The Seimas elections are already this Sunday, but many observers have criticised that the current elections are as bleak as ever. Why are the upcoming elections so much less impactful than the previous ones? The Dėmesio Centre [In the Centre of Attention] show featured the managers of electoral headquarters for the three currently most popular parties – Algirdas Sysas for the Lithuanian Social Democrat Party (LSDP), Tadas Langaitis for the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) and Ramūnas Karbauskis for the Lithuanian Peasant and Greens Union (LVŽS) in a discussion on the current electoral campaign.
– VRK [Central Electoral Commission] data suggests that TS-LKD spent more than €1.5 million, LSDP €1.2 million, while the LVŽS spent more than €350,000 in the 2012 election. What is the situation like now, Mr. Sysas?
A. Sysas: The current situation is slightly different. All the party budgets are now limited by legislation. No more than a bit over €700,000 euro can be spent. There are sanctions for exceeding the regulatory sums. It is possible to opt to not assign tax payer‘s money or apply other sanctions.
– According to the VRK you have declared that you will spend €829,000?
A. Sysas: Yes, we fit within regulations. Do not forget that single-mandate electoral district spending is separate.
– Yes, your candidates in those districts gathered €167,000.
A. Sysas: See, we are adhering to fiscal discipline, aiming to not borrow or spend too much. The budget was planned ahead of time specifically for the expenditures we can permit.
– You will spend somewhere up to a total of a million euro. Will the Social Democrats be less visible in this election?
A. Sysas: I think everyone will be less visible since only personal funds and individual donations are allowed. Businesses can no longer make donations. At least I am working based on the logic, that there should not be a mess left after me. I may be in charge of this election, it may be someone else in the next one. We want to make sure to leave no debts, we do not work to the future.
– What are the financial capacities of the TS-LKD, Mr. Langaitis?
T. Langaitis: Similar. We will spend less than in 2012, the tendencies will be the same. Let’s not forget that businesses can no longer make donations, this automatically removes part of the financing. Individuals are donating more, however specifying a final number is difficult. That said I think the sum will be smaller by a quarter.
– Mr. Karbauskis, the LVŽS situation is quite different. You’re close to the two largest parties in ratings, but financially you have no history of popularity and small financial capacities. Looking into the public sphere you do not look humble however. How is this?
R. Karbauskis: We try to borrow as much as possible. We work to the future.
– You predict that your party will enter parliament, will earn a donation and settle accounts with those providing you services right now?
R. Karbauskis: Yes.
– But it is risky.
R. Karbauskis: What is most important is that we get the opportunity to communicate. In the previous elections we did not have a single TV advert. We essentially couldn’t do anything because we had remaining debts for a prior election. As such this time we are trying to do everything optimally this time in order to let voters get to know our core values and so that candidates would get some exposure. It is crucial if you want to win elections, so we are doing all we can to achieve it.
– As far as I understand, you are credited by new media, commercial and creative agencies?
R. Karbauskis: Yes, we repay everyone we can. Where we cannot, we will settle accounts later in October or November.
– It is a sort of choice, how are you perceived by the market?
R. Karbauskis: If we had no advertisements, we wouldn’t have our current ratings. It is obvious.
– Mr. Sysas, you said you want to make sure you do not leave a single cent of debt. Why?
A. Sysas: I took charge of the electoral headquarters during the municipal elections. We saw that elections can be done without borrowing. The municipal elections were won with little spending and with no debts left. Now I am working under the same principle. One always wants to spend more than possible. Remember the Labour Party posters in spring, everyone wanted that we would have them too. But we concentrated on the final month.
– Mr. Langaitis, it is clear that the TS-LKD will enter parliament. You can definitely allow yourselves to borrow. Are you?
T. Langaitis: Yes, it is now common practice. We calculate how many mandates we normally earn, how much of this is state funding and clearly see future flows of funding.
– So you also talk to news media, asking for them to credit you and await for state donations?
T. Langaitis: We have great trust built up in the market, so we are credited by both news media and other partners.
– The financial tactics are different, we have more or less displayed that. How are parties trying to impact voters in this election? What takes up the most time, funds and effort?
R. Karbauskis: The biggest budget goes to television.
– What will your total budget be?
R. Karbauskis: Up to €600,000.
– What part goes to TV adverts?
R. Karbauskis: more than half. The other part – newspapers because our newspapers are well read, those that have been started up by the party. We have a tradition, releasing them for a number of years. The circulation is in the millions, availability is great. We try to save by not advertising in municipal or national newspapers, instead focusing on our own print which we try to distribute, albeit help is necessary in the big cities.
– Mr. Langaitis, I understand that your budget will also be around a million euro. How are you going to distribute funding?
T. Langaitis: Television will comprise a quarter of the budget, part of the money will go to other media. If news media purchases comprise a larger part of the funding, then more effort is required in interacting with voters. We had a big tour around Lithuania where we travelled and interacted with people in more than 100 cities and towns. Also in many places we interact with voters personally, walking from door to door.
– This is a fairly recent trend. The breaking point was likely when R. Šimašius did such personal visits prior to winning his mayor’s post. Have you calculated how many people the TS-LKD planned to visit, including all candidates in single-mandate electoral districts?
T. Langaitis: I believe that the breaking point was in 2008 when Mantas Adomėnas clinched a surprise victory against Artūras Zuokas and Petras Auštrevičius in the Old Town district. Specifically because he had visited all his voters several times with his team. It was that moment which surprised many. A repeat was visible in certain districts in the 2012 Seimas elections and later the municipal elections. It is, however, not visible in the actions of other parties which is surprising. Gatherings with citizens do not work, instead people are glad to meet you when you personally visit them individually. In the districts we are strong in the goal is to visit as many voters as possible. I see numerous districts where 80% or 60% of voters have been visited.
– Mr. Sysas, where will the key accents be in your electoral budget?
A. Sysas: Television is the most expensive, it will comprise more than 40% of the budget, some €400,000. We have opted to avoid external commercials, at least centrally. Every candidate is using their personal funds for this. In the last elections we spent a large amount of funds on it, but the pillars with posters hung on them lose impact in a month to a month and a half. Thus we gave up on them and opted to use other means. But Mr. Karbauskis humbled himself, his party uses other means such as his company’s little bus and a truck with a stage.
– You suspect something was not declared?
A. Sysas: Declared, I saw 200 euro a day. It is an oddly small figure.
R. Karbauskis: You’re not too familiar – per day. We see that our colleagues complained about us greatly, all the complaints to the VRK are from the Social Democrats. We tried to meet as many people as possible, we also walk from door to door. Such a tactic is probably similar among everyone. And those newspapers I mentioned, the goal is to pass them into people’s hands.
– Mr. Karbauskis, at least approximately, how many people’s hands do your party’s candidates plan to shake?
R. Karbauskis: More than half a million. I have interacted with many people myself, the candidates as well.
T. Langaitis: We have similar counts, it is difficult to be precise because those working in the single-mandate districts work intensively, with large teams. The final data will only be clear after the elections. We have created an internal system which motivates to go and interact with voters as much as possible.
– What sort of system is it, financial?
T. Langaitis: Yes, financial, which encourages candidates to interact as much as possible with their voters.
– So the more a candidate works, the more money they earn from the party?
T. Langaitis: Yes.
– Could it so happen in this election that someone who has done very well walking from door to door could prove to be a surprise winner in many districts? Mr. Sysas?
A. Sysas: I think it is a stage we have already passed. Because one day a Liberal visits, another day a Social Democrat, a third day a Conservative. I think the one to start it was Vytenis Andriukaitis, when he visited everyone in Žirmūnai in the 2000 election. It was new then, but now with 3-4 people knocking at your door in one day it has little impact. He who was last will probably win. I work under the logic that when the elections end it is necessary to get to work. Every single day, every single month host people, meet them and shake hands.
– Mr. Langaitis, what do you think, will there be any surprises?
T. Langaitis: I believe so. Specific districts will be interesting. The show element can serve up some surprises, but also the invisible campaigning. I believe that some places will have unexpected winners or surprisingly tough second round battles.
– Mr. Karbauskis, do you see any moves by your opponents that you would dislike, find unjustified?
R. Karbauskis: I can share what happened in Marijampolė on October 6. One well known performer, whose concert tickets usually cost €30-40, intends to sing for free. An hour prior to the concert there will be a Social Democrat candidate presentation. These are clearly related things. It is a concert by Edmundas Kučinskas. I want the VRK to hear of it because it is particularly scandalous.
– Well now there’s a high likelihood that either the concert or the presentation will no longer happen.
T. Langaitis: It can happen because the VRK is mostly an incapable institution. It fails to achieve its goals and does not prevent breaches of electoral regulations. The breaches are decreasing, for the most part due to civic initiatives, but the breaches are still many.
– Could you mention anything that startles you as a manager of an electoral headquarters?
T. Langaitis: Kauno Diena [Kaunas Day] on Saturday. I open it up and am surprised. The newspaper looks rather red, but no mention of political advertising is present. I have not observed such things earlier, but now with a week left to the elections, it happened. The VRK does not prevent breaches. You can thus help yourself in the last weeks of the election and then be punished later when the punishment will no longer impact voting results.
A. Sysas: The Conservatives were already punished for the concert in the Cathedral Square. A fine had to be paid. I believe that using personal resources such as a company vehicle should be done at market values to avoid disputes.
R. Karbauskis: You wrote a complaint about a month ago, but no fine was set, thus everything appears to be fine.