With potential Conservatives presidential candidate Vygaudas Ušackas declaring that the parties primaries could become a "closed party", Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrat (TS-LKD) veterans Irena Degutienė and Rasa Juknevičienė do not conceal their outrage over their fellow party member's behaviour and are musing that V. Ušackas may have plans to seek the Daukantas Square office even without TS-LKD backing, lrt.lt writes.

Following the conclusion of party branch voting in mid-September regarding potential TS-LKD presidential candidates , MP and former Minister of Finance Ingrida Šimonytė (receiving support from 37 party branches) and former ambassador V. Ušackas (receiving support from 27 branches) decided to run in the Conservative party's primaries.

Conservative member Žygimantas Pavilionis decided to not run in the primaries, but declared that V. Ušackas is "the Kremlin's presidential candidate." Soon such statements were met with a response from V. Ušackas, who described it a "slander campaign against me" and asked the TS-LKD management to evaluate the fellow party member's claims about himself, warning that if Ž. Pavilionis' rhetoric is not reacted to, the party's primaries will not be fair.

This week, V. Ušackas called on the TS-LKD with another request – the politician urged to delay the Conservative primaries to December, seeking to grant citizens living abroad the right to participate in the primaries.

"Otherwise, the celebration of democracy risks to turn into a closed friends and relatives party, to which one enters only with personal invitations," V. Ušackas wrote in his address.

Party veterans do not hide their surprise

TS-LKD first deputy chairman, party Christian Democrat wing leader I. Degutienė does not conceal that she was surprised by V. Ušackas' urgings to delay the primaries. According to her, one must grasp that TS-LKD branches abroad are not capable of organising elections outside of Lithuania.

"I am somewhat surprised by V. Ušackas' musings. It implies that if Lithuanians living abroad, who approve of the Homeland Union, do not vote, then it will be some small circle of citizens living in Lithuania and supporting the Homeland Union that will form. It sounds ridiculous. I do not know, perhaps V. Ušackas has some other goals, if he speaks like this," I. Degutienė stated.

When asked, what he could be pursuing by questioning the transparency of the TS-LKD primaries, the veteran Conservatives member noted that V. Ušackas may lack party life experience or he could have plans to participate in the presidential elections even without Conservatives support.

"When candidates such as G. Nausėda or I. Šimonytė had yet to decide, whether they will participate in our primaries, already back then I personally had doubts, when V. Ušackas' declaration was made and he said "I will run for president." He almost did not speak about the primaries at all, but with us, it is firmly established that if you lose the primaries, you fall out of the race and are no longer a candidate supported by the party. (...)

V. Ušackas decided to participate in the primaries, but all the time since I. Šimonytė, who is non-partisan, entered, he keeps seeking hitches, something is constantly off for him. The thought arises, whether there is no falseness here or fear to lose the primaries to I. Šimonytė and seeking to find a withdrawal route. This way, he could claim that something was unfair, unjust," I. Degutienė spoke.

Another veteran TS-LKD member, former minister R. Juknevičienė also had similar views of V. Ušackas' behaviour. She was surprised by people's activity in the party's primaries, thus according to her, V. Ušackas should not doubt the transparency of these elections.

"In his place, I would not do so. It is unfortunate there are such talks. Such claims do not contribute to trust in him either. You must not make it a closed party at all costs, but look, already over the first few days, more than five thousand people from outside registered for the primaries. I did not expect such a result. (...) You cannot call it a closed party at all," R. Juknevičienė told lrt.lt.

"I would be unfair if I would not say what my first reaction was and it was as follows – that perhaps V. Ušackas is seeking ways to continue running for president even if he fails in the primaries. But I would like to believe that it is not the case," the veteran politician stated.

When evaluating V. Ušackas' rhetoric, R. Juknevičienė assured she believes that the fellow party member could resolve to run for president even without TS-LKD support.

"But such participation would be futile," she mused.

Party leader remains diplomatic

TS-LKD chairman, MP Gabrielius Landsbergis confirmed to lrt.lt that there were deliberations during the primaries organisation of allowing Lithuanians abroad to vote in the primaries, however due to the lack of financial and organisational resources, this idea was rejected. Thus, according to G. Landsbergis, the primaries' date will not be changed – they will be held as expected in early November.

The party leader did not hide he disagrees with V. Ušackas' claims that the TS-LKD primaries could become a "closed friends and relatives party." According to G. Landsbergis, people's activity in the primaries is especially large, thus there is no basis to doubt the transparency of the procedures.

"I believe this is V. Ušackas' chosen tactic, public relations measure. (...) I have stated before and will continue to state that elections are primarily a debate and the expression of different opinions, making people choose the one they find most acceptable. Neither complaints, nor quibbling over minor details should decide the result, but specifically different opinions, which could be more acceptable to one group of people or another. Truth be told, I doubt that V. Ušackas' chosen tactic is correct and favourable for the candidate himself because I have not heard more positive evaluations of him," G. Landsbergis revealed his opinion on V. Ušackas' behaviour.

G. Landsbergis assured he did not see a risk of V. Ušackas choosing to run for president without TS-LKD support.

"I heard V. Ušackas express very clearly in news media that he will definitely not seek the post of president without party support. The position was formulated unambiguously, thus I see no signs of risk," the TS-LKD leader commented.

Political scientist observes unfair campaigning

Vytautas Magnus University professor, political scientist Algis Krupavičius assured lrt.lt that the desire of former ambassador V. Ušackas to include Lithuanians abroad in the primaries is likely linked with his aim to expand his electorate. On the other hand, according to A. Krupavičius, a group of several thousand Ušackas sympathisers mat not have a dramatic impact on the primaries' end result.

The political scientist stated that the impression arises that V. Ušackas is performing an unfair electoral campaign by constantly questioning the TS-LKD primaries' transparency.

"Several weeks ago, V. Ušackas decided to run in the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrat primaries. Then he declared that if he loses the primaries, he will drop out of the presidential race. But if you are taking this route and at the same time have doubts, then it would be most fair to say, "Thanks, but I will not participate in the primaries." Otherwise, if you agree to run in the primaries, you have to be convinced that the selection rules are transparent, the procedures democratic and you no longer question the procedures.

Now you decide to run in the elections, say that, "If I don't win, I will not run for president," but then you start looking for arguments, how to remain a presidential candidate... To understate it, this reeks of an unfair electoral campaign," A. Krupavičius stated.

According to him, if one watches V. Ušackas' actions and rhetoric, you should not dismiss the possibility that he is considering running for president even without TS-LKD backing.

"V. Ušackas says that otherwise, the elections would be undemocratic. This is questioning, seeking to claim that upon a loss, "I will still run for president because the party primaries were not democratic,"" A. Krupavičius analysed V. Ušackas' rhetoric.

Does not believe V. Ušackas would risk

Mykolas Romeris University docent, political analyst Saulius Spurga had a different take on V. Ušackas' actions. According to him, by seeking to include Lithuanians abroad in the party primaries, the Conservative is seeking to mobilise his electorate.

"V. Ušackas is cornered because he has somewhat challenged the party's members by establishing the Vytis squads, instead of working with party members and branches in the regions and province. He also stated that he will run in the presidential elections even before the primaries' procedures were started. Later he changed his mind. It became a challenge.

V. Ušackas is not popular among party members, thus his only hope is likely non-party members, who could vote in the primaries. During his tenure as ambassador in the USA, V. Ušackas interacted with local Lithuanians, thus no doubt he hopes that the American community will vote for him," S. Spurga shared his insights with lrt.lt.

According to the political analyst, as the TS-LKD is organising presidential primaries for the first time, there could be flaws in the procedures. This is exactly what V. Ušackas is trying to emphasise, S. Spurga points out. The Conservative member's remarks to party management are, according to the analyst, not linked to seeking to run for president even without TS-LKD backing.

"If V. Ušackas were to lose these primaries, it would mean the Conservatives are not backing him. But V. Ušackas is a member, thus will he receive support from those, who sympathise with the Social Democrats, "Farmers" or Order and Justice? They won't. I do not believe that this tactic of his is wise because if he loses the Conservative primaries, he seemingly would have no chances of winning," S. Spurga stated.