16/04/2009 - Analysis
The Lithuanians are called to ballot on 17th May for the first round of the presidential election. They have to appoint a successor to outgoing Head of State Valdas Adamkus, who is not running again. If no candidate wins the majority of the vote in the first round voters will be invited to a second round in which the two people who took the lead on 17th May will face each other. The second round of the election will be organized on 7th June, on the same day as the European elections.
Outgoing President of the Republic Valdas Adamkus refused to call for a vote in support of any specific candidate: "I shall not recommend any one to the Lithuanian people. They will choose themselves."
Seven candidates are officially in the race:
- Dalia Grybauskaite, 53 years old, former Finance Minister (2001-2004) in the government led by Algridas Brazauskas; at present she is European Commissioner for the Budget and Financial Programming. An independent candidate, Dalia Grybauskaite has the support of Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius;
- Algirdas Butkevicius, 50 years old, candidate of the Social Democratic Party (LSP) led by Gediminas Kirkilas and successor in 2004 to Dalia Grybauskaite as Finance Minister;
- Valentinas Mazuronis, 55 years old, candidate running with For Order and Justice (TT) led by former President of the Republic Rolandas Paksas (who was impeached as Head of State by the Seimas on 6th April 2004);
- Kazimiera Danute Prunskiene, 61 years old, former Prime Minister, (1990-1991), candidate running for the Lithuanian Peasant's Popular Union (LVLS);
- Loreta Grauziniene, candidate running for the Labour Party (DP) led by Russian billionaire Viktor Uspaskitch;
- Ceslovas Jezerkas, a general in the Lithuanian army who is standing as an independent candidate;
- Waldemar Tomaszewki, chairman of the Electoral Action of Lithuanian Poles (LLRA) representing the Polish minority of Lithuania.
The Presidential Function
The President of the Republic is elected in Lithuania every five years by universal suffrage. The same person cannot be elected more than two consecutive times. The Head of State's powers are limited. He is the supreme head of the armies and ensures the security of the State and he appoints Lithuania's diplomatic representatives abroad and within international organizations. He also puts forward candidates for the chair and the magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice, the Appeal Court and the Courts of Justice of the other administrative districts in the country – but in fine the appointments are the responsibility of the Seimas, the Lithuanian parliament.
The presidential function is only open to people aged at least forty. Any candidate must present at least 20,000 voters' signatures in support of his/her candidature and deliver a guarantee equal to five months average salary (i.e. around 58,000 litas – 3,360 €).
Businessman Vladimir Romanov wanted to stand in the presidential election but his candidature was rejected because of his Russian origins. Founder of Ukio Bankas Lithuania's leading merchant bank and the head of an industrial empire in the sectors of textiles and aluminium, Vladimir Romanov is also the owner of the football club "FKB Kaunas" and that of Hearts of Edinburgh – he moved to Lithuania when he was nine years old. The country's Constitution obliges all candidates to be born of Lithuanian parents and to have lived in the country for at least three years. Vladimir Romanov's mother took Lithuanian nationality in 1993.
According to a poll undertaken by the Spinter Tyrimai institute, the Lithuanians would like to see their President become more involved in the country's domestic affairs and notably in the economic sector (56.2% express this opinion). Historian Vygantas Vareikis, professor at the University of Klapeida, stresses that the time when the Head of State did not become involved in domestic policy is over. According to him Valdus Adamkus voluntarily limited his activities to the international sector but "the President of the Republic has to be a figure of unity above all in the present crisis," he said, adding "Dalia Grybauskaite is surely the only one to fulfill the criteria to achieve this effectively."
The Electoral Campaign
Dalia Grybauskaite took the decision to stand in the presidential election after the demonstrations that took place in Lithuania on 16th January last. After great hesitation she announced that she would be running on 26th February saying that she had been influenced by the world economic situation and Lithuania's perspectives in the economic crisis. "I am ready to come back to Lithuania if people decide they need me," she declared.
Just one month before the first round, Dalia Grybauskaite is easily in the lead in all of the polls. If we believe the surveys she might even be elected in the first round which would be an all time first in Lithuania. Her popularity has increased sharply since 2007 when she rose up against the action undertaken by the Social Democratic government led by Gediminas Kirkilas then again at the end of 2008 during the economic crisis. Her acknowledged competences on a European level and her independence have emerged as guarantees of efficacy and probity.
Dalia Grybauskaite indicated that the Head of State could be more active in the country's domestic affairs. "The cliché dictates that the Prime Minister takes care of domestic affairs and that the President of the Republic only deals with foreign policy. The Constitution provides the Head of State with adequate powers and the latter should make use of these. Whoever the new President is in May-June, he/she should grant more attention to domestic issues," she stressed.
The European Commissioner for the Budget and Financial Programming quit her office in Brussels on 17th April. She has been replaced by Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the European Commission and European Commissioner for Administrative Affairs, Audit and Anti-Fraud.
On 3rd April Arunas Valinskas, Chairman of the Seimas (Parliament) and leader of the People's Party for National Revival (TPP) who was the source of surprise when he won 13 seats in the last general elections on 12th and 26th October 2008 withdrew his candidature for the presidential election and announced that personally he supported Dalia Grybauskaite. The party supports three candidates in this election: apart from Dalia Grybauskaite, the others are Algirdas Butkevicius and Loreta Grauziniene.
"Dalia Grybauskaite represents the right and she has been appointed by the right wing parties. Before the general elections she wanted to increase taxes and reduce budgetary spending and consumption," declared Social Democratic candidate Algirdas Butkevicius. The latter says that the economic crisis, which is an international occurrence, is in no way a result of the policy undertaken by the Social Democratic government. "The global crisis has affected Lithuania later than other countries which means that the national economy had a certain amount of reserves which have enabled us to resist the crisis for a while. The Social Democrats can be thanked for this," he said.
For her part the Lithuanian Peasant Popular Union's candidate, Kazimiera Danute Prunskiene is again in the clutches of the justice. The Lustration Committee indeed asked the regional court of Vilnius to re-examine the issue of the former Prime Minister's cooperation with the KGB. Kazimiera Danute Prunskiene is accused of having worked with the Soviet secret services under the name of Straija. "There are many facts. I can definitely say that she worked with the KGB," declared the chair of the Lustration Committee who says that the cooperation between the candidates, an economist specialised in agriculture, and the KGB started with a journey by Ms Prunskiene to Brazil in 1979 then continued during her visits to Hungary, the GDR and to the Federal Republic of Germany. Kazimiera Danute Prunskiene has asked all of her file to be made public.
The latest poll forecasts an easy victory for Dalia Grybauskaite, who is credited with 73.6% of the vote. She is ahead of Algirdas Butkevicius (4.6%), Valentinas Mazuronis (2.6%) and Kazimira Danute Prunskiene (1.2%).
Source: Central Electoral Commission of Lithuania