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Wednesday 18.09.2019 | Name days: Liesma, Elita, Alita

Seimas elections in three districts deal a blow to ruling LFGU, Social Democrats’ leader

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Lithuanian Social Democrats’ leader, Gintautas Paluckas

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

As two prominent TV faces are set to win the runoff elections to take vacant seats left in Lithuanian parliament (Seimas) after two MPs swapped their parliamentary jobs for mayoral stints and an independent MP, Aušra Maldeikienė, left for Brussels as europarliamentarian, the Lithuanian Social Democrats’ (LSDP) leader, Gintautas Paluckas, who is former vice-mayor of capital city Vilnius, is restless.

Much at stake for LSDP Leader

Having significantly outspent his key rival, Conservative Paulė Kuzmickienė, in financing his electoral campaign, with a tepid 26,22 per cent, the LSDP leader came second in the election’s first round held last Sunday. His rival outdid him by 8 per cent, which, analysts unanimously agree, is a bad omen for Paluckas, who is jobless now.

Should the prominent Social Democrat fail to pull off victory in the runoff on September 22, he ought to step down as the LSDP leader, some analysts suggest. But others feel like giving him a slack.

 «Demanding his resignation would be too much. But loss will be just another prove and confirmation that Paluckas has not grown up to status of a national leader, one able to herd people after himself. However, the real acid test for him, and the party, will be a new parliamentary election,» Vytautas Bruveris, journalist at the daily Lietuvos Rytas and a well-known public figure, told BNN.

Big personalities are favoured

According to him, the election results in three constituencies can «hardly» give any «glimpse» into how the voters’ affinity with the political parties will be next fall, when the election is slated.

«It is just too early to talk of any trends at the point. However, some signals are clear: voters voted for outstanding, and some say, audacious TV personalities, so vivid, larger-than-life personalities will certainly will be favoured in a year from now,» Bruveris said before adding: «However, the traditional parties, Conservatives and Social Democrats, did relatively pretty good in the elections, too, notwithstanding the slap to Paluckas in the first round. I believe the two opposition parties should be doing well in the coming election.»

Bad omens for ruling LFGU

In his words, the ruling Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU) should be worried most – their candidates, except Rūta Janutienė, were dealt blows by competitors.

For example, LFGU’s Ieva Budraitė, with 3,98 per cent of the votes, came sixth in Vilnius’ Žirmūnai constituency, where Paluckas and Kuzmickienė were on the ballot.  Interestingly, two independent candidates came higher than the LFGU representative in the electoral district.

Meanwhile, in Gargždų constituency in western Lithuania, a LFGU candidate was placed seventh. In the constituency, Rasa Petrauskienė, a Conservative bidder, and Kristupas Krivickas, a big TV personality representing the Center Party, advanced for the runoff stage. The screen star confessed that he will join ruling bloc if he wins the race.

«The voters’ choice is clear and the second round will be just formality,» Krivickas said assuredly after all the ballots were calculated. The voter turnout in the constituency was very low, just 17,74 per cent.

Big screen names favour «farmers»

In Žiemgalos constituency, Rūta Janutienė, supported by the ruling LFGU, eclipsed Social Democrat Liudas Jonaitis by a slim 2,3 per cent.

Addressing her supporters, the famous TV journalist said she was «happy» with the results, although the voter turnout was just slightly over 25 per cent, which she chalked up to the holding of the political campaign and the elections during the peak of harvest.

She scolded her arch-rival, Jonaitis, throughout the entire campaign, dubbing him a «farmer without a plough.»

Although both TV celebrities see themselves, if elected, working in the ruling Farmers and Greens fraction, analysts yet are pointing to the farmers’ weak performance.

 «I cannot speak about trends following the elections, but one trend is clear – the LFGU support is edging down and the fall has not reached the bottom. Namely Social Democrats are in the best position to fill their void, as both parties represent left-leaning voters,» Bruveris underscored.

LFGU leader stunned by Paluckas vote results

However, Ramūnas Karbauskis, chairman of the Farmers and Greens Union, downplayed criticism over what all analysts called the ruling party’s weak performance, claiming that such results were prognosticated.

«What really surprised me were not our results, but such a low percentage of support that the Conservatives had in all three constituencies. However, the real shocker was the result of Paluckas, which was just outright hopeless,» the LFGU leader was quoted by Lithuanian media.

According to him, one conclusion after the election is clear: people vote for personalities.

«This is where our party does very well – we will have a strong line-up of personalities for the next parliamentary elections,» he accentuated.

However, not the TV producers-turned-politicians garnered most attention of media – it is Paluckas, the LSDP helmsman, who has been scrutinised most.

Analyst: LSDP leader can celebrate

He was reticent when speaking about his election results. «Our main goal – getting to the second round has been achieved. All starts from scratch in the runoff. I reckon the lingering conviction that Paluckas will win (the election) did make harm to my final results,» Paluckas admitted.

If elected, he said he will seek to improve life of pensioners as well as young families.

Weighing in on the election results, Mykolas Katkus, an acknowledged PR expert, reasoned that both the Conservative and the Social Democrat candidates can «celebrate» the intermediary outcome.

«The former and all the Conservatives can celebrate that with win in Vilnius, which they have lately lost to other political parties, they will regain some momentum, which upon favourable circumstances could be translated in several Vilnius-based additional parliamentary mandates in the new parliament. Meanwhile, the Social Democrats can celebrate that their leader, who has never done anything for Vilniusans, made it to the second round. Vilnius voters never usually vote for Social Democrats,» Katkus emphasised.

Paluckas need to prove himself as leader

Meanwhile, Lauras Bielinis, professor at Kaunas Magnus University, accentuates the significance of the elections for Paluckas.

«There are rumours that he (Paluckas) has been pushed to periphery of the decision making in the party just because he does not hold a parliamentary seat. It is essential for him to win the election to deny the rumours and reaffirm himself as the leader,» Bielinis told BNN.

But the LSDP leader’s loss shouldn’t trigger crisis within the Social Democrats, he believes.

«The worst is already in their past. They have endured some essential crises, following the party’s split (a dozen Social Democrats who wanted to be part of the LFGU-led ruling coalition broke away from the other Social Democrats, who preferred to work in opposition and formed a new party, known as Social Democratic Labour Party – L.J.). The loss will be a traumatizing thing for Paluckas, likewise our national basketball team’s loss in the recent World Basketball Championship,» Bielinis said.

One analyst particularly harsh

Virgis Valentinavičius, associate professor at Mykolas Romeris University, was perhaps the only analyst to call on Paluckas’ resignation if he does not clear the second-round threshold.

«He will definitely will be under pressure to step down, especially that the party has been resuscitated and now seems better off than the Conservatives,» he told a local radio station.

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