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Lithuanian Conservatives bet on independent presidential hopeful as Spitzenkandidat for Seimas

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Seimas, Lithuania, Conservatives, Gabrielius Landsbergis

Gabrielius Landsbergis and Ingrida Šimonytė

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Unable to break the polls’ 20-per cent support ceiling, Lithuania’s main opposition party, Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD), known colloquially as Conservatives, believe they have found someone who will swoosh them to a resounding victory in general elections in October – Ingrida Šimonytė, the party’s former non-partisan presidential candidate in last year’s election.

The 45-year-old former Finance minister was defeated by Gitanas Nausėda in the runoff.

Big expectations

Having joyfully introduced her as leader of the party candidates’ list for the parliamentary elections, Gabrielius Landsbergis, touted her, saying that «a half million» Lithuanians have already rallied behind her – that is a rough number of voters who supported Šimonytė in the presidential ballot – and now the people will vote for the Šimonytė-led TS-LKD election list. «In times of crises, populism and apathy, we need politicians who are competent, speak clearly and, most importantly, strictly adhere to values to help restore confidence in the state…» Landsbergis said.

Yet many analysts are not so convinced about Šimonytė’s magic powers.

«She will definitely boost the standings of the Conservatives, but to claim that now a half million people will vote for them is audacious. Frankly, I am stunned to see Landsbergis continue the narrative – he certainly needs to sober up and admit that the presidential race voters voted for her, not for the Conservatives. The support for the party is a completely different story,» Vytautas Dumbliauskas, associate professor of political sciences at Mykolas Romeris University, told BNN.

According to him, Šimonytė will certainly jack up the TS-LKD support ratings, but the push upwards can be not as significant as G. Landsbergis expects. «In any case, Šimonytė suits the position (lead the TS-LKD list) much better than Gabrielius Landsbergis himself. I personally believe he is not handling the duties of TS-LKD chairman very well. Not surprisingly, he will not be heading the party list. Such his decision to make Šimonytė No1 on the party list will hurt him long term,» the analyst predicted.

Too liberal or not?

Being widely seen as liberal – during the presidential campaign, some Conservatives chastised Šimonytė for being «too liberal»  – Šimonytė is believed  still to exasperate some of the party’s hardliners. What if they switch the ranks for a newly established Christian party? But Dumbliauskas downplays the possibility. «Indeed, in the new Seimas elections, we will likely see a Christian party, one seeking enactment of Christian tenets in public life and in the legislature (the party is led by Jonas Rimantas Dagys, a former Conservative – L. J.), but I am sure it will not overcome the 5 per cent threshold needed to win parliamentary seats on party lists,» Dumbliauskas said. «The influence of the Lithuanian Catholic Church is diminishing in the country.  Even those hard-line Conservatives who may be mulling swapping the TS-LKD for the Christian Party know very well that all (party) split-offs are doomed to vanishing. The case of former Conservative Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius, who chose the path of secession and who has been forgotten by all now, is the base example of that,» Dumbliauskas emphasised to BNN.

However, the Conservative MPs, who have previously grudged against Šimonytė, are now welcoming the decision to entrust her with the party list for the multi-constituency Seimas elections.

«The coming Seimas elections will all be about post of Prime Minister. Šimonytė definitely suits it best.  Besides, she will be able to take our party through the so-called electoral ceiling, which now stands at 20 per cent. She is a leader who has proven herself when it mattered most,» Laurynas Kasčiūnas, a Conservative MP, was quoted by

A spontaneous decision

Having introduced Šimonytė as the party list leader, G. Landsbergis admitted to reporters that it was his own idea to ask the former presidential hopeful to head the party list. «The decision was very spontaneous and, no, I did not consult anybody in the party regarding it… It was born in my head at the end of the runoff of the presidential race. What Šimonytė achieved seemed huge to me and her impact on all was tangible widely. To see all walks of people vote for her was just unimaginable, something we did not see for many years,» Landsbergis said.

But will the touted traction of Šimonytė translate into victory leaps for the Conservatives in October?

Asked what kind of a coalition is most likely after the October elections, V. Dumbliauskas was blunt: «That of the left and the centre. One consisting of the ruling “Farmers”, the Social Democrats and the Labour Party. I just would predict some jostling for post of Prime Minister,» he added.

Meanwhile, Kęstutis Girnius, associate professor of political sciences of the Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences at Vilnius University, told BNN he cannot «understand» why, after so many years of joint work, Šimonytė still cannot «fully commit» to TS-LKD. «Frankly, for me, it is weird that someone who is not a member of the party has been invited to lead its electoral list. Normally, chairman has to be No1 on the list…» Girnius told BNN.

Things will not be easy

Mažvydas Jastramskis, professor of political sciences of the Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences at Vilnius University, also cautions that things for TS-LKD will not come easily. «Altogether, her being No1 on the TS-LKD list should bring dividends to the party, but downsides are possible too,” Jastramskis reasoned. «To begin with the pluses, Šimonytė leadership strengthens TS-LKD positions against the Liberal Movement (Liberalų sąjūdis) and Freedom Party (Laisvės partija) in the competition for voters. Ideologically, her candidature suits the gradually growing group of liberal-minded young voters.  Šimonytė supports same-sex partnerships and has expressed her support for legislating marihuana for medical purposes,» Jastramskis said.

He, however, cautioned that, having lured liberal voters on its side, TS-LKD risks of shutting the Seimas door for the afore-mentioned liberal parties. «They won’t be able to surpass the 5 per cent barrier,» the analyst believes. «Hence, the Conservatives will have to look for coalition partners among the Labour Party, the «Peasants» and the Social Democrats,» he predicts. Summing up, Jastramskis concluded that by selecting Šimonytė the Conservatives signal they are embracing a more liberal path of the party development. «Starting 2012, TS-LKD has been consistently targeting young people, who tend to be socially liberal and progressive,» he said.

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