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Wednesday 20.03.2019 | Name days: Made, Irbe

«Steel Magnolia» named Lithuania's most influential politician for fourth consecutive year

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

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė, dubbed as «Steel Magnolia» by foreign press, remains the most influential politician in the country for the fourth consecutive year. In two separate polls, one by the popular ratings magazine Reitingai and the other by pollster Spinter Tyrimai, she appeared on top, being followed by Saulius Skvernelis, Prime Minister, Ramūnas Karbauskis, the leader of the ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU), Valdas Adamkus, ex-president, and Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuania’s first post-independence leader.

Although no one hesitates Grybauskaitė exercises a set of tools to influence others, for Vladas Gaidys, director of Vilmorus, a polling and market research company, the acknowledgment is more about the popularity and the prominence stemming from the post of head-of-state.

«Of course, because of her Constitutional rights, Grybauskaitė is in the best position to influence the legislature and the Government. However, when ordinary people are polled to say who are the most influential figures in the country, the majority ties influence with popularity and prominence. I think the words are synonymic for most,» Gaidys told BNN.

According to the pollster, having retained very high popularity ratings during her two presidential tenures, Grybauskaitė remains «pretty unique» in entire Europe.

«Let‘s remember that her ratings  had hovered on the level of 90 per cent for the most of time during her first tenure, which is extremely high and pretty unusual for a leader in a Western democracy,» Gaidys pointed out.

Though the Lithuanian head-of-state‘s support dropped to around 60 per cent in her second term, she has been rarely surpassed by others on the most popular politician list.

«I reckon both her personal traits and the position she holds help her to be on top,» the Vilmorus head reasoned.

That PM Saulius Skvernelis is ranked second and the LFGU leader, Ramūnas Karbauskis, is third in the influence poll does not surprise the Vilmorus pollster at all.

«Look, they are seen on TV nearly every day and both are very active in the decision-making, so their placing so high is very reasonable,» Gaidys emphasised.

As for the influence of former president Valdas Adamkus and Vytautas Landsbergis, the chairman of the Supreme Council – Reconstituent Seimas (Parliament) in early 1990s, the pollster pondered that Lithuanians tend to long remember and revere heads of state, even those in retirement.

«Adamkus has been a very bright leader, a pacifier and an acknowledged public figure in the United States,» the pollster said. «Landsbergis has also been very vivid and he has until very recently stayed in active politics. The two have carved out their spots in modern Lithuanian history».

Enquired whether Grybauskaitė will use her influence and popularity in selecting her successor in the presidential race next year, Gaidys reasoned that this is «unlikely».

«She has always positioned herself as one who is very independent and far from the political fights. She has conjured up an image of someone who does not have friends. Neither in her personal life nor in the politics. I don’t think she will want to spoil the good image she enjoys.  Unlike the previous presidents, including Adamkus, she is a lone she-wolf,» Vilmorus director noted.

Lauras Bielinis, associate professor at Kaunas’ Vytautas Magnus University, claims that two factors determine Grybauskaitė’s long-term popularity and influence.

«First, the perception of her post itself. The public views it differently than the positions of prime minister or parliament speaker. Traditionally, president’s office is seen above the daily political squabbles, transparent and defending best interests of state and the public,» the scholar told BNN.

«Second, she (Grybauskaitė) has worked out a very strong image of the competent, resilient and influence-proof leader, whom the public is fond of,» Bielinis added.

Asked about the influence of Vytautas Landsbergis, the patriarch of Lithuanian Conservatives, the analyst replied that the prominent figure still has a strong grip on the party, officially known and the Homeland Union- Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU-LCD).

«Especially on its right wing, I’d say. We clearly see that in a critical situation for the party Landsbergis steps forward and acts as a go-between man and pacifier. As for Adamkus, his influence is perhaps more due to inertia. He is remembered as a president who has done much for Lithuania internationally – firming up its standings and defusing tensions, with Latvia and Poland including,» Bielinis told BNN.

Meanwhile, Vytautas Dumbliauskas, a political analyst, opined to BNN that Lithuanians tend to traditionally show «high respect» for office of president.

«Look, we have three out of four presidents of post-1990 independence Lithuania on the top five list. This tells all a lot. Lithuanians tend to trust their presidents a lot more than other politicians,» the analyst said. «Grybauskaitė’s character also plays big. She has conjured up an image tantamount to her moniker «Steel Magnolia».

According to Ignas Zokas, head of Spinter Tyrimai, the most-influential-politician list contains people with different types of influence, including real decision-makers, moral leaders and several politicians with a good charisma and image.

«Other changes are probably related to higher or lower activity in the media, and more active talks about the upcoming presidential election also leave their mark,» Zokas said.

The most-influential list continues with Gabrielius Landsbergis, chairman of HU-LCD, former PM Algirdas Butkevičius, Social Democratic MEP Vilija Blinkevičiūtė, Kaunas Mayor Visvaldas Matijošaitis and HU-LCD MP Irena Degutienė.

A total of 1,003 people were surveyed during June 19-27.

The influence of Grybauskaitė has been acknowledged not only domestically, but internationally too.

«Forbes» placed the Lithuanian president 68th on the list of the most influential world leaders in 2017. She was 72nd in 2016.

According to «Forbes», Grybauskaitė has earned reputation of a «fierce critic» of Russian president Vladimir Putin. She continuously exhorts the West to impose stricter sanctions against Russia and bolster the NATO capacities in Eastern Europe.

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