Political scientist sees a serious rival to Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė: dangerous because he is too popular

Saulius Skvernelis.By Lukas Balandis, 15min.lt

The latest party rankings show results that have caught the attention of experts. As tensions in the ruling camp continue, they have spoken of possible threats to the coalition behind which former Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis and the party he formed, “In the Name of Lithuania”, are standing. According to political scientists, the friendship with Skvernelis is very dangerous and he is a serious rival to Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė, Andresa Repšytė wrote in TV3.lt.

According to a Spinter Tyrimai poll commissioned by the news portal delfi.lt in October, voters continue to favour the incumbent Ingrida Šimonytė as being in the prime minister’s office – 19.1% of respondents preferred her in the prime minister’s chair in October, and 19.4% in September.

The second place in the table is held by the former Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, who broke away from the “Farmers” and created a new group in the Seimas. His popularity has increased: 12.6% of respondents would see him as Prime Minister (compared to 9.5% in September).

B. Ivanovas: “It may happen that Šimonytė will have to leave”

Political scientists attribute the rise in his popularity to his split from the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS) and the creation of a new party “In the Name of Lithuania”.

“The story with Skvernelis is very simple. He managed to extract the best from the “Farmers” and leave all the poisonous assets to Mr Ramūnas Karbauskis. Skvernelis is a “hot potato” for the ruling party – it is dangerous to take him instead of the Freedom Party because he is too popular.

It is also possible that Ms Šimonytė will have to go because he is not viewed particularly negatively, having been in the opposition for a long time. In this sense, the Social Democrats have an opportunity to flirt with him,” said political scientist Bernaras Ivanovas.

Political scientist Rima Urbonaitė echoed him, pointing out that, despite the scandals, Skvernelis’ term as prime minister was very successful, with the economy growing and benefits increasing.

“In other words, he is associated with fairly positive things. Now, Prime Minister Šimonytė is the ‘crisis prime minister’, which is natural,” said Urbonaitė.

According to the expert, his opposition status and active criticism of the ruling bloc “proved beneficial” to S. Skvernelis: “His independence, talk of a new party, criticism of the government and the good press he had when he was PM all contribute to people seeing him in a rather positive light.

<…> However, I would not be inclined to exaggerate this rating, I would like to look at it for a few more months because sometimes it seems that the ratings are not fully justified,” she stressed.

Claims “we have a hopeless government in terms of ratings”

In October, not only the Social Democrats but also the government’s ratings fell slightly. When asked how they rate the current government’s performance, 34.7% of respondents rated it positively or rather positively (35.3% in August) and 58.5% rather negatively or negatively (55.5% in September).

According to Ms Urbonaitė, this change does not send any new signals of concern about the government, as the overall ratings are following the same trend. However, public fatigue regarding the current crises remains strong enough to be reflected in the ratings.

“So far, this is not a drop that we could consider critical. We can say that there is still movement within the margin of error, but this means that it can move in the other direction [improvement]. […]

Now we can see what the overall situation is like – we are not getting good news lately. But some of this is not the government’s fault – it is not the government that is spreading the virus, it is not the government that is to blame for the prices, etc. – these are complex problems,” the political scientist noted.

Mr Ivanovas is a bit stricter in his assessment of the government’s ratings. He believes that the government’s “inability” to cope with the ratings is phenomenal and that “as far as the ratings are concerned, we have a desperate government.”

“We seem to have reached the bottom, but someone knocked from below. I think that what is knocking is what is being protested on today – the children’s opportunity passport, the huge meandering that we are witnessing and which is not going anywhere.

<…> Its overall functioning is very chaotic. It is the most chaotic government in terms of its performance – with no plan, with no strategic insight, but with statements that contradict each other. It would seem that the migrant crisis should help the government’s ratings, but this is not the case,” he said.

Nor should the government be expected to take into account its declining ratings, he said, because “there has never been a case in history where the electorate, through its civic institutions, has been able to hold the government to account.”

“They are just watching how things are going, what decisions are being taken. But, so far, we see that the public is not actively expressing its position – quietly, restrainedly sabotaging the goals that are set for the government is bad.

If the public does not trust the government in this way, how can we expect the recommendations to be corrected?” he asked.

Saudargas: “Crises overshadow the positive”

The deputy speaker of the Seimas, a member of the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) group, Paulius Saudargas, also assessed the government’s declined ratings.

According to him, a negative public perception of the ruling party is a normal phenomenon, and it is difficult to expect its numbers and support to grow when the government is struggling with several crises simultaneously.

“When you are treating people, you have to perform surgery and painful procedures that the patient may not like – again, the ranks of supporters may thin. I think it’s natural,” he told the tv3.lt news portal.

Asked whether the government’s ratings would be better if there were no crises, the politician did not hesitate to say “yes”, because “other news is being generated in a rather positive way”.

“We can be happy that the economy has recovered this year – we have sufficient economic growth, export markets are recovering, investments are recovering. We also have a lot of positive things to be happy about and for people to welcome. But these crises are overshadowing the positives,” he noted.

Calls on social democrats to get to work

The Social Democrats’ popularity fell slightly during the month, with 13% of respondents saying they would have voted for them (13.9% in September).

Although the ruling Conservatives are still lagging behind (11.6% of respondents would have voted for them), political analysts interviewed by news portal tv3.lt saw serious potential threats to the Social Democratic Party. According to them, the party has not been broadcasting any effective, reasoned and substantive messages lately, which is a liability for them.

“Perhaps some episodes were more constructive, but basically the rating has risen with the arrival of Vilija Blinkevičiūtė, who herself is very positively received.

[…] The Social Democrats look very good, not because they themselves are “nice”, but because the other parties look “very ugly”. Because the disappointment with all the other parties was quite high, people’s expectations were concentrated here,” Urbonaitė said, stressing that the Social Democrats’ ratings are about one person’s ratings, not about the party’s performance.

According to the political scientists, the Social Democrats’ group in the Seimas looks very weak and grey, with no strong statements from the recently re-elected prefect of the group, Gintautas Paluckas, the former prefect of the group, Algirdas Sysas, or any other group members.

“Both Mr Sysas and the old guard have fallen, slumped down and quite loudly so. The engine of the Social Democrats is V. Blinkevičiūtė, and I would like to see some kind of her team made up of adequately thinking people, true Social Democrats.

We don’t see any other engines, and if we continue not seeing them, it will be bad,” Mr Ivanovas predicted.

R. Urbonaitė agrees, saying that if the Social Democrats do not change their strategy, they “will not be able to stay in the party ratings for long.”

“The rest of the “company” around V. Blinkevičiūtė is not yet attractive.

[…] The Social Democrats lack a clear strategy because episodic appearances and the accumulation of ratings through the person of Ms Blinkevičiūtė will not succeed. To be strong and to have long-term potential the party needs more than one person,” she stresses.

For the Social Democrats to gain a stronger position, now is the time to start working directly with the voters, not just criticising the decisions of those in power, because “the limits of criticism have already been reached,” believes Mr Ivanovas.

The poll was conducted by the public opinion and market research company Spinter Tyrimai on behalf of the news portal delfi.lt from 18-28 October.

The survey covered 1015 respondents aged between 18 and 75 years. A combined survey method was used: 50% telephone survey, 50% online survey. The margin of error of the survey results is 3.1%.

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