities, while the elections to the EP have so far only been a party popularity contest – whichever party is more popular at the time will often get the most votes. “The presidential election is a whole different matter. They will be the major event and they will garner the most attention. The rest will be small parties before the great ball,” Girnius summarised for LRT.lt.

Major parties to propose their own candidates?

K. Girnius believes that the major Lithuanian parties will have their respective candidates for the post of president in 2019.

“I believe it is good if a party proposes its own candidates. So far it has definitely been abnormal that such a large party as the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) would not have its own candidates. They rushed to announce their support for President Dalia Grybauskaitė. We no longer have such a neutral politician. Someone like Valdas Adamkus will not appear from Brussels or the USA. This time I believe all the parties will have their own candidates and they will struggle against one another. The party with the most suitable and appealing candidate for president will likely strengthen its positions in both of the other elections,” Girnius told LRT.lt.

That said Vilnius University docent, political scientist Lidija Šabajevaitė observes that if a party proposes someone lacking authority and they perform poorly during the campaign, understandably this will have a negative impact for the party in the other elections.

M. Jastramskis notes that the candidates who demonstrate a non-partisan image and are not linked to parties, but manage to garner support from political forces or loyal voters will have an edge in the presidential election.

“Speaking of D. Grybauskaitė, while her image is strictly non-partisan, she is nevertheless well liked by rightist voters, who consistently support her. Thus successful candidates will have to lean on two factors – on one hand to present themselves not as strongly linked to a party, while on the other hand having robust support from some parties. At this point Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis would be very suitable, but he will have one issue – he will have worked as PM for two years. The question is if support for him will be sustained,” mused the TSPMI political scientist.

The first presidential candidates appear

L. Šabajevaitė is convinced that wiser candidates will not rush to declare their participation in the presidential election. “It has to be well timed because the brotherhood of journalists will manage to find kinks and negative information about the candidate. Afterward that candidate could be completely side-lined, his party together with him. It would be like getting penalised and ejected from the game,” explained the political scientist. In her opinion the first candidates will start to appear with half a year left to the presidential election, with unofficial activities starting a year ahead.

K. Girnius points out that Lithuania is not the United States, which is already preparing for the 2020 presidential election. “I believe that the candidates to the post of Lithuanian president will start appearing with 4-6 months remaining. The people would not have the patience to watch a protracted political campaign. We recently had the parliamentary elections. Essentially everything was concentrated into two months.

I believe that 2019 will be an enjoyable year, though it is early to make any serious predictions. This time there should be candidates from three parties. V. Adamkus and D. Grybauskaitė arrived as those without links to the traditional parties, but this time it will be different. There will be partisan candidates and this is for the better. The constant search for a redeemer and the expectation that some miracle maker will appear shows a lack of political maturity,” K. Girnius told LRT.lt.

Political scientist M. Jastramskis says that participation in the previous election was half-hearted because the assumption was made that D. Grybauskaitė is the undisputed favourite. “These elections will definitely be interesting. It is hard to even remember truly competitive elections. With two years left we cannot really say who the 2-3 main candidates are. Thus we could have a fairly significant line-up,” explained Jastramskis.

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