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Wednesday 19.09.2018 | Name days: Verners, Muntis
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Lithuania: three names stand out in budding presidential race

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Gitanas Nausėda, chief economist of SEB Lithuania Bank

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Of 47 names being mentioned by respondents asked who they want to see a new president in Lithuania in 2019, three names are clearly on top of the list. Gitanas Nausėda, chief economist of SEB Lithuania Bank, leads the pack with 15.6 per cent of support, followed by Saulius Skvernelis, the current Prime Minister (12.5 per cent), and Visvaldas Matijošaitis, Mayor of Kaunas, Lithuania‘s second-largest city, who is favoured by 12 per cent.

The latest poll of the kind, conducted by Vilmorus last Saturday, keeps the trio well above the rest and the names’ support remains pretty the same like in previous polls. Neither Nausėda, nor Skvernelis or Matijošaitis has said the the President’s Office is in their plans.

«However that they constantly appear on top of the ratings clearly show the respondents‘ affinity with them. I reckon the people first like their sincerity they emanate and their independence. Nine years ago, many Lithuanian voters voted for current president Dalia Grybauskaitė because they thought that she, as the-then European Commissioner, was very independent and not entangled with the Lithuanian political parties or business. The same could be said about her predecessor, president Valdas Adamkas, who having come from the United States, was also seen as an independent candidate,» Vladas Gaidys, head of Vilmorus, a market research and polling company, told BNN.

He attributes the trios‘ popularity to their regular TV appearances, but he warns prominence exposes them to more risks.

«It goes without saying that the limelight they find themselves in subjects them to a big scrutiny and who knows what the journalists out there will dig out about them or the other potential candidates someday. I‘d say Skvernelis, the premier, and Matijošaitis, the mayor, are more vulnerable than Nausėda, the banker – due to the nature of their work, i.e. the need to take decisions on daily basis,» Gaidys pondered.

The pollster says it is too early to project the possible candidates’ standings before the election scheduled in May of 2019.

«We have now 47 names mentioned as possible presidential race candidates, but I‘d not be surprised if there pops up a 48th or a 49th name tomorrow and who forays into the group of leaders at some point,» the Vilmorus CEO noted.

Vygaudas Ušackas, the EU‘s former ambassador to Russia, comes fourth in presidential polls, Vilija Blinkevičiūtė, Lithuania‘s Social Democratic MEP, is fifth, Ingrida Šimonytė, a MP and former Economics minister, is sixth, Žygimantas Pavilionis, a MP and former ambassador to the United States is seventh and Naglis Puteikis, a MP who formally belongs to the ruling Farmers and Greens Union, but prides in his independence, is seventh in most of the polls.

With no confirmation from the projected presidential race candidates on their plans, most political analysts are excessively cautious so far.

«The game has not officially started yet. All the polls are of a preliminary nature. We will see many falls and rises (of the candidates) along the way. I am taking the polls rather sceptically,» Mažvydas Jastramskis, a political analyst and lecturer at the Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences of Vilnius University, told BNN.

He reminded the once improbable run down the presidential stretch by Rolandas Paksas, who, elected to the office, was later impeached and stripped of his presidency.

«In 2002, with just a half of year before the election day, he had a mere 5 perc cent of support in the ratings, but thanks to an incredible run in the last six months he managed to come victorious,» the analyst remembered.

Jastramskis also notes that, unlike in the past presidential elections, there is no a single firm leader in this presidential campaign.

«Those couple of points that the presumed candidates edge each other can be erased in a matter of days,» he suggested.

Asked whose presidential hopes are likely to dim and whose are likely to strengthen over the next year, Jastramskis pondered that Skvernelis, as the country‘s prime minister, is «perhaps in a more vulnerable» position than the others.

Ramūnas Vilpišauskas, director of the Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences of Vilnius University, also was reluctant to draw any far-reaching conclusions.

«Plenty of things remains to be seen yet. The short-term prospects of the economy will be a factor determining the people‘s mood. This is clear. A lot depends on how the candidates will carry out their presidential campaigns, what issues they will be focusing on, who will secure the largest political parties‘ support,»Vilpišauskas told BNN. «If the popular opposition Homeland Union and Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD, also known as the Conservatives) decides to back up Nausėda, which seems like a possibility, then his standings would certainly be ramped up,» the analyst pondered.

A recent Vilmorus poll, gauging the popularity of the Lithuanian political parties, showed that the TS-LKD sits on top, followed by the ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS) and the Order and Justice party (TT) just ahead of the Social Democrats (LSDP).

Gaidys, of Vilmorus, says the popularity of the conservatives saw a slight increase over the month, LVŽS were stable after losing half of its electorate over the past year.

The conservatives are supported by 17.8 per cent of the residents and 29.2 per cent of those voting.

«I must say that the ratings of the Conservatives observe stable growth since January of 2017. It also went up this month, giving them a strong position in the first place,» Gaidys noted.

The ratings of the LVŽS has been stable since September, the party has support of 14 per cent of the population and 23 per cent the voting share.

Meanwhile, the Lithuanian Cabinet this week approved a bill paving the way for developing an online voting system and will now send it to the parliament for approval.

Justice Minister Milda Vainiūtė underlined during the Cabinet’s meeting that the introduction of online voting would supplement the current voting options.

The bill sets out the basic principles, rules and requirements for online voting. If it is approved by the parliament, the Justice Ministry will draft amendments to individual laws on parliamentary, municipal and presidential elections to allow electronic voting.

The aim is to introduce an online voting information system by July 2019 so that voters could use it during the next parliamentary elections in 2020.

The minister said that it would cost an estimated 2 million euros to develop such a system.

«This is one of our government’s priorities. It would probably help us (…) to legalise dual citizenship by making it possible for a wider range of voters to participate (in a referendum),» she said.

Several previous bills to legalise online voting have failed to pass the parliament.

Supporters of online voting expect the system to boost voter turnout, while critics fear that the poor cyber security situation may make the online voting system an easy target of an attack aimed at changing the election outcome. Questions are also raised regarding anonymity.

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