Political analyst Rimvydas Valatka says that the strongest candidate in the presidential elections will be the one who will dismiss the two terms of President Dalia Grybauskaitė. Meanwhile political scientist Tomas Janeliūnas believes the opposite – according to him there's no reason to dismiss the president and any candidate would want at least the indirect support of D. Grybauskaitė because her influence in the electoral campaign will be massive, LRT.lt writes.
With the 2019 presidential election nearing, the public is hearing increasingly many potential candidate names. However will candidates appear among them who will criticise the two terms of President D. Grybauskaitė? Or perhaps most will want to continue her policies and will seek the support of the incumbent?
During an interview with LRT.lt last week, the chairman of the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS) Ramūnas Karbauskis stated he has no complaints regarding the president's current policies: "I cannot say that the president's current policies are bad. [...] The president is acting as a president should."
There isn't any major criticism toward the Presidential Office from Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis either, despite prior to the Seimas elections, for example in November 2015, then as Minister of the Interior S. Skvernelis was faced with criticism from the president regarding an incident with a firearm lost by police officers.
That said this June S. Skvernelis stated, without directly mentioning D. Grybauskaitė by name, that "for the last eight years the policy was chosen to watch from the side, evaluate and criticise, but not do anything tangible."
It is unlikely the president could be criticised at any length by the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats or the Liberal Movement, as they would typically back D. Grybauskaitė during presidential elections. Can it be said that we will have D. Grybauskaitė's "successor"?
R. Valatka: if the candidates don't do it, they won't become winners
Political analyst R. Valatka believes that the future presidential candidates have to criticise the current head of state and failing to do so, they will lose many opportunities to become the winners.
"In essence the strongest candidate is probably the one who will dismiss the two terms of D. Grybauskaitė and there certainly are things to criticise. Perhaps not that much in foreign policy which has been a consensus so far. And thank god she did not do anything of what she dreamed of when elected the first time. Recall how she said we will not be friends with the poor, there's no need for Eastern Partnership. There's room for criticism in all spheres and if they do not do it, they are worthless and overall do not understand how to win. There should be criticism," R. Valatka told LRT.lt.
The analyst also recalled S. Skvernelis' previous criticism toward D. Grybauskaitė as well. "I would say that S. Skvernelis quickly understood that in wanting to stand against the president, one must be better read, be more of a politician. If you speak against the head of state, you have to speak so that there is no way to answer. Very quickly this bravery evaporated. Can we find candidates in Lithuania at all who are prepared for work as president and born for it? Do we overall have a candidate we could agree on as Lithuanians, who would be useful for us? To this day there are many who desire to be president, but those with the calling for it – very few," R. Valatka stated.
Meanwhile Institute of International Relations and Political Science political scientist T. Janeliūnas doubts there will be any meaningful criticism toward the current head of state because it would likely not be beneficial for any candidate.
"You simply do not need to compete with D. Grybauskaitė in this campaign. You have to compete with someone else who the people are now dissatisfied with. D. Grybauskaitė is still fairly popular and I believe it is an irrational decision to construct an electoral campaign against her. Furthermore it would be difficult to do regarding foreign policy because she performed well in this regard and has received much recognition at the international level. You can perhaps only talk about some criticism for the current government in general, including D. Grybauskaitė, in domestic policy. You can talk about the failure to tackle corruption, social inequality and other issues that the current president spoke of even before her first term and prior to the second term beginning. Perhaps in this context it is possible to indirectly criticise that there haven't been any major achievements," T. Janeliūnas commented.
The political scientist believes that criticism toward the president could perhaps only be linked with a specific event or decision which would be relevant immediately prior to the electoral campaign. "If I remember correctly, S. Skvernelis was in an indirect conflict regarding the evaluation of officers' actions when a smuggler was shot. This was a very specific event where a concrete position was taken," T. Janeliūnas explained.
The expert believes that there is no need to dismiss President D. Grybauskaitė because for example regarding domestic issues, the president's influence is lower than that of other government institutions. "I think that all the candidates would want at least indirect support from D. Grybauskaitė because her influence will certainly be very significant and just due to this direct criticism toward her may be withheld," T. Janeliūnas stated.
Vytautas Magnus University (VDU) professor A. Krupavičius stresses that in regard to the incumbent president's support, much will depend on the situation in Lithuania.
"If Lithuania would be faced with major social, economic upheaval, then no doubt more voters will seek a so-called challenge candidate or one who changes, proposes reforms, more radical changes. And support does not always have much influence. The clearest case of support was likely in 1997 when Artūras Paulauskas was supported by Algirdas Brazauskas, perhaps not overly intensively, but unambiguously made it known that the then LDDP and he as president would support A. Paulauskas. The latter benefitted from the support, he came close to the post of president, but the final result was that he was unable to win the elections. The next elections no longer had any such clear support," A. Krupavičius told LRT.lt.
Also remembering the struggle between A. Paulauskas and V. Adamkus, R. Valatka muses whether the support of the former head of state can may not be detrimental.
"Exactly 20 years and 1 month ago President A. Brazauskas made the speech that he will not run for president and there is need to young [politicians], which is why he supports the young A. Paulauskas. But as we saw, it was not the young A. Paulauskas who was elected, but V. Adamkus. If people find the candidate unacceptable, it is unlikely you can do anything with them, unless you make use of the STT and FNTT offices and try to find and display something so that the candidate you do not like would pack up and leave the race without it even starting. Perhaps that's the only way to influence," R. Valatka explained.
A. Krupavičius: we do not have the tradition to criticise departing leaders
VDU professor A. Krupavičius says that both potential candidates and party leaders will be particularly careful in trying to hide their cards until the last moment. Their cards will only be revealed when it is clear what the situation in Lithuania is.
"Overall I would say that in Lithuania we do not have the tradition to criticise a departing head of state. If we recall the 1997-1998 elections when Valdas Adamkus and Artūras Paulauskas competed, they criticised the overall situation because truly many people were discontent with the social and economic situation then. In 2002 Lithuania was climbing out of the impact of the Russian crisis, but V. Adamkus did not face any particular criticism then. In the second round of the 2003 elections there were fewer votes for V. Adamkus because most voters felt that he had aged and in the electoral campaign he appeared to definitely be exhausted from the burden of his post. The election was won by Rolandas Paksas by a small margin. If we look further on, in 2009 V. Adamkus was not criticised as president, the results of his work was not widely discussed," A. Krupavičius reminded.
According to the political scientist, in Lithuania if the departing head of state is criticised, then only very little. "And I am doubtful whether the situation will change in the 2019 elections. They will simply continue the same tradition when the departing president has already done their work, good or bad, but is leaving the post and we must look to the future. That is to say consider the new candidates and their policies more," A. Krupavičius added.
Meanwhile criticism toward the incumbent president, he notes, will likely also be moderate because the president's ratings in opinion surveys remain fairly high and she rarely yields the first place in confidence ratings.
The presidential elections in Lithuania are expected to be held on May 2019.