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Lithuania’s President and EP election lessons ahead of 2015 municipal election

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RULinas Jegelevicius – for BNN

The presidential race opponents have not managed to roll a sizeable stone – forget a boulder! – onto Dalia Grybauskaite’s road throughout the entire election campaign and saw the incumbent president cruising to a smooth and convincing victory in the second round of presidential election last Sunday.

Having notched up 57.87 percent of the votes Grybauskaite extended her stay in Daukantas st. 1, where the Office of President of the Republic of Lithuania is.

Meanwhile, in the elections of the European Parliament, liberals and right-wing Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU-LCD) have been lifted by the electorate to a fragile overall victory, granting them 17.39 percent of the votes with the Social Democrats behind a mere 0.12 percent.

“Her tough stance during the lingering tension in the world and the lackadaisical electoral campaign in the second round by the Social Democratic opponent Zigmantas Balcytis were key factors in her victory,” Tomas Janeliunas, a political analyst and associated director at Lithuania’s Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences (LIIRPS), told.

In the face of a complicated and tense situation in the region and beyond, many voters preferred to rally behind Grybauskaite, by many Lithuanians seen as a reliable, tough and and already “tested” politician who can be predictable along the way.

“Speaking of the domestic front, Grybauskaite sent out a clear message during her campaign she won’t be putting up with all the monopolistic and oligarchic structures in the country. It may sound like already familiar rhetoric, but people always tend to turn ears to these sort of words, whomever lips they come from,” the LIIRPS associate director said.

Meanwhile, Balcytis, Janeliunas noted, has failed to convince the electorate he “really” wanted to grab the presidency.

“Through the entire election campaign it was hard to stave off a feeling his real mission was to ramp up the Social Democrats’ positions in the EP elections rather than work on his own win the presidential election,” the political analyst said.

Though Grybauskaite, securing victory, hurried to announce she won’t trigger “a shake-up” of the current left-wing parties’ government – implying she will let Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius himself decide on the future of some of his ministers – Janeliunas said he “doesn’t buy it.”

“There will be quite some time until her sworn-in, so I reckon Grybauskaite doesn’t want to sow much uncertainty in the country until then. But after she is sworn-in (the ceremony is slated for July 12), we’ll definitely see some major changes in the Government. Look, the president had reiterated necessity for change in it. Especially, in the fields of finances and social welfare,” Janeliunas noted.

Foreign policy also might be affected, he believes.

“The president has told many times she misses “certain results” in the foreign policy. Now a time has come to weigh in,” the analyst noted.

As both elections was seen as a failure for the ruling Social Democrats, some political analysts speculate Grybauskaite might try to take advantage of their weakened position and go even further- bring her favoured HU-LCD into the Coalition.

As a matter of fact, Andrius Kubilius, the chairman of the party, hurriedly announced after the elections that, with the political pendulum apparently swinging back to the centre and right, he is ready to debate a new make-up of the Coalition, with the Conservatives’ presence, obviously.

“We really believe this would be in the best interests of Lithuania under the current circumstances,” Arvydas Anusauskas, a prominent Conservative MP, told BNN.

He also expects “certain significant changes” on the front of the country’s foreign affairs, on top of which comes the relations with Poland.

“Setting a right direction with the neighbour will be of utmost importance. I see the relations obtaining in the near future more pragmatism and both sides trying to snuff out the vociferous rhetoric that we have been lately hearing from Lithuania’s Electoral Action of Poles’ (LEAP) leader Valdemar Tomashevski. I believe pragmatism could be along lines of the interests of our mutual security. For example, buying certain weaponry for the sake,” the Lithuanian parliamentarian said.

Until now, he said, the Poles often turned too “a sensitive ear” to the LEAP leader’s complaints.

“Poland has clearly to state whom it prefers as a partner in ramping up its national and regional security- Lithuanian government or the often pro-Russia Tomashevski,” the PM said.

From the re-elected president Anusauskas expects also efforts aimed at strengthening the entire Baltic region’s defence.

“If we manage to speak out on the matter in a single voice with Scandinavian countries, it will mean a whole new thing in our foreign policy,” the legislator said.

His keen eye reviewing the results of the past elections already projects how they might affect the upcoming race to municipal councils in the beginning of 2015.

“If the political pendulum keeps drifting towards right- this is very likely to happen- we will definitely see new faces at the helm of some of the Social Democrats’ traditional strongholds, like in Druskininkai, where centre and right parties did surprisingly well,” Anusauskas noted.

The resort town of Druskininkai in southern Lithuania, led by the long-term mayor Ricardas Malinauskas, has been the Social Democrats’ invincible bastion for nearly 20 years.

Among other big political shots to step likely down after the 2015 municipal elections will be Vilnius mayor Arturas Zuokas, the PM predicted.

“Again, the Conservatives did pretty well in the capital, suggesting that they will be a major player in formation of Vilnius City Council after the election.”

Janeliunas, however, noted cautiously it is “perhaps too early” to speak of the political pendulum moving to right, but agreed that there are “certain signs” it might be the case.

“The reins still are still in the Social Democrats’ hands. But they have to play several aces, especially when it comes to raising social allowances and wages, for example, to make sure the swinging stops, or reverses to the left,” Janeliunas insisted to BNN.

Some of the cards, like fallout from nearing introduction of Euro, may be out of the Social Democrats’ hands, however.

“If there we will see prices go up and ensuing exasperation thereafter, the party’s chances in the election will be seriously damaged,” the political analyst predicted.

Visibly fretted over the disappointing results, some of the powerful Social Democrats have pinpointed to an unusual culprit- pollsters.

“I really doubt the methods some of the pollsters we relied on during our campaign were using. How on earth come that the polls suggested quite a different outcome just a month before the elections?” – wondered Gediminas Kirkilas, one of the party’s election strategists.

The polls had hinted the party would see a landslide victory in the EP elections, but it was not meant to be. The party notched up only 17.27 percent of the votes, falling behind winner Conservatives.

But Vladas Gaidys, director of Vilmorus, a Vilnius-based public opinion and market research company, shakes off the politicians’ accusations over “impartiality” and “dim polling methods.”

“I reckon the Social Democrats have done several serious blunders along the road. First, resourcing mostly Balcytis’ presidential campaign they let the EP election campaign in the shadows. Second, I believe it was a mistake to have Balcytis also on top of the party’s EP list. Some voters perhaps found it unfair to play the same card in two different, but simultaneous games. Third, unlike some other major parties, the Social Democrats had not come up with any new, vivid name on the ballot. The EP election showed the voters favoured young, much-promising politicians, like HU-LCD’s Gabrielius Landsbergis (a grandson of the patriarch of Lithuania’s modern politics, Vytautas Landsbergis) and Liberals’ Antanas Guoga (a Lithuania-born, but Australia-raised entrepreneur, owner of an international bet chain)” – Gaidys told BNN.

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