Eugenijus Gentvilas and Vitalijus Gailius
© DELFI / Domantas Pipas

With a week left to the Liberal Movement (LS) congress, only two candidates are officially aiming for the seat of chairman. Their chances to win are viewed as even and the weaknesses of both pretenders are highlighted, Lietuvos Žinios writes.

With suspicions of political corruption weighing it down and having lost its hundred thousands of euro in budget assignations, the LS will be electing its new party leader on December 9. Only two MPs have declared their intention to compete for the post – interim LS leader and its group prefect in Seimas Eugenijus Gentvilas and the head of the Seimas Anti-Corruption Commission Vitalijus Gailius.

The possibility is not written off that further pretenders will appear during the congress itself. 1.5 years ago six liberals aimed for the post, while during the congress itself the choice was between four. After defeating E. Gentvilas, the capital's Mayor Remigijus Šimašius became LS leader then. V. Gailius also participated in the election.

With the elections nearing, E. Gentvilas' supporters emphasise his political experience, communication skills, while V. Gailius is apparently valued more as a jurist than a politician. During this difficult time, this could help the party.

Visiting branches

According to E. Gentvilas, the party branches have nominated 12 candidates to party chairman, thus the possibility remains that one or several of them will announce their intentions during to the congress. "Of course this would muddle the situation somewhat, however such a right exists. Currently V. Gailius and I are both visiting branches, interacting with people, participating in debates," the politician told Lietuvos Žinios.

Nevertheless he notes that the Liberals are not inclined to spontaneously electing their leaders, most grant their vote after thinking it through well. According to E. Gentvilas, what is most important for the LS currently is unity and ideas, which could be employed to move forward. He is convinced that it is namely now that the environment in Lithuania favours the spread of liberal ideas. "The ruling "Farmers" are doing everything that the principles of a free, open society, free people would be pursued and monitored. In a number of areas we can see signs of a police state. It is specifically such a situation that is favourable for the liberals to express their positions. We can see that only free business, free people can take Lithuania forward," E. Gentvilas stated.

His rival V. Gailius noted that it was his colleagues' trust that inspired him to participate in the elections. "I wish for the party to be united. To not look at the past, but look to the future and not repeat previous mistakes. So that both those from the cities and the regions would have equal career opportunities in the party," the politician said. According to him much has been done following the crisis which struck the LS, but problems remain. "I initiated the new congress myself to discuss matters that have not been done and need fixing. My goal is for the party to enter the 2019 municipal elections in good shape," V. Gailius explained.

Doubts arise

Mykolas Romeris University lecturer Rima Urbonaitė believes that for the LS to be reborn, a very serious individual needs to become chairman. "The question arises, whether the liberals themselves are putting in their best efforts to have one as such. Based on the two candidates, this can be doubted," the political scientist noted. According to her, while E. Gentvilas has long years of political experience, he is "the old face of the liberals."

"It will also be hard to forget that he is Eligijus Masiulis' political godfather, who brought the latter into politics. Thus if E. Gentvilas becomes chairman, it will be very difficult to believe in the Liberals' transformation, renewal and greater transparency. Perhaps he can work well in the party, but he does not attract voters' attention," R. Urbonaitė spoke.

She believes that V. Gailius, as a politician, is little known, his influence on the Liberals could be small. "Even his oratory skills sometimes leave room for doubt. It is crucial to attract voters. Thus let us ask not only whether he can establish order in the party, but also if he has authority over party colleagues, can earn public recognition and reach high ratings. I would doubt this," the political scientist explained.

Vytautas Magnus University professor Lauras Bielinis believes that E. Gentvilas has greater chances of becoming the party's new leader. "I believe that V. Gailius is viewed as not yet being a liberal among the party. Most understand that he does not have the experience to organise party activities. E. Gentvilas has such experience. Of course he is not a new face, but nevertheless – he is a leader. Furthermore predictable, at least in the party," he said.

Amidst scandal

The Prosecutor General's Office announced suspicions for the LS and Labour Party in late September as part of a political corruption investigation. The prosecutors then also announced they had handed over investigation data to the Central Electoral Commission (VRK) over potential illegal financing of the LS 2016 Seimas electoral campaign. The Special Investigations Service suspects that the LS benefited from the illegal activities of former MP E. Masiulis and former party board member, former MP Šarūnas Gustainis. Yesterday it was revealed that law enforcement has expanded suspicions for the LS. The Liberals could have benefitted from abuses by Gintaras Steponavičius, who suspended his membership earlier.

R. Šimašius resigned over the suspicions stated toward the LS. The VRK has taken away the LS government assignations – around 395 thousand euro due to severe breaches of party financing law. The Liberals urged law enforcement to complete the political corruption investigation quicker and pass it to the courts.

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