The Lithuanian Presidential elections – not an easy ride for Commissioner Grybauskaite

March 13, 2009 at 9:56 pm Leave a comment

Today was the last day for the candidates’ registration in the Presidential race in Lithuania.  The electorate committee has registered 13 candidates.  Mr Matulevicius will have to wait for the committee’s decision until Monday.  In order to enter the race all candidates will have to gather 20.000 signatures each.  The Commissioner Grybauskaite and Chairman of the Order and Justice claim that they already gathered required number of the signatures.  The rest of the candidates have until April 2.  The first Presidential election round will take in May 17.

I would like you to suggest an editorial from March 9 the Vilniaus Diena daily.

We probably will have no more than ten candidates in the presidential race. Despite the fact that there is a clear favourite to win the race, the selection will still be pretty wide. After it finally became clear that the political patriarchs – Algirdas Brazauskas and Vytautas Landsbergis – would not participate in the race, the situation became even clearer, because among the remaining candidates there is no one who could be a serious competitor to European Commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite. Thus, it is probably wise to think she will become the head of state. Yet, things may not be as simple as they seem.

This week we will finally know how the 17 May presidential election-voting bulletin will look like, and it will be possible to make stronger conclusions.

However, it is already possible to predict that Grybauskaite’s main opponents will be Kazimiera Prunskiene, who presented her candidature earlier, Arunas Valinskas, who “has been dreaming about becoming president since the day he was born,” and Algirdas Butkevicius, the newly-elected leader of the Social Democrats [LSDP]. By the way, Butkevicius in a way can be viewed as Grybauskaite’s man. After all, in 2004 it was Butkevicius who replaced Grybauskaite as finance minister, after Grybauskaite went to work for the European Commissioner. He replaced her not without the euro commissioner’s recommendation.

Polls and common sense say that the remaining candidates are unlikely to be acceptable to the majority of voters. Valentinas Mazuronis, the member of the Order and Justice Party [TT] behind whom one can easily discern the shadow of impeached President Rolandas Paksas, Retired General Ceslovas Jezerskas, who is almost openly trying to become a Lithuanian Pinochet, and Loreta Grauziniene, a member of the Labour Party, (if she decides to run for president) cannot even dream about gaining a significant number of the votes.

There is no point in talking about the strange men: Algirdas Pilvelis, Vytautas Kundrotas, Jonas Jankauskas, and Vidmantas Sadauskas.

However, the large number of potential candidates can extend the race into the second round, because no matter how popular Grybauskaite is, the remaining candidates can simply fragment the vote. In such a case, the euro commissioner may be a few ballots short from the 50 per cent of the votes, which would guarantee her victory in the first round.

By the way, sometimes it seems like Grybauskaite’s supporters are seriously afraid of the possibility of going to the second round. Experience shows that such fears are founded. In the 1997-98 and 2002-03 elections the victory went not to the person who won the largest number of votes in the first round. In 1998, Valdas Adamkus won by a few dozen thousand votes, even though in the first round Arturas Paulauskas had had a strong lead. In 2003, Paksas won after defeating Adamkus, who had collected a much larger number of votes in the first round. An exception to this rule was the early elections of 2004.

As predicted, Adamkus, who had been ahead in the polls and the first round, won those elections. However, his opponent – Prunskiene – managed to increase the number of her proponents by almost two and a half times in the two weeks between the first and second round. This time, we will have even three weeks between the first and second round. This would allow Grybauskaite’s opponent to put in more effort in trying to lure the voters.

Thus, it would be unwise to bet large amounts of money that the euro commissioner will definitely win the presidential race. It is not always easy to predict the Lithuanian voter’s moves, especially considering the fact that more than to months still remain till the elections. Many things can change in the voter’s mind; many global and local events can change his moods.

BBC Monitoring

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Entry filed under: Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Northern Europe, Politics.

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