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Elections in Lithuania
© DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

The presidential elections are no cause for parties to put in any exceptional effort. The Liberal Movement is prepared to be the first to name its candidate for next year's presidential race while the other political powers promise the conclusion to this political intrigue in autumn, Lietuvos Žinios writes.

With a little less than 1.5 years left to the presidential elections, the candidates of the country's major parties as well as independent candidates remain a secret.

While the names of several politicians and well known individuals have surfaced in public discussions, so far only one of them has officially declared his intent to seek the post of president. The parties assure that they are not hesitating; some have already begun the internal search for a potential candidate. The selection process promises novelties.

Starting in May

The chairman of the largest opposition party, the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) Gabrielius Landsbergis promises that the Conservatives will announce their candidate in November at the latest.

"Everything will begin in our May congress. After it the party branches will begin proposing potential presidents. Both party members and non-partisan individuals will be eligible for nomination. In autumn, perhaps around October, we will decide regarding the list of candidates – we will hold two rounds of preliminaries after which the party will nominate its candidate," G. Landsbergis told Lietuvos Žinios.

In its search for the most suitable candidate for head of state, the TS-LKD intends to involve the public as well. This practice will be applied for the first time in Lithuania. According to the TS-LKD leader, similar presidential election primaries are held in the US and France.

"We will organise a so-called open primaries, where not only the party community, but everyone interested will be able to express their opinion. This will be done at party branches after registering [for the vote]," the politician explained.

Only one TS-LKD representative, MP Žygimantas Pavilionis has declared his intent to participate in the election. According to G. Landsbergis, theoretically so far four TS-LKD representatives or candidates supported by it could aim for the position of president. These would be MPs Ingrida Šimonytė and Žygimantas Pavilionis, former diplomat Vygaudas Ušackas and economist Gitanas Nausėda.

"But surprises could happen. So far, only Ž. Pavilionis has mentioned his intention to run for the office, I have not heard any firm decisions from the others. To my knowledge, both former diplomats are visiting party branches, actively interacting with people. One can think that probing is ongoing," G. Landsbergis said.

Trends to surface in summer

G. Landsbergis believes that the main electoral clash will be between candidates of the centre right and centre left. The representatives of the former direction are more or less clear, while it is early to talk about the latter.

"The possibilities vary there. Even Naglis Puteikis can be such a candidate," the Conservative leader said. Nevertheless, he believes the strongest candidate in the centre left would be social democrat Vilija Blinkevičiūtė.

According to the chairman of the opposition Lithuanian Social Democrat Party (LSDP), Gintautas Paluckas, all the formalities in selecting a candidate will be concluded by November 1.

"The trends will, however, appear far earlier. Last Saturday we made the decision to participate in the elections. It was a sign for the party branches to begin nominating candidates. Which of them is in the lead, I believe we will know by the end of summer," G. Paluckas stated.

According to him, other than party veterans V. Blinkevičiūtė and Vytenis Andriukaitis, whose names are most mentioned among potential candidates, the LSDP has other members intent on competing. "We have a democracy, no candidate will be assigned by the leadership, the branches are free to choose. The council will simply confirm their will," G. Paluckas stated.

He believes that the main competition to the LSDP candidate will be the one who will "seek to appeal to centre left voters, namely emphasising the questions which are usually worked on by social democrats – inequality, social segregation, reducing corruption, demographics and emigration issues.

"Those who talk about business, major capital will perhaps form lesser competition. We have our set of values, which we will seek to present as an appealing vision for Lithuania during the elections. We will see together, what visions the others will offer. Even bankers have started talking of social justice these days – the elections soften even the hardest of hearts," G. Paluckas noted.

"Farmers" undecided

The deputy chair of the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS), Seimas first vice Speaker Rima Baškienė assures that a strong political power such as the LVŽS will definitely have its candidate in the presidential race. "But today we do not yet have a decision," the politician stated.

According to her, the decision over participating in the elections will be made in the nearest party council meeting that will be held in March. R. Baškienė states that the regulations for who can propose presidential candidates for the party has not yet been discussed. The "Farmer" confirmed that if Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis chose to run for president, the LVŽS would back his candidacy.

"It would be odd if we did not support one of the leaders of our electoral roll. We would only celebrate S. Skvernelis making such a decision, but today we do not yet know of it," R. Baškienė spoke.

The Liberal Movement promises to be the first to select its presidential candidate.

"We have initiated the selection process; party members must nominate candidates or themselves by February 5. Then a voting selection mechanism will be created and by April the party will have its candidate," Liberal Movement leader Eugenijus Gentvilas stated.

In his opinion, the party has sufficient individuals [potential candidates], thus it is not considering supporting independent or other parties' candidates. "We have competitive candidates – Petras Auštrevičius, Arūnas Gelūnas, Remigijus Šimašius. On April 14 the party council will be in session and we will then declare the candidate we have selected," E. Gentvilas said.

He was unwilling to comment on their candidate's prospects while not all their rivals for the post of president are yet clear.

Speculation abounds

So far, only one politician has declared his intent to run for president – Lithuanian Centre Party chair, Seimas LVŽS group member Naglis Puteikis. He will be running for president for the second time.

N. Puteikis received 9.32% of the vote in the first round of the 2014 presidential elections. He remained fourth and did not enter the second round. Potential candidates to enter the S. Daukantas square palace that are constantly brought up are G. Nausėda, S. Skvernelis, Kaunas Mayor Visvaldas Matijošaitis, Conservatives Ž. Pavilionis and V. Ušackas.

The presidential elections will be held in Lithuania on May 12, 2019 (the second round – on May 26). Another two elections will be held on the same year: municipal council elections in February and European Parliament elections in June.