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Gas, electricity and heating prices are rising. After paying up to 20% more for utilities during winter, the people will be electing their new municipal governments already in spring, as well as their representatives to the European Parliament. Lrt.lt questions - will the citizens, especially the “bottoms Lithuania”, want to vote for those, who did not stop the price increases?
Saulius Skvernelis
© DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

It is not the majority's fault that gas and electricity prices are rising, economists say. However, in recent times the government has done good work to show that they can influence food prices. "Of course, this is a danger to the government because when prices rise, people will be unsatisfied and will vote against the "Farmers"," political scientist Kęstutis Girnius tells lrt.lt.

Most harmful for S. Skvernelis?

Rising prices are the most pertinent problem to Lithuanians, Eurobarometer data shows. Thus, how would their increase impact their choice in elections? According to political scientist Saulius Šiliauskas, the answer is straightforward: "The background is truly unfavourable for the majority."

And in this background, K. Girnius notes, the current PM "would not run for president if he is wise."

"You could just say that as the prime minister he failed to contain the situation. I believe that this complaint is likely incorrect because there are objective reasons, why prices are rising, but you may not necessarily be able to convince people and they may not take a rational explanation for granted," K. Girnius told lrt.lt.

However, sociologist Vladas Gaidys believes that with suitable explanations, it is possible to convince people and avert a popularity crisis. This is proven by real examples. He recalls how in 2009, in the midst of the financial crisis, the then Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius and the Conservatives' ratings were bottomed out, while then Minister of Finance Ingrida Šimonytė was one of the most popular politicians. The public also favoured then Seimas Speaker Irena Degutienė.

"Similar things could happen now and S. Skvernelis' ratings are currently stable," the sociologist pointed out, though noting that nothing is permanent in politics.

Also, according V. Gaidys, sometimes just demonstrating effort is enough for voters. "For example, the vouchers – whether they are successful or not doesn't matter, but it shows that these people are trying. Perhaps it is not well thought out, but they are trying. (...) It may not appeal to economists and analysts, but overall the balance is positive," he notes.

S. Šiliauskas does not agree, however. "It isn't enough for everyone to appear a fighter – you have to also show results. It is not without reason we now increasingly hear doubts on who will be the "Farmer" candidate in the presidential elections," he said.

Priority – own pocket

Furthermore, S. Šiliauskas points out that there aren't many, who find solace in the government's explanations of how much money will be funnelled into the common good. "Every voter is particularly concerned how it impacts specifically their wallet. And current news show that where you get from one hand, the other will take," he said, commenting on the changes where from January employer and employee payments to Sodra will be merged. The majority promises that net wages will rise for most this way.

Sociologist V. Gaidys emphasises that it isn't prices that are most important to people, but how much money remains after covering the most necessary expenses.

"If the income is very large, then prices can also be very large," V. Gaidys says, pointing out that the income of the standard "Farmer" voter is low, thus discontent could rise.

"If they feel (prices rising) and it is perceived as unjust, of course things will turn bad," he explains.

According to S. Šiliauskas, these elections are a certain test of the majority also because they talk about inequality openly. They claim they have implemented long-term measures, but whether the public is not yet fed up with waiting will be shown in the elections.

Municipal elections

In regard to how the rice increases will influence voters' choices in the municipal elections, the political scientists' opinions clashed.

According to S. Šiliauskas, the prices of utilities could change differently across various municipalities, thus leading to varied reactions. He notes that in essence, people do not really distinguish, which government's responsibility one or another ill of their life is.

"Voters do not really distinguish between the elections, be they municipal or parliament. If the central government, cabinet's work is disappointing for them, leaves them discontent, then be it municipal or European Parliament elections (...) there is a trend that the ruling parties lose out," he explained to lrt.lt.

K. Girnius points out that discontent with the central government should not be greatly reflected in the municipal elections. "In the municipalities, I believe local questions will be more important – how they ruled for those four years, what matters were resolved, while gas, electricity and other prices can be assigned to problems of the central government," the political scientist mused.