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To promote voting in general election this October amongst the diaspora, the Lithuanian Youth Association of the UK (JKLJS) with partners organized a political debate at the University College London. The event packed large Darwin hall with live streaming being watched by Lithuanians in the US, Netherlands and Norway.
Seimas Elections Debate in London
Seimas Elections Debate in London
© Organisers photo

“The high turnout at the debate, particularly by young people, demonstrates that political attention is needed here. In the face of Brexit, Lithuanians living in the UK (it is believed as many as 300 thousand or approx. 10% of the country’s population) are keen to understand how politicians plan to protect their interests in case Britain leaves the EU. Currently the Lithuanian constitution prohibits dual citizenship, so Lithuanians residing the UK keen to stay and enjoy freedom of movement under the EU law, will have to make a choice which passport they will prefer in the future in order to protect their social and economic rights. As small country as Lithuania is, it cannot afford to permanently loose even more of its citizens.” - said the president of JKLJS Laura Hanning Scarborough.

Quite differently than what the surveys in Lithuania show, the exit polls of the debate revealed clear preference for liberal and center right candidates. The moderator of the debate Edmundas Jakilaitis, one of the most influential Lithuanian journalists, observed that perhaps it is partly due to the audience of the debate being relatively young.

The front-runner of the party leader’s debate – the head of the Liberal Movement and the mayor of Vilnius, Remigijus Šimašius, was stressing the ideological consistency of the party’s message: from civil liberties such as LGBT rights to economic ones like preference for low taxes and more flexible employment regulation. Dovilė Šakalienė - the winner of Vilnius Naujamiestis constituency, where Lithuanians living abroad currently vote, candidates’ debate, suggested giving even two constituencies for direct election of diaspora representatives and suggested a wide reaching international audit of public sector. Žygimantas Pavilionis – former ambassador and the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats candidate also enjoyed substantial support from the audience by promoting a clear two step strategy for Brexit negotiations: a clear position of tighter union with Britain within the EU during the negotiations, and seeking for right to negotiation a bilateral treaty with Britain, should the new EU-UK relationship deal fail to uphold the needs of Lithuanians.

“The topics discussed at the debate are of utmost importance to the Lithuanians living in the UK, especially in the current context of uncertainty regarding the Brexit process. The post-Brexit situation is a big opportunity for Lithuania to attract talents, businesses and new investments but a lot of work is required. The newly approved Labour Code is a step in the right direction but it won’t be enough. We need to focus on helping small businesses grow and expand. Our goal is to help Lithuania and its citizens, regardless of where they choose to reside.” said the vice president of the LCCUK Dovilė Mockuvienė.

“It is hoped that the debate and all the efforts by various organizations as well as the embassy will improve the turnout of the general elections vote, which was traditionally low amongst the diaspora. There is still time to register” – noted the co-organizer and the head of Lithuanian Community in the UK Dalia Asanavičiūtė.

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