Saulius Skvernelis, Visvaldas Matijošaitis and Gitanas Nausėda
© DELFI montažas

Economist Gitanas Nausėda is rapidly climbing the presidential ratings lists – so far interviewed Lithuanian citizens would most often prefer to see him as Dalia Grybauskaitė's successor. However, political scientist Kęstutis Girnius says that it is still premature for G. Nausėda to celebrate – he still does not have any party support and completely no experience in politics.

If the presidential elections were to be held next Sunday, 20.4% of respondents would vote for G. Nausėda. His ratings are almost twice those of Kaunas Mayor Visvaldas Matijošaitis (11.7%), who is in second place. Meanwhile Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis' ratings are currently at 9.3%.

Compared to December, G. Nausėda's ratings have risen from 15.6% to 20.4%, which is above the 3.1% research error margin.

Further down the ratings lists we find MP Ingrida Šimonytė (5,6%), former EU ambassador to Russia Vygaudas Ušackas (5.5%) and MP Naglis Puteikis (4.2%).

Respondents would also like to see Conservative MP Žygimantas Pavilionis (2,4%), MEPs Antanas Guoga (2,3%) and Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis (2,1%), as well as Remigijus Šimašius in the post of president.

Depends on Conservative adoption?

"In my opinion it is still quite premature, the elections are still a ways off. Furthermore, it is a significant factor that he lacks political backing, in other terms when parties back their candidates, they have the whole organisation, their own press, volunteers and so on. G. Nausėda lacks all of this, he clearly hopes that he will become the Conservatives' candidate, that the Conservatives will adopt him for the elections, however it is not a guaranteed matter," Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science (VU TSPMI) lecturer K. Girnius cautioned.

On the other hand, the political scientist points out, G. Nausėda has been viewed as a potential presidential candidate for the past decade, with former President Valdas Adamkus proposing him as a suitable candidate, however nothing came of it because Dalia Grybauskaitė ran for the office.

According to K. Girnius, G. Nausėda is not politically tested – first of all he lacks the backing of a political party, so what will happen when campaigning begins? In his opinion, when the economic analyst comments on the economy, no one pays exceptional attention to his comments, nor do they oppose them. Meanwhile then the campaign gathers momentum, people would try to find flaws, oppose him, criticise him and it is unclear how G. Nausėda would react to it and whether he would be able to defend himself.

The political scientist quotes economist Aušra Maldeikienė, who described G. Nausėda as a "textbook economist", who has not written any articles since 1991.

K. Girnius says that if G. Nausėda did manage to obtain the Conservatives' blessing, his chances would increase greatly. Otherwise, without the support of a major political power, his chances to perform well are rather low.

S. Skvernelis gathering momentum, V. Matijošaitis – the opposite

The political scientist believes that Prime Minister S. Skvernelis is working fairly actively or at least is acting as if he is preparing for the presidential race: he is suddenly active in foreign policy, organising meetings with the Poles, does not fear criticising the president, unlike his predecessor Algirdas Butkevičius clashing with the president, speaking of necessary changes, which no-one has implemented so far, but he intends to accomplish.

"At least it appears that he is thinking of candidating, his energy is increased," K. Girnius said.

Meanwhile, according to the political scientist, V. Matijošaitis is acting as if he does not want to be president and if he continues to, he will not be. "The Kaunas resident will struggle to ascend to the state level, much happens in Vilnius, all the media is here, people are invited to television broadcasts, if you want to talk to G. Nausėda, you can do it in a few moments, you can send a filming team. Meanwhile V. Matijošaitis is somewhat isolated in Kaunas and it will be harder for him to ascend to the state level forum," the expert stated.

In his opinion, it would appear that V. Matijošaitis currently is not demonstrating any desire to become president and instead is talking about the tasks, which he has to accomplish in Kaunas.

Meanwhile an interesting struggle will happen within the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) – the party intends to select its candidate in open primaries.

"I would say that any self-respecting party should back its own candidate. For two elections now, the Conservatives did not dare do so and supported D. Grybauskaitė because they could see she will win. I believe that if they aim to be a serious party, the Conservatives should back their own candidate rather than looking for outside candidates. I believe that in this respect, I. Šimonytė could be a strong candidate, who also has good ratings and no one doubts her competence, she has a significantly broader experience of governance than G. Nausėda. I believe that if she ran for office, she could have success," the TSPMI lecturer said.

Meanwhile V. Ušackas, in K. Girnius' eyes, is somewhat distanced from the political sphere and furthermore during the elections he would be accused of playing ball with Russian politicians too much during his tenure as EU representative to Moscow. This, the political scientist says, is not very serious, however it is a permanent and constant reproach.

"As for Ž. Pavilionis – I do not know, I believe that his positions are too stringent and even in the party itself he only receives limited support," he said.

K. Girnius does not believe that G. Nausėda could make do with the support of the Liberal Movement. The party is weakening and is engulfed in corruption allegations. "I believe that it would be a mistake for G. Nausėda to associate with the party, which is competing with the Labour Party for the title of least transparent and most corrupt party. I do not think that it would be a positive step," K. Girnius stated.

While there is still much time to the elections, he doubts that a new, unmentioned candidate could surface. In the political scientist's opinion, I. Šimonytė should be added to the top three. Meanwhile N. Puteikis is, according to Girnius, a "5% politician," V. P. Andriukaitis is distant and has run for office a number of times before, and his rhetoric is too strict for most people.

K. Girnius says that Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS) chair Ramūnas Karbauskis is bogged down by scandals, Seimas Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis lacks recognition and both the Liberals and Social Democrats "are tainted."

S. Skvernelis buoyed by the countryside

Public opinion and market research centre Vilmorus director Vladas Gaidys also observes that G. Nausėda's ratings are consistently rising.

"Of the three candidates mentioned since September, G. Nausėda has made the most progress. In September his ratings were 8.5%, in December – 14.4% and in February – 20%. Meanwhile S. Skvernelis' ratings remain practically the same as in September, V. Matijošaitis' rose a little," the head of Vilmorus commented.

The sociologist notes that so far there is no real list of candidates, surveys may be more influenced not by actual thought, but by the news media, which is mostly only discussing the top three candidates and not the rest.

"G. Nausėda and S. Skvernelis' electorates are symetrical – G. Nausėda's are highly educated, mostly from Vilnius and of higher income, the more successful Lithuania. S. Skvernelis is backed more by people without secondary education, the unemployed, those earning the lowest incomes, the countryside, the province," the sociologist said.

Based on the parties, G. Nausėda would most be supported by TS-LKD voters, while S. Skvernelis – most by LVŽS and Labour Party voters.

G. Nausėda also has the support of Order and Justice and Liberal Movement voters.

"So far G. Nausėda has a somewhat broader electorate, he envelops more and those somewhat successful candidates, meanwhile S. Skvernelis' electorate is more concentrated on the less successful. Because of this, G. Nausėda is in the lead right now," V. Gaidys explained.

Meanwhile, the sociologist observes that "Farmer" leader R. Karbauskis has no chances to run for president – it is not even being discussed and V. Gaidys can see no other more notable figures in the LVŽS roster. The party's electorate would vote for V. Matijošaitis as their second choice.

Meanwhile Social Democrat voters would vote for MEP Vilija Blinkevičiūtė by a wide margin, albeit she announced several days ago that she would not aim for the post of president.

The public opinion and market research company Spinter Tyrimai performed the public opinion survey on commission by the Delfi news portal on February 19-27, 2018.

Respondents were aged 18 to 75. The survey was performed as a standardised interview.

The research was performed across Lithuania in a total of 65 locations, distributed so that they would represent the country's entire territory. 1006 respondents were interviewed. The distribution of participants was proportionate to the number of residents in the country's regions.

The research error margin is 3.1%.

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