Viktoras Pranckietis, Dalia Grybauskaitė, Saulius Skvernelis
© DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

It is doubtful that Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis would run for president and if he does, it would be worth for him to withdraw from the cabinet with a year and a half left to the elections, political scientist Jurga Tvaskienė says. However sociologist Vladas Gaidys believes that Skvernelis' ratings are already so low that withdrawal would yield no results, stating that, "When ratings decline, a pause would not help and returning would be difficult."

PM Skvernelis' ratings are currently the worst they have been since late 2015. According to a 7-17 July survey by Baltijos Tyrimai commissioned by ELTA, the current PM is rated negatively by more people than positively since 2015, with 45% rating negatively and 44% positively.

S. Skvernelis' ratings peaked in November 2016 when he became prime minister following the Seimas elections. At that point he was rated positively by 74% of respondents, versus 17% negative ratings.

Too early to withdraw this year

"I have already made my decision and will only announce it on the final day it can be done," PM Skvernelis responded in May, when asked about participating in the presidential elections.

Delfi journalist and political analyst J. Tvaskienė says that the prime minister used this statement to generate intrigue. According to her, there are various discussions whether S. Skvernelis will run for the post of president.

"There are talks that he is preparing for those elections, on the other hand certain members of his entourage state that he is firmly set on not participating in the presidential race. In the latter case, the fall of the cabinet would be harmful for him up to the very end of the term. If the entourage, which talks of his unwillingness to run, is mistaken, in such a case the prime minister would need a reserve of time – at the very least half a year prior to the elections.

[...] If he aims to withdraw, the most favourable situation would be when the Social Democrats announce their withdrawal from the coalition. It would be a sort of pretext to present his position and perhaps separate a portion of people from the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS). But this version seems less likely because he does not have a clear majority which would follow him," J. Tvaskienė counted.

Nevertheless if the Social Democrats do decide to withdraw this autumn, it would be far too early for Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis to resign from his post because so far there are not that many works the cabinet could boast of. "Perhaps only if the cabinet managed to accomplish at least a few social projects it has been speaking of. [Or] perhaps the cabinet would present them and the coalition and Seimas would not pass them. This would be a real pretext to state that the proposal was made, the effort was made, but the ideas received no support, which is the reason for resigning," J. Tvaskienė outlined the potential scenario.

During this period, the expert notes, S. Skvernelis could try to unlink from the LVŽS and attempt to establish himself as an independent politician, which he has been trying to highlight since entering politics. He could also try to recover his plummeting ratings as well.

"It is likely completely unrealistic to hope that the cabinet's ratings will start rising before the presidential elections. After all, the cabinet's pledges to improve the Lithuanian people's livelihoods will require making unpopular decisions which certainly does not improve ratings," J. Tvaskienė told LRT.lt.

Easier to regain ratings by remaining

S, Skvernelis' ratings are certainly poor says sociologist and head of the public opinion research company Vilmorus, V. Gaidys.

"He is fifth based on the balance of positive and negative votes. What is key is the consistent and rapid trend of ratings decline," V. Gaidys told LRT.lt.

Would S. Skvernelis benefit from a pause, departing the cabinet?

"Inevitable pauses happen in sports when the athlete is injured and later returns with renewed vigour. In politics it's a little different, overall returning to politics tends to be difficult. Just recall Gediminas Vagnorius, Artūras Paulauskas or Rolandas Paksas. When the pause is done while the politician has great public support, it is no big deal. For example there was a pause between Valdas Adamkus' first and second term – he left with high ratings and successfully returned. But when the pause is done with low or declining ratings – it's no good," the head of Vilmorus summarised.

S. Skvernelis could still improve his ratings however, the sociologist notes.

"If S. Skvernelis made a pause he would be less prominent in the media. If you do not "fuel the fire" with good or bad statements, humour, you lose the media's attention. You leave the media – you leave the political arena. [...] Using the media stage he could "break through" the situation. And he "has" the media and can use it every day. This is a crucial tool," V. Gaidys explained.

S. Skvernelis will not run for president?

Vytautas Magnus University (VDU) political scientist, professor Lauras Bielinis believes that PM Skvernelis will not run for president.

"I believe that he won't run for president. His situation isn't all that simply and it is clear that he will not manage to have an impressive performance in those elections. Why do I say so? By throwing away the post of prime minister now he would admit that he isn't doing well – entering the post of PM, working, but not achieving anything and then trying to go somewhere and achieve nothing again. We will most likely not see a presidential campaign by him," L. Bielinis summarised.

The political scientist believes that S. Skvernelis currently needs to do one simple thing – accomplish his tasks as prime minister in an impressive way. "Failing to do so he will not only not be president, he will not even be the prime minister. I suspect that he will not run [in the elections]. He already has too many problems and I would believe he will get even more," L. Bielinis added.

Political analyst Vidmantas Valiušaitis also doubts that S. Skvernelis can relinquish the post of prime minister so that he could run for president, stating that, "Will S. Skvernelis participate or not? I believe he is a more responsible politician rather than an adventurous player who only becomes the prime minister temporarily for further targets. Furthermore the prime minister wields more power in our country after all. The power and influence of the executive is a fairly significant position."

V. Valiušaitis believes that S. Skvernelis could participate in the presidential race, but this would be due to a variety of factors which have yet to surface. "When the time to register presidential hopefuls comes, we will see the whole political range – what will S. Skvernelis' ratings be then, what the cabinet's commitments will be and finally – who would take the post of Prime Minister?" V. Valiušaitis mused.

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