With presidential candidates beginning to line up at the starting line, the ruling Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS) chairman Ramūnas Karbauskis has spoken up about how their presidential candidate will represent the "bottoms", not the "tops". However, the bench of centre left candidates typically supported by the "bottoms" appears rather gloomy. And while the incumbent Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis' name often is brought up most often, experts interviewed by Delfi see another strong potential candidate.
"We believe that the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union candidate will win the presidential elections because he will be the candidate, who will represent the "bottoms", not the "tops" and we have so far not heard much about candidates, who will represent the bottoms. The candidates, who have declared, are preparing to represent the "tops"," the "Farmer" chairman declared, adding that LVŽS delegated Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis is among those, who represent the "bottoms".
Mykolas Romeris University docent Virgis Valentinavičius is certain that R. Karbauskis is simply acting cynical when he speaks of a candidate for the "bottoms".
"While he promises a candidate of the "bottoms", Karbauskis is exceedingly high in the structure of society, he is an oligarch and only knows the propaganda value of a "bottoms" candidate, which is why he speaks so. However, in its essence, such politics are cynical – the hyper-wealthy exploit the circumstance of our country's social inequality and segregation, exploiting those feelings to win the elections. None of the promises for the "bottoms" are followed through with, but the propaganda line of "we work for the bottoms", it continues," the political scientist says.
According to him, R. Karbauskis and S. Skvernelis' "nervous reaction" to the growing ratings of Ingrida Šimonytė and her victory in the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) primaries shows that they do not have an equal rival to her and another right wing candidate, Gitanas Nausėda.
"On the right, there are at least two strong candidates – Nausėda and Šimonytė, while on the left – there is a process of ratings melt. Skvernelis and Karbauskis are melting their own and the "Farmers" ratings quite consistently. Skvernelis' recent nonsense with meeting recordings will have an impact. Karbauskis' consistent, as I describe it policy of anger and hatred to investigate everyone with commissions, punish everyone and ban everything is continuing, which damages ratings," V. Valentinavičius says.
He is sceptical of talks that supposedly R. Karbauskis is cunningly biding for a favourable time to declare S. Skvernelis a candidate. According to the political scientist, a time may come when the PM's ratings are so low there will be no reason to declare him a candidate.
"Thus talks about other candidates surface, for example about Arvydas Juozaitis. Such an option is possible. Due to his hard-line nationalism, ultraconservative views of cultural and social policy, he seemingly matches Karbauskis. The question is whether this is a winning strategy. On the other hand, this nervousness and the reaction to I. Šimonytė's primaries victory means that at least for now, the strategy to nominate Skvernelis stands," the MRU political scientist believes.
Among other potential centre left candidates, there are mentions of MEP Vilija Blinkevičiūtė, who has traditionally remained quite high on the politicians' ratings lists. However, she has stated a number of time that she will not enter the elections.
"She is in Paluckas' party and Paluckas struggles to convince her. (...) Blinkevičiūtė is a strong electoral force and likely would be one of the stronger "bottoms" candidates with her old-school populism. The question is though, will she run for the office? In this situation, if Skvernelis does not run, then Blinkevičiūtė would have a chance," V. Valentinavičius stated.
Blinkevičiūtė – a good choice
Meanwhile, Vytautas Magnus University political scientist Algis Krupavičius is convinced that S. Skvernelis is not a left wing candidate. This is evident in the works of his cabinet.
"Yes, he ran together with the LVŽS in the Seimas elections on a clearly centre left political programme. What is being done by the cabinet now is significantly on the centre right, not centre left. A notable example is the tax reform, which lacks any serious income redistribution or encouraging reductions in social inequality. Quite the contrary – the wealthy will be better off, while the poor will likely be even worse off," the political scientist believes.
According to him, the prime minister is faced with problems due to this and there will be even more in the future – he will not be able to describe himself as a centre left candidate or leftist candidate because his actions will clash with his rhetoric. Furthermore, S. Skvernelis has another problem – declining ratings.
"Overall, this is a massive headache for the "Farmers", who exactly could represent them in the presidential elections because another problem with Skvernelis is the consistent decline in his ratings over the past half year. If we look at the Vilmorus survey, he dropped from first to sixth in terms of public trust. Minister Rokas Masiulis has overtaken him, Seimas Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis, Kaunas Mayor Visvaldas Matijošaitis and Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius are at the top. After the New Year, the prime minister's list of problems will only lengthen because the new tax system will begin to function and it promises nothing good, the problems with it will be far more visible then," the political scientist says.
Also, according to him, for the first time in Lithuanian history, seven cabinet ministers were investigated by the Chief Official Ethics Commission (VTEK) and S. Skvernelis is accountable for his cabinet.
A. Krupavičius also believes that V. Blinkevičiūtė could be a strong choice to draw centre left voters.
"Vilija Blinkevičiūtė has the image of the pensioner's guardian, she does not have a negative image. With the drought in competitive candidates on the left, V. Blinkevičiūtė becomes a choice worth considering. (...) She is among the left wing candidates, who could at least be taken seriously," the political scientist says.
However, he believes that the candidate must primarily seek to win and V. Blinkevičiūtė has at least so far not declared her intent to run for president.
"She has said that in essence she does not want to participate and likely won't. Ingrida Šimonytė has said almost the same though. Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius has also said that he is definitely not preparing to run in the coming elections, but lacking candidates, he could also appear worth considering," A. Krupavičius believes.
According to him, European Commissioner Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis, who is being mentioned as a potential LSDP candidate, would have far lower chances than V. Blinkevičiūtė.
In regard to other candidates, who could aim for the protest or centre left electorate, A. Krupavičius says he believes that there is a chance the "Farmers" will back them exists, however these are not people, who could realistically win.
"On one hand, there are not candidates, but on the other hand, there are many and they will diffuse the vote between one another. Thus, overall, it may be unclear, who will move forward. Naglis Puteikis is unlikely to get more than five years ago (4.87%). Aušra Maldeikienė also will likely receive votes around a handful of percent and it appears that she has overall lost her enthusiasm and energy to some degree.
The most curious candidate is Arvydas Juozaitis. The "Farmers" could back Juozaitis in some form, such a scenario is likely. At the same time, such support may not be beneficial for him. The ratings of the "Farmers" themselves are declining greatly for now. It appears that they are facing another period of ratings decline and for now there are very few signs they may rein in this decline," the political scientist says.
Unclear, who Ušackas' votes will go to
Meanwhile, market and public opinion research company Spinter Tyrimai head, sociologist Ignas Zokas is in no rush to make conclusions. According to him, not all the candidates have arrived at the starting line so far and things could change greatly. Furthermore, the fact that S. Skvernelis' ratings are declining does not mean anything on its own.
"The rise or fall of current candidates' ratings has no meaning for now, it will not have any decisive influence on the results. Another matter that is curious is if Vygaudas Ušackas had run for president, he could have taken up a little different of a segment, not the centre right electorate. As of right now, to my understanding, Ušackas will not run for president, but it is likely his voters will not give their vote to Šimonytė because her profile is completely different," the sociologist believes.
This, according to him, is a potential resource to tap into for a "second Lithuania" or "bottoms" candidate.
"Let us not dismiss the potential for Skvernelis to be it. But today, these are purely theoretical musings, while not all the candidates have declared. I do not believe that another particularly strong candidate could appear. Of course, everything can happen, but the appearance of a prior unknown or unmentioned person is highly unlikely," I. Zokas says.
He also believes that V. Blinkevičiūtė could be the candidate, who could aim for centre left voters.
"Blinkevičiūtė and Šimonytė have much in common – they are both warm personalities, who draw people with their simplicity, there is no arrogance. Her ratings remain because having left (for the European Parliament), there is little to really criticise her about. The work of MEPs is little seen and there is little interest in them. She managed to retain her ratings and potential as a candidate. Thinking purely theoretically, she has potential," the sociologist believes.
According to him, among the currently discussed candidates, S. Skvernelis represents the centre left voters the most. On the other hand, G. Nausėda could also aim for a broader electorate beyond just the centre right.