The incumbent head of state Dalia Grybauskaitė retains a high level of popularity and could have significant influence with her support for any candidate in the presidential race. On the other hand, political analyst Tomas Dapkus notes that the participation of the departing president is fairly controversial because our public is inclined toward change. The presidential race also has another variable – whether the parties will find candidates among their own ranks or if they will back non-partisan candidates, LRT.lt reported.

In spring 2019 Lithuania will be electing its new president to replace incumbent Dalia Grybauskaitė who will have been in the post for 10 years. Most political scientists and analysts highlight that this will be one of the most interesting presidential elections throughout the entire period of independence, given the lack of any one standout candidate.

D. Grybauskaitė was elected for her second term in May 2014, defeating Social Democrat representative Zigmantas Balčytis in the second round. Both in the first and second round D. Grybauskaitė was backed by centre leftist powers. Will the major political powers find candidates to back among their own ranks in the coming election?

A. Krupavičius – a matter of honour and dignity

Speaking with LRT.lt T. Dapkus explained that the parties need to find their own candidates. "I believe that the parties will find it important to have their own candidates. It would both show off their strength and a certain confidence. Parties need to have their own strong politicians and not just support non-partisan candidates," T. Dapkus stressed.

Vytautas Magnus University (VDU) professor, political scientist Algis Krupavičius states that if a party is truly influential and strong, its goal should be to see its own candidate in the presidential race. According to the political scientist it is a matter of honour and dignity to have its own candidate.

"Sometimes a candidate who is popular in the public, has personal charm and can attract cannot be found. In such a case a plan B is turned to – supporting a strong non-partisan candidate. But overall there are not particularly many non-partisan candidates in Lithuania; one way or another even non-partisan candidates are typically associated with certain political parties.

For example it is no secret that the Centre Union was the catapult which helped Valdas Adamkus in the elections. D. Grybauskaitė was also a mysterious candidate, but it turned out that she has clear political views and her political preferences are in the centre left and centre left parties directly or less directly supported her electoral campaigns, particularly during the second term when the Liberal Movement clearly backed the president," A. Krupavičius explained to LRT.lt.

According to T. Dapkus, parties backing a candidate is an important facet because they have structures, resources, agitators and such. "Recall V. Adamkus as a non-partisan candidate facing off against Rolandas Paksas. V. Adamkus was very popular, but R. Paksas' campaign was aggressive, he had the structures, while weak support from the Liberals and Conservatvies did not help V. Adamkus. Strong structures and support from leaders is necessary. Party support matters," Dapkus said.

At the same time A. Krupavičius points out that the selection of partisan candidates in Lithuania is in a bad position due to most parties being small and thus having little internal competition.

"It is difficult to find appealing candidates. Much could be decided by charisma, but there are few charismatic politicians in Lithuania. Most likely the politician with most claim to charisma was Algirdas Brazauskas in the first half of the 1990s and we've not had any more such politicians," the VDU professor summarised.

He believes that a politician requires a clear political programme and a party could form an ideological identity for this. "The new French President Emmanuel Macron also had to outline political views, thus he created his party which had a fairly clear ideological direction so that he would not be nameless in the political field. It is hard for nameless candidates to compete with partisan ones," Krupavičius stressed.

What will D. Grybauskaitė do?

While the election is only to be held in May 2019, the candidate line-up should start surfacing already next year, analysts believe. Political scientist A. Krupavičius guesses that based on their fame, candidates will announce their candidacy at different times.

"Less known candidates or those without a strong organisational background will need significantly longer campaigns to show the public that they are at all suitable. They will definitely not appear in the arena last minute, but with a year or 9 months left. D. Grybauskaitė was talked about from mid-2008, but she decided only in late winter 2009. In essence she was already viewed as a candidate among the public from 2008," the political scientist recalled.

He notes that a premature electoral campaign can also be harmful, when the public begins considering a person's candidacy too early though they are already in a high and influential position. "But since these elections will not have re-election potential, the candidates will likely begin campaigning earlier than in the previous one. We will now have competition between comparably even candidates. The list may not be clear yet, but this lack of clarity means that all the candidates will have decent chances to start," Krupavičius added.

According to T. Dapkus, it is unclear how D. Grybauskaitė will act during the election.

"Will she support a single candidate or several, while dismissing others or expressing negative sentiment against them? Or will she be neutral, which is doubtful, knowing how active eshe is? She is a popular politician and her opinion matters to a portion of the public. On the other hand our society is inclined to change and even the politicians who are viewed positively are often replaced by others in pursuit of change. If someone begins to accent that D. Grybauskaitė's support for a candidate is just another term for D. Grybauskaitė, it is a question how the public will view this. The participation of a departing president is always fairly controversial, we all saw Barack Obama's support for Hillary Clinton – it didn't help," T. Dapkus compared.

Potential candidates

The Lithuanian Centre Party chairman, member of Seimas Naglis Puteikis became the first candidate to officially announce he is running for president. N. Puteikis is running in the election for the second time.

According to T. Dapkus, the potential candidacies will depend on how politicians' ratings develop. Today we see one set of ratings and potential candidates, but after a time things can shift greatly.

"We know that the Conservative party will have open elections. I believe that Ingrida Šimonytė has big chances of becoming a candidate. Vygaudas Ušackas is a party member, will he compete? Žygimantas Pavilionis could also run as a Conservative candidate. The SocDems probably have Linas Linkevičius looking to run, but once again – what are his chances? Vilija Blinkevičiūtė retains popularity, but will she dare run for office? There could be surprises. There is talk of Lietuvos Energija management chairman and executive director Dalius Misiūnas running as an independent candidate or one of a new movement. These are definitely different politicians with differing experience and opportunities," T. Dapkus commented.

The analyst believes that the electoral campaign has already somewhat begun because criticism toward Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis is ramping up. "Earlier the opposition's criticism was more directed toward Ramūnas Karbauskis, but now S. Skvernelis is being focused on. It is clear that the electoral campaign against certain candidates is gaining speed," T. Dapkus explained.

Political experts have publically stated that if elections happened soon, they would likely be won by PM Skvernelis, who maintains high, if declining, ratings. S. Skvernelis has said that he has decided on whether he will participate in May 2019, but whether he will or not, he did not answer.

"I have made the decision, I will announce it on the last day possible," the PM said.

Meanwhile VDU professor A. Krupavičius states that current ratings trends are particularly negative for the current Prime Minister.

"Imagine that three months from now we have a presidential election. There would definitely be candidates who are interesting and competitive. In this case S. Skvernelis would be the candidate who is losing popularity. S. Skvernelis is faced with a very difficult period. The Prime Minister's cahir is already heated and it could well increase in temperature. One piece of good news for him is that there are yet to appear other strong candidates," Krupavičius told LRT.lt.