Evaluation of S. Skvernelis’ chances: by clashing with the media, he may have made a mistake

Saulius Skvernelis
DELFI / Andrius Ufartas

While S. Skvernelis’ decision to run for president was not wholly unexpected, the announcement was arranged as if it were. M. Jastramskis notes that the timing was well chosen because there isn’t too much time left to the end of the campaign, but at the same time, he still has time to rally his electorate and gather the undecided voters. Furthermore, the narrative was chosen that S. Skvernelis is a candidate for the regions, the so-called second Lithuania, announcing his candidacy outside the large cities.

V. Beniušis notes that the prime minister is aiming for his own electorate, which he already has, leading in the regions and rural areas, but being far behind in the cities. He echoes M. Jastramskis in that the announcement being in Rusnė presented S. Skvernelis as a representative o the regions. The BNS chief editor also points out that looking at the announcement, it was clearly not a spontaneous act, but a well thought out event.

M. Jastramskis finds that Lithuanian voters rarely remain loyal to a single candidate, however it is more likely that S. Skvernelis may siphon voters from G. Nausėda rather than Conservative party candidate I. Šimonytė because this party’s electorate is more consistent. “I would not be surprised if the three leading candidates’ ratings even evened out and we would have a sort of, say, three horse race,” the political scientist said, adding that such a race is likely most suitable for I. Šimonytė because the overlaps S. Skvernelis and G. Nausėda have could launch her into first place. Furthermore, he notes, voters look to the top candidates and “no one will choose a candidate, who gathers two percent. They will choose from the first, second and third places.”

Current surveys show that a significant number of “Farmer” voters are inclined to back G. Nausėda. Fewer than S. Skvernelis, but such voters exist. V. Beniušis finds this to be an interesting dynamic to monitor, how the interplay of S. Skvernelis and G. Nausėda’s ratings will work.

“It will depend on how much G. Nausėda has managed to position himself in the regions, more traditional areas, which would vote for the “Farmers” and on the other hand, how much those people, who may have started to dislike S. Skvernelis over two years, but perhaps may have voted for him, how much they are inclined to change their minds because the largest challenge to S. Skvernelis is no doubt the growing number of negative ratings. If it is easier to win over the undecided, it is much harder to win over those with negative views. But I believe that S. Skvernelis is calculating that it is better for him to face I. Šimonytė in the second round because there would be greater polarisation. G. Nausėda’s potential electorate is larger, while the Conservative party establishes a certain “ceiling,”” V. Beniušis said.

In terms of S. Skvernelis positioning himself as a non-establishment candidate despite him being in elected office for a number of terms now, M. Jastramskis points out that the prime minister being in office may be a negative for him and even if he tries to play the card of being a non-establishment figure, it would be an unproductive strategy because when it comes down to it, the average voter is not stupid and has in mind, who exactly is in government. V. Beniušis believes that the prime minister is fully employing this tactic, seeking to present himself as the only alternative to the existing system. The BNS chief editor points out that there was a statement against the news media, positioning them as part of the system, which needs to be combatted.

He also believes that over the next few years, politicians will surface in Lithuania, who are highly critical of the news media because the trend of the news media being “ascribed to some sort of elite by some politicians is visible in a number of countries in our region.” He points out that this is also due to social media reducing the role of traditional news media, allowing politicians to be less concerned with relations with the media and at the same time, morphing the news media itself, with journalist behaviour sometimes nearing what critics view as political activism rather than unbiased journalism.

Conservative party leader Gabrielius Landsbergis has stated that this work trip being used to launch the prime minister’s campaign is exploitation of official position, with there being a law prohibiting such acts. M. Jastramskis believes that this use of official position will level out with the cultivation of perceptions of S. Skvernelis being a non-establishment candidate, making little difference. The political scientist notes that questions arise over Skvernelis’ overall position as prime minister because all his actions in office can be questioned as to whether they are or are not for publicity purposes.

“Returning briefly to the anti-establishment rhetoric trend, which is aimed against the news media, sometimes I think that we are absorbing certain American trends in the belief that they apply to Lithuania. Perhaps some politicians are starting to think so, but the situation is nevertheless a little different. If there are very clear layers of news media based on democratic and republican positioning, this is non-present in Lithuania and you cannot simply point a finger and have everyone believe you right away that this is Conservatives’, Social Democrats‘ or Liberals‘ news media. In this regard, the prime minister could make a mistake by focusing on such accents. This is because, let me remind you, the news media is far more trusted in Lithuania than the cabinet or the Seimas,” M. Jastramskis said.

V. Beniušis also adds that while the American example may not quite apply to Lithuania due to differences in political systems, the Polish example comes quite close, with the central news media, particularly based in the capital being strongly against J. Kaczynski’s party and vice versa.

“I completely agree that the American political system is overly different from that of Lithuania and we probably shouldn’t talk in those clichés about new “Trumps” in Lithuania, but Poland, as several decades of our history shows, we should follow closely because often those trends migrate to Lithuania,” the BNS chief editor stated.

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