Lithuanian president – how would he/she change Lithuania?

Presidential Palace in Vilnius
Presidential Palace of the President of Lithuania @ Ruslanas Iržikevičius / the Lithuania Tribune

By Julius Naščenkovas

This Sunday we will elect Lithuanian president and with them – our direction of development, which will not only change the country, but also our daily lives. What will change in foreign and domestic policy when one of the candidates becomes president? What chance to the candidates have to “tame” the government vertical – to appoint effective and loyal individuals to significant offices in this Presidential elections?

President Ingrida Šimonytė

This would mean that up to the coming Seimas elections in 2020, the Presidential Palace, cabinet and parliament would be in a confrontation. I. Šimonytė, who in campaign advertising presents herself as a second Dalia Grybauskaitė, will face serious challenges getting along with anyone, who is not the Conservatives or Liberals and even those camps are not monolith. After the coming Seimas elections, the situation will change and it will likely become much easier for her to find common ground with the new composition Seimas.

In foreign policy, I. Šimonytė has not yet had the opportunity to test herself. Her rationality will be heard, but she may be surprised that looking at the public through merciless economic efficiency is not what European politicians now seek as an antidote to segregation.

Cadre policy would not be I. Šimonytė main challenge. Perhaps in this area she would fare even better than D. Grybauskaitė, who was forced to seek cadres in the most unexpected of places and not always with success. I would not be surprised if those, who did not want to cooperate with D. Grybauskaitė would be willing to work with I. Šimonytė.

President Gitanas Nausėda

Among the candidates that stand a chance, he is the most non-establishment, having never held high official posts in state service and being the least associated with parties, politicians and their long-time donors. Having no negative political baggage, he presented himself in electoral campaigning as one, who can sit various parties at a negotiation table and so far, there is no basis to believe otherwise. His prospects in Seimas look good, bar a few intensive “Farmers” and Social Democrats, he will not be rejected.

In foreign policy, G. Nausėda also gets a plus – being of a warmer nature than the incumbent president, he will definitely be able to establish quality working relations with foreign leaders. I do not predict an exceptional qualitative jump, but we too as a nation do not appear to have either agreed on one or matured for it.

Cadre policy. I believe that G. Nausėda is among the best of the candidates in his ability to expand rotation in responsible offices. From all candidates, it should be the easiest for him to convince professionals working abroad to enter state service. His judge and security official appointments could feature the least conjecture. Under the condition that he comes to terms with Seimas.

President Saulius Skvernelis

If up to 2020 I. Šimonytė as president would continue clashing with the majority, then as president, S. Skvernelis would be part of the force that united the Seimas, cabinet and Presidential Palace into one.

What would happen after these inevitably smooth years? There are chances that the “Farmers”, even after departing to the parliamentary opposition, would remain numerous, however the remaining political parties already count their gripes with S. Skvernelis and it appears could easily choose to ignore the president. I believe that S. Skvernelis would cope seemingly the poorest with such isolation of all candidates.

Foreign policy is S. Skvernelis’ weakness. We know that he does not have strong personal contacts and saw that his charisma is not sufficient to compensate his technocratic views and mentality. Most likely together with Rolandas Paksas, these would be the weakest foreign policy leaders in this short period of Lithuania’s history.

Cadre policy would also not be easy for S. Skvernelis. The depth of talent would be limited by the “Farmer” matrix: having initially scorned official protectionism, just the same they mark people and back their own, just the pretext is renewed. I do not expect any exodus from public governance systems, but as a president, S. Skvernelis’ promise of “professionals in government” would be a more difficult version of the narrower “professionals in the cabinet”.

President Vytenis Andriukaitis.

At the time when V. Andriukaitis distributed anti-Soviet literature, many currently active politicians and public figures played the role of earnest communards. At the same time, it is a major moral and tactical advantage, just as a permanent separation, which is probably insurmountable. The Social Democrats are weak in Seimas and in direct conflict with the “Farmers”. Up to 2020, as president V. Andriukaitis would have episodic clashes with the majority, albeit fewer than I. Šimonytė would in the same position. Would the situation change for the worse for him after the 2020 Seimas elections? I doubt it – most scenarios would predict a more pliable Seimas and cabinet for him.

Foreign policy. Most likely, if we were to add together the remaining candidates’ personal contacts and recognition among foreign policy elites, V. Andriukaitis’ contacts and reputation would exceed them by a large margin. And it could be no other way – even prior to the office of European Commissioner, V. Andriukaitis spent long years maintaining contact with the European political elite, even if part of it is rapidly withdrawing into memoirs and legends.

Cadre policy. Most likely, V. Andriukaitis would seek support among his comrades: doctors, diplomats and academics would reinforce individual offices as personalities, but I am careful when considering their adequacy – are they and their views still a match for the challenges of tomorrow?

President Arvydas Juozaitis

He would not fall apart in domestic politics – individual members of Seimas from almost all Seimas groups express sympathy to him. So that the president would not become a hostage of shifting sympathies, quite likely the 2020 Seimas elections would feature a power linked to A. Juozaitis. I believe it cannot be any other way – A. Juozaitis’ presidential plans require executive and legislative leverage to be implemented. Lacking them, I would guess we would have something akin to President Valdas Adamkus’ latter part of his second term: criticism, preaching and sometimes open disappointment, which is a direct path to the president’s isolation.

There are convenient elements for A. Juozaitis in foreign policy. He can still join with the nationalist wave against the European Union, which would grant him both an audience and visibility. Nevertheless, from A. Juozaitis’ statements it appears that he plans to narrow “foreign policy” to “neighbour policy.” This, of course, reduces challenges and the level of difficult and knowing that relations with all our neighbours are from tapped for potential, this could be an interesting strategy. Cadre policy will be a real challenge to A. Juozaitis. If you think that S. Skvernelis’ “who’s not with us is against us” is an especially rigid stance, in A. Juozaitis’ case the “we/they” divide exists and it is even more specific. I believe that no other president would have to make this many compromises and struggle this much to find suitable and acceptable to others individuals as would A. Juozaitis.

President Mindaugas Puidokas

So far, his activities in domestic policy have been opportunistic. M. Puidokas sprinted with the torch of scandals a few times, but the presidential term is not any sprint, it isn’t even athletics. It is hard to predict how M. Puidokas would fare as president. But difficult to predict does not mean that he will inevitably fare poorly – it just raises the risk for voters.

It isn’t worth musing on M. Puidokas’ chances in foreign policy due to a lack of information. Nevertheless, the fact that M. Puidokas names Vytautas Radžvilas, an opponent of the European Union, as an authority figure allows to predict a more isolated foreign policy. M. Puidokas’ accent to Belarus shows narrowing “foreign policy” to “neighbour policy.”

If knowledge of other candidates’ circles allows speculation of cadre change, it is harder to do in M. Puidokas’ case: so far he himself was in that reserve cadre. So far, the people mentioned by M. Puidokas are in no rush to declare their association with the politician, most likely knowing him only from a very close environment. If you have not found an ideal candidate, fear not – it is neither the first, nor the last time when reality does not satisfy our expectations. Nevertheless, there are many options and the spectrum of consequences is wide; one of them will nevertheless be closer to your personal ethics, some candidate represents your personal understanding of reality better than others. To remind, you can compare yourself to the candidates on the Mano Balsas website.

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