Gabrielius Landsbergis
© DELFI / Mindaugas Ažušilis

The liberals are emerging as the leading centre-right force in Lithuania's political field, overtaking the conservatives who have long been the go-to party for right-leaning voters.

In the last general elections of 2012, the conservative Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats secured 15% of the vote and 33 seats in the Seimas, while the Liberal Movement, the conservatives' junior partner in the previous government, claimed 10 seats with 8.6%.

But the situation has changed dramatically over the last four years. Recent polls put the liberals' popularity at 15.5%, while the Homeland Union's rating dropped to 7.5%.

Experts say a less-than-smooth leadership change in the Homeland Union could be one of the factors that pressed down the party's popularity.

Replacing the old leader, former PM Andrius Kubilius, with a relative newcomer, Gabrielius Landsbergis, has failed to convince voters of the party's renewal, at the same time alienating some of its old base, says political observer Vytautas Bruveris.

"They were looking for a replacement for Kubilius and came up with a sub-optimal option, even though Kubilius himself and his loyalists thought it was a brilliant move, almost a master stroke," Bruveris, of the Lietuvos Rytas daily, says.

"Now, however, I hear from party insiders that it was a mistake and that neither the young leader nor his new team have been able to effect a breakthrough in attracting new voters."

Landsbergis was the conservatives' answer to a leadership crisis, says political scientist Tomas Janeliūnas of Vilnius University, but the new leader has not raised the party's popularity as much as expected.

"Will it happen before the elections? Everything is possible. Time is running low, though, and the election results will show if that was a right decision," Janeliūnas says.

Meanwhile the Liberal Movement's success can be attributed to the fact that they kept a relatively low profile in the previous conservative-led government that had to make some tough decisions during the financial crisis, says observer Raimundas Celencevičius.

"Meanwhile they used their years in the opposition to gain strength and conduct a rather effective election campaign. [Liberal leader] Eligijus Masiulis and his team are now touring Lithuanian towns and shaking hands with people. Add to that their effective PR machine and here you have the effect," he says.


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