Kaunas Mayor Visvaldas Matijošaitis is currently uncontested and could be reelected as Kaunas city mayor in the first round. Meanwhile, the current situation for the Vilnius and Klaipėda mayors could be made more difficult by both the cities' problems and the situation in the Liberal Movement, political scientists and analysts Mažvydas Jastramskis, Bernaras Ivanovas and Virginijus Savukynas tell lrt.lt. According to B. Ivanovas, the current mayor of the capital, Remigijus Šimašius could have been saved by a Herculean task, but he failed to accomplish it, lrt.lt writes.
R. Šimašius could have been saved by the National Stadium
Politicians are arranging their plans for next year's municipal elections. The most coveted posts are those of the major cities' mayors and intense struggles are predicted here.
Party leaders are seeking candidates to become mayors in the major cities not only among their own ranks. For example, Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS) leader Ramūnas Karbauskis did not deny in a summer interview to LRT that in Kaunas his party may not even nominate their own candidate, instead backing Visvaldas Matijošaitis, who is at the peak of his popularity.
"We do not wish to win for the sake of winning, but to bring such mayors to the councils, who would be the best for Lithuania and the specific municipalities. Thus, none should be surprised if the Kaunas branch will decide to back V. Matijošaitis. He is not a member of the party, but is an excellent mayor. This is not repayment for anything," the LVŽS chairman stated.
The Kaunas city leader also spoke of negotiations. "Since the "Farmers" are in power, we are certainly in negotiations. There are things with them that look a little different to me, but we are coordinating and adapting to the government that is in power so that we could better care for the city," Kaunas Mayor V. Matijošaitis said.
Political analyst and LRT journalist Virginijus Savukynas says that during the coming municipal elections, there is a clear winner in Kaunas, bar anything unexpected – the incumbent should be re-elected. Vytautas Magnus University (VDU) political scientist Bernaras Ivanovas is of a similar opinion.
"Bar anything unexpected, V. Matijošaitis has the best chances [to win]. And the "Farmers" value his efforts, many problems are being resolved in the city. So far, there is no serious competition against him. Furthermore, even if there were some sort of wide ranging campaign against V. Matijošaitis, it would yield no results because in Lithuania, it is the one, who is attacking, that is more supported in such a situation. This is reflected in the phenomena of Rolandas Paksas and Viktor Uspaskich. And the mayor of Kaunas has not made any decisive mistakes either," B. Ivanovas told lrt.lt.
According to the political scientist, the situation in Vilnius is the opposite – the city mayor R. Šimašius stands out far less than V. Matijošaitis. "Here you have a very specific circumstance, specific problems, especially those that have remained unresolved for a long time. R. Šimašius could have been saved by the construction of the National Stadium, but so far I see no tangible achievements. He could win the elections based on the fact of the stadium's construction, it would be a Herculean task he could boast about. But I do not see anything about it, just more bickering, anger and conflicts. Perhaps many and good deeds have been done, but all this drowns out. Furthermore, you have the Liberal Movement's problems... In terms of image, much harm has been done," the political scientist explains.
According to political analyst V. Savukynas, a peculiar struggle for the post of Vilnius mayor is about to unfold, "Former Mayor Artūras Zuokas is actively making appearances. I believe that he is one of the most realistic pretenders to be elected. Meanwhile, R. Šimašius will struggle to repeat his success because he was criticised and there will not be the "freshness" factor, which was had a few years ago. So far, we do not know, who the Conservatives-Christian Democrats will nominate. On the other hand, even if party affiliation and party branches' work is very important, people nevertheless elect a person, they care about personal traits."
Meanwhile, B. Ivanovas doubts whether voters will be inclined to invest in A. Zuokas once more. "It is something like the anecdote about politicians, who do not leave after leaving: They call the hospital and ask "Is Peter still alive?" The answer to this is "Still dead." In a political sense, past leaders remain alive, perhaps reanimating in some mystic way, but I greatly doubt whether there will be any willing to invest in them. After all, politics is investment and it is voters, who offer money. Perhaps the Social Democrats will "prepare" Gintautas Paluckas. The Social Democrats have the administrative resource and can assemble the local electorate, it is different than in Kaunas. The current statements by G. Paluckas on military financing, mandatory military service could be appealing to Vilnius voters. The capital is a multi-ethnic city and G. Paluckas could have his chances if he arranges his electoral campaign well," B. Ivanovas told lrt.lt.
The commentators noted that Klaipėda is gaining in importance and the situation in it is somewhat complicated. While the current Mayor of Klaipėda Vytautas Grubliauskas has led the city since 2011, he is also challenge by fellow party member Simonas Gentvilas, who somewhat unexpectedly declared he wishes to be the Liberal Movement candidate to become the harbour city's leader.
"There could even be two candidates in our branch. The Liberals' strength is specifically that we have several candidates, who can become good mayors for Klaipėda, while the other parties fail to name a single one. From what I know, they are looking externally," MP S. Gentvilas said.
"The Liberal Movement has good candidates in both Vilnius and Klaipėda, however the party shadow and small national popularity remains. Furthermore, there are internal problems in Klaipėda, here we now hear about the potential candidacy of S. Gentvilas. Thus, the idea of competition. But who could challenge them? In the most recent elections, conservative Agnė Bilotaitė did not have an impressive showing. The Liberal Movement has to come to agreement internally, what candidate to nominate for the elections. If they do not come to blows like the Social Democrats, they will have an advantage," Institute of International Relations and Political Science (TSPMI) political scientist M. Jastramskis stated. Meanwhile, Palanga Mayor Šarūnas Vaitkus could also be re-elected right in the first round, the political scientist noted.
According to V. Savukynas, Klaipėda has long been viewed as a bastion of the Liberals, however the scandals have battered the party and its ratings have significantly declined. "From what I have heard, most Liberals themselves no longer believe the party. With such a situation, it is very difficult to inspire people to win. Hence, I would not be surprised if the Liberal candidate will not win in Klaipėda. Perhaps the Conservatives could take the votes because the Liberals are still more right wing, their electorates are similar," V. Savukynas said.
LVŽS won the Seimas elections, but how will they fare in the municipal ones?
TSPMI political scientist M. Jastramskis says that the parties in national government do not necessarily replicate their success in the municipal elections.
"Back when I was writing my dissertation, I read what impact ruling at the national level has. Research has shown that parties ruling at the national level lose more often in municipal races. If we need an example, we can look at the Labour Party, which performed much poorer in the 2015 municipal elections than before and was at the time the ruling party. It was greatly impacted by the "black bookkeeping" case and being in power. Thus, I am sceptical on whether the "Farmers" will take numerous municipalities.
Of course, they will likely win more than in the previous municipal elections, but I do not predict a major victory. This is specifically because of the connection with ruling at the national level. That the "Farmers" are in first or second place based on many ratings means that they will receive many votes, but their ruling status will bar their way to a clear victory," M. Jastramskis told lrt.lt.
The political scientist believes that the municipal elections will be colourful – there will be no party to take 20 mayor posts. "The mayor posts will spread among the parties," M. Jastramskis added.
According to him, the municipal elections may be less fortunate for the Social Democrats – up to breaking apart, they had established their strength in many municipalities, but the situation has changed.
"Earlier they would have around a third of the mayor seats, but after their fracture and Algirdas Butkevičius' decline in popularity, most of their voters broke apart – during the party chairman elections, some backed G. Paluckas, others – Mindaugas Sinkevičius. So the votes will spread – some will support the Lithuanian Social Democrat Party, while others the Lithuanian Social Democrat Labour Party. Civic electoral committees will also take a number of votes. The key word is "fragmentation" – the diffusion of mandates, when there are no dominant powers," M. Jastramskis said.
V. Savukynas believes that civic committees will be potent in the coming municipal elections. "What we can predict is that, I believe that in these municipal elections, various civic committees will be active that are currently being actively assembled. People want new government in the municipal level as well – this success story was proven by Kaunas Mayor V. Matijošaitis and Alytus Mayor Vytautas Grigaravičius. It would appear that in the coming elections, this is being prepared for. The question is whether traditional parties, which will be allies and will form the ruling majority, will come to terms with these committees," the political analyst explained.
The municipal elections are to be held in February-March 2019 in Lithuania.