The debate featured six candidates: former SEB bank chief economist Gitanas Nausėda, MP Aušra Maldeikienė, philosopher Arvydas Juozaitis, MEP Petras Auštrevičius, MP Ingrida Šimonytė and MP Naglis Puteikis.
Two groups of candidates
VDU professor Algis Krupavičius saw there being two groups of presidential candidates. According to him, one was formed of those, who sought to formulate their political positions through an expert lens. This group is comprised of G. Nausėda, P. Auštrevičius and I. Šimonytė. The second group was comprised of A. Maldeikienė, A. Juozaitis and N. Puteikis, which he described as the challenge and opposition group.
“The candidates displayed certain traits of theirs, certain political priorities. Their statements were not equally competent and detailed in all regards, but the electoral campaign has only begun. Consistency and detail are still lacking in programmes. Some, talking about details more, departed from the point. Some were weaker in some questions, while with others, were interesting and had arguments,” A. Krupavičius said.
Nonetheless, he pointed out that some candidates have a lesson to learn. The political scientist was surprised that there were candidates, who found the questions to be incorrect. According to him, the candidates must remember a rule – there are no incorrect questions in an electoral campaign, only incorrect answers.
“The discussion was interesting on all topics. Sometimes concentration and detail were lacking in the answers. For example, there was a question of what they would have done during the 2008-2010 economic crisis. Views were more or less critical of the policy decisions made. G. Nausėda and I. Šimonytė were less critical.
On education policy, some discussed primary education, while others – higher education. Thematically, the discussion was not always coherent. On defence spending, everyone remained more or less politically correct. I would say that there perhaps was not always some originality, different views, different arguments. In the context of all the candidates, perhaps A. Juozaitis stood out, trying to find unusual arguments in his answers to various questions. But he lacked precision and detail,” A. Krupavičius said.
In terms of how some candidates have far more knowledge in some topics, but need to put in effort in others, the VDU professor pointed out A. Maldeikienė. According to him, she presented her thoughts clearly, had strong arguments, demonstrated her knowledge and set the tone for the other candidates in regard to economics, however in matters of justice and culture, A. Krupavičius found her to be lacking in arguments.
Key question – “Farmer” candidate
Vilnius Institute of Political Analysis Medias Programme head Donatas Puslys noted regarding the debate that in his opinion, the best performances were those of A. Maldeikienė and I. Šimonytė. According to him, the two candidates’ statements were the best argued and compared to the others – the most consistent.
He also noted consistency in A. Juozaitis’ statements as well. According to the expert, this candidate seeks to present himself based on the image of Hungary’s Viktor Orban. “He has a sort of idea baggage, seeks to construct everything more consistently, feels the audience quite well. <…> We could talk about what his position would yield in reality rather than whether it is consistent. I believe that it would, in a certain sense, turn us into what Hungary is now,” D. Puslys spoke.
In regard to N. Puteikis, the head of the Vilnius Institute of Political Analysis Media Programme stated that the candidate often speculates on conspiracy theories. “During the debate you could hear how everyone is stealing, there is much corruption, that we have export of children to New Zealand. At one point, he even mentioned that he suspects a conspiracy theory regarding the merger of higher education institutions. This is truly an interesting phenomenon.
Bulgarian philosopher Ivan Krastev has said that when a party or candidate lacks ideology, it often happens that it is replaced by conspiracy theory as a mobilisation tool,” A. Puslys stated.
According to him, G. Nausėda appeared solid because you could see he is able to speak to an audience. Nevertheless, some of his statements left D. Puslys surprised. For example, in terms of economics, preparation for the recession, the candidate stated that we cannot change world trends. “To me this looks like talking about obvious facts. The format of a debate demands focus, there isn’t much time, thus it should not be wasted on obvious matters.
Also, stating that we can prepare for recession by enacting education and healthcare reforms. I do not dismiss the importance of these reforms, but it is not enough. I believe the key question is why there was no talk about the state’s social model. A. Maldeikienė stated that we must particularly prepare for recession when there is growth. She emphasised that it is education, the public sector and state service that gains the least from growth. We must resolve this issue,” D. Puslys said.
In terms of P. Auštrevičius’ performance in the debate, D. Puslys stated that the candidate is stronger in terms of foreign policy, however is a little distant to domestic policy, which is his weakness. For example, D. Puslys highlights P. Auštrevičius’ answer on education, where he stated that we must focus on the best because mediocrity will not create a state.
“It is not bad to say we must focus on the best, but what does it meant o say that mediocrities do not create anything? The segregation of education is not simply a matter that can be express in numbers. This way, you may disregard provincial teachers, who may not raise top scorers, but perhaps will change the lives of children, who live in difficult conditions. There was a lack of social sensitivity. This somewhat harmed P. Auštrevičius,” the head of Vilnius Institute of Political Analysis Medias Programme head stated.
According to him, I. Šimonytė and A. Maldeikienė performed better when talking about education. The Conservatives’ candidate stated that education is not only a material question, but also a moral question. According to D. Puslys, I. Šimonytė did well to state that “you cannot simply calculate the number of children, divide up the budget by the number of children and say that it is expensive.” Meanwhile, A. Maldeikienė, he notes, emphasised that teachers must have opportunities to learn themselves and while classes in the province are empty, they are overfilled in the cities.
“However, this is just the first debate. Fundamental questions, which are relevant and would highlight differences between the candidates were lacking. It is very important to await further debates. However, everyone understands now that we are really lacking a seventh – “Farmer” candidate. It is an important question of who they will nominate and who will stand to debate next,” D. Puslys spoke.