ELECTIONS. Analysis. Social policy debate – another victory for the “Peasants”

Skvernelis during the last TV debate on LRT
LRT stopkadras

Thursday evening the debate on LRT Television was joined by the five largest parties – Lithuanian Social Democrat Party (LSDP), Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD), Lithuanian Peasant and Greens Union (LVŽS), Labour Party (DP) and the Liberal Movement (LS). With this being the final debate, party leaders or frontrunners made their closing statements at the end of the debate.

Following the debate, LRT.lt interviewed experts from the fields of politics, economics, business, law and public relations, asking them to rate the performances of 1 to 5. As last time the “Peasants” earned the highest score, 39 points. On the other side of the scale, Labour once again earned the fewest points, earning 25.

R. Dargis – parties focused on voter’s emotions

The President of the Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists Robertas Dargis found that the parties identified problems clearly, but failed to offer solutions.

“There were no clear proposals on how to solve the problems. This trend carried throughout the debate. How do you combat the largest social problem? How should the healthcare system be reformed? No politician dared propose any radical solutions,” stated R. Dargis.

He observed that the party representatives focused on emotions, trying to draw voters in, with the closing statements trying to draw in voters on an emotional level.

Dargis does not see any party as having stood out, giving them all 4 points each.

V. Laučius – lots of generic phrases, but no unique vision

The Chief Editor of the LRT.lt news portal Vladimiras Laučius noted that it was difficult to evaluate the debate on a political level because most of the debate revolved around not political questions, but on the improvement of narrow fields and administration.

“If that wasn’t enough many generic phrases were said, ones that say nothing about the unique visions they have. Listening in was only meaningful to evaluate what they look like, but not what they say. Everyone looked fairly energetic, even K. Daukšys [DP],” observed V. Laučius.

Both the TS-LKD and LSDP earned 4 points from him. The expert noted that G. Landsbergis’ closing statement was the strongest, but he had it easier than LSDP leader A. Butkevičius, who had to defend against attacks on his party’s 4 year term in the coalition. To Laučius they share first place in the debate.

The “Peasants” and Liberals had good performances, but insufficient to be seen as victors. Both earned 3 points, with the expert highlighting a lack of flare that the Conservative leader demonstrated.

“Labour did not demonstrate anything good at all, of all the insubstantial performances tonight, theirs was more so than the rest. They deserve 2 points at best, but as the party in charge of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, they should have had a more solid performance during this debate, thus the final score for them is 1 (the closing speech was also particularly weak),” says V. Laučius.

A. Katauskas – the exhaustion was palpable

Thursday’s debate was most successful for the LVŽS frontrunner S. Skvernelis believes public relations agency Nova Media Communication Specialist Arijus Katauskas, giving the party 5 points for the evening.

“Though all the candidates looked exhausted, Skvernelis included, but victory in this debate was brought about not by a grey performance from opponents, but from a better understanding of where, what question and with what target audience it is necessary to speak.

Clearly arranged narratives, necessary and well placed attacks against the coalition, timely control of the discussion and return to topic. Families, impoverished individuals, pensioners and those disappointed and looking for change, all of them heard their messages. It was suitable to bring in a person with a disability into the common position, thus taking leadership in one of the topics,” asserts the specialist.

A. Katauskas believes that S. Skvernelis stumbled due to his excitement at the end and mistakes when reading the closing statement, but to reiterate – the opponents performed even weaker.
The expert found the Social Democrat leader A. Butkevičius to have performed the worst, giving him 1 point.

“The PM look very exhausted in this debate, there were clear mistakes made with the statement strategy and picking the right vocabulary. The topic of the debate was particularly sensitive and escalated in the public sphere, but for some reason it was decided to defend and communicate achievements through numbers, percentages or difficult terminology (eg. “healthcare institution cluster”). K. Daukšys, representing coalition partners DP, was far more on point, better at defending and you could have very well mistaken who is the PM,” stated A. Katauskas.

The remaining points: Conservatives – 4 points, Liberals – 3 points, Labour – 2 points.

V. Vobolevičius – the coalition was headed in the right direction, but failed to go the distance

ISM Management and Economics University lecturer, political scientist Vincentas Vobolevičius noted that in the debate there was much speaking of removing symptoms, but little attention to dealing with the root causes. Those who focused on the latter earned the highest scores from the expert.

“The root problem is not, for example, a lack of hospitals, this is a matter of dealing with a symptom, the core issue is that there are too many patients, people do not live healthy lifestyles. The “Peasants” focused on prevention. […] Speaking of the disabled, E. Gentvilas correctly observed that first it is necessary to look at what the attitudes towards the disabled are. It would be less necessary to worry about various access points, if people with disabilities were viewed in a healthy way, when neighbours and communities would get those things done with no external stimulus,” noted V. Vobolevičius, giving both the Liberal Movement and the “Peasants” 5 points each.

G. Landsbergis was once again an “attack dog” according to the political analyst, something Vobolevičius believes was completely unnecessary this time. “I understand that it was good to “beat on” Butkevičius earlier, but this time, during a discussion of sensitive issues, this game looked a little hollow. After three debates we already know well enough what you think about one another, lets talk about what you will solve. A. Butkevičius has it harder because he has to show that his party did something good, while G. Landsbergis’ hands are free – tell us what you will do,” analysed the political analyst, giving the Conservatives 4 points.

The Social Democrats and Labour earned 3 points each. “For some reason the thought was not articulated clearly (though both Daukšys and Butkevičius seemingly tried to say it) that the other side is only promising while they have already done something because voters are perhaps inclined to choose a less luxurious option, but one that is already tried. They should have said: Look, people, your wages increased somewhat, that improved, we know there are a lot of problems, but vote for those who at least increased something, rather than those who are drawing on the clouds. They should have kept hammering on that. While they appeared to try, they failed to go the distance. And this leaves them at the rear of the line-up,” explains V. Vobolevičius.

The expert found the best concluding statement to be that of G. Landsbergis – “visionary, uplifting”. E. Gentvilas’ was the second best. S. Skvernelis’ was fairly good as well, but he read it. “Is this a future PM? Even my students do not do so,” commented Vobolevičius.

R. Lazutka – the Liberal representative didn’t understand the questions

The Liberals had the weakest performance in the final debate believes Vilnius University Economics Faculty Theoretical Economics Cathedral head Romas Lazutka.

“E. Gentvilas doesn’t even understand questions on social and health security spheres. He answered the question on core social problems with criticisms of the social security system. Speaking on healthcare E. Gentvilas claims that they will compensate not medicines, but treatment for hospitals, when the patient is cured. He does not know that “medicament compensations” are compensations to a patient’s expenditures for medicine and that the patient fund pays hospitals for treating patients, that is compensates the hospital’s expenses. A confident narrative, but the content shows incompetence,” says R. Lazutka, giving the Liberal Movement 1 point.

The star of the show for the expert was the “Peasants”, with them not only answering on point, but also accurately and showing original thinking. They earned 5 points. Also the party was praised for not savouring critique of the coalition government too much, with more focus on what and how will be done.

The remaining parties – TS-LKD, Labour and LSDP earned 3 points each.

M. Katkus – party strengths and weaknesses highlighted

The final party debate highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the parties says Mykolas Katkus, a communication expert at the VRP Hill+Knowlton public relations agency.

“G. Landsbergis had overall one of his best debates. 5 points to the Conservatives for Ingrida Šimonytė and the closing statement. It was the only populist speech among the 5 parties, though the others should have had more populist statements,” Katkus told LRT.lt.

The weakest performance was that of the Labour Party, who earned only 1 point. “Nothing saved Labour’s performance. It was a “corpse” party,” observed Katkus.

Other evaluations: Liberal Movement and “Peasants” – 4 points each, Social Democrats – 2 points.

L. Kojala – “Peasants” managed to highlight one of their key messages

Three parties earned top marks, 5 points each, from the director of the Eastern Europe Studies Centre Linas Kojala – TS-LKD, LSDP and the “Peasants”. The latter were found to have successfully highlighted one of their core narratives that they are seeking to become an alternative to the current political elite, both on the right and the left.

“The high ratings of the LVŽS suggest that they have managed to mobilise a part of the electorate which is dissatisfied with the traditional large parties. Furthermore its opponents have done little to attack the weak points of the party, for example a lack of a unified ideological line, a lack of team cohesion internally, something which could cause fragmentation in Seimas,” says Kojala.

The Liberals and Labour Party were each given 4 points. “Though Labour’s representatives focused them having achieved their goals set 4 years ago, particularly that of raising the minimum wage, but it appears that the frequent criticisms from opponents knocked K. Daukšys off balance in a few situations,” observed Kojala.

V. Nekrošius – all the parties should google one term

Vilnius University Law Faculty Private Law Cathedral head Vytautas Nekrošius refused to give any party top marks. The reason is simple: “No party representative bothered to mention something like the principle of the welfare state, which is the basis of all developed democracies and normal European states. You get the impression they don’t know it, they should google it.”

The best impression was made by the “Peasants” and the Conservatives, each receiving 4 points. The expert praised the LVŽS for their clear strategy of what and how needs to be done, no matter whether he personally agrees with it. Similarly the TS-LKD also have a strategy.

Nekrošius noted that it wasn’t as clear, what the other parties intended to do, thus all of them earned 3 points each. He observed that while they all highlighted issues, none proposed how it could be done or else the proposals were not very realistic or were heard of earlier.

“As for the LSDP, as sad as it is, it looked like it wasn’t a PM or party leader speaking, but the director of the Statistics Department. You can speak about what you’ve done, but the show is about what will be done and I heard none of that,” the expert concluded his explanation on his scoring.

Ž. Šilėnas – a “Peasant” failure in communication

The Free Market Institute President Žilvinas Šilėnas scored parties as follows: Liberal Movement, TS-LKD and LSDP – 5 points each, “Peasants” and Labour – 4 points each.

The expert observed some confusion in the “Peasant” camp with S. Skvernelis expressing support for private pension accumulation, but then fellow party member S. Jakeliūnas speaking against it.
Meanwhile G. Landsbergis was found have been “oddly flirting with populist rhetoric and oddly for a right winger criticised reducing Sodra payments.” E. Gentvilas, K. Daukšys and A. Butkevičius had more consistent and predictable statements.

“The best use of closing statements was that of Gentvilas and Landsbergis. Gentvilas sent a clear message to liberal voters. Landsbergis – a broad appeal to have faith. The other three lost their opportunity to make a convincing statement by staring at a paper,” summarised Šilėnas.

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