TS-LKD decision to organise primaries – public relations stunt or greater transparency?

Gabrielius Landsbergis, Irena Degutienė
DELFI / Andrius Ufartas

The Conservatives’ decision to organise open primaries could be viewed by people as being a public relations stunt, which seeks to deceive voters or increase trust in the party and its candidates, political scientist Bernaras Ivanovas tells lrt.lt. According to political scientist Rima Urbonaitė, voters participating in the primaries actively could be disappointed with the result, however both specialists agree that such a decision could contribute to greater transparency and increase democracy, lrt.lt writes.

The Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) will be organising open primaries for the coming mayor and presidential elections, not only party members will be able to vote, but also those, who support the party’s values. The Conservatives will draw all Lithuanian citizens to their primaries – the winning candidate will then go on to participate in the main elections.

The right to vote on the final Conservative candidate will also be granted to individuals not belonging to another political party, who register in the voting system and declare agreement with TS-LKD activities and the party’s values. Voters will vote for their preferred candidate based on ballots in party headquarters.

A. Kubilius: primaries will yield the stronger candidate

Member of Seimas, TS-LKD Politics Committee chairman Andrius Kubilius explains that the mayoral primaries will be held in the major cities – Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda, perhaps also Panevėžys and other larger cities.

The MP is confident in the benefits of this decision: “This will help us select the stronger candidates, who will have a far stronger mandate in such a case when running in the real elections.”

A. Kubilius muses that such primaries could raise people’s trust in parties.

“It is important to draw people into the making of the most important party decisions. It is crucial that people would feel that the parties are not just a closed off space, that they also listen to voters’ opinions, especially when they make key decisions,” A. Kubilius assured.

The conservative believes that such primaries are a more democratic solution than choosing a candidate internally in the party or “in closed off offices.”

A. Kubilius states that there is no fear of potential influence from political opponents: “We are certainly unafraid and believe that there will be more of those, who care about the life of the state and state affairs than those, who wish to harm our party.”

Political scientists: Conservative decision could increase transparency

Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) political scientist R. Urbonaitė says that any actions that seek to involve voters in party affairs are positive. According to her, for a time parties had grown distant to their voters and would only become more active in their activities in the run up to electoral campaigns, when they had to secure votes.

According to the political scientist, such primaries could increase voters trust in political parties and encourage a civic spirit among citizens. She notes that it is important for people to be given an opportunity to participate in the electoral process and not simply be involved through primitively handing in their vote.

“This is good to establish and deepen democracy because municipal rule is the platform here the people should first learn the rules of the democratic game. Those are the platforms where voters and citizens can realise that they have influence on the government’s decisions and together with the government they elect themselves – resolve various problems,” the political scientist explains.

Vytautas Magnus University (VDU) political scientist B. Ivanovas also believes that the Conservatives’ decision to organise primaries could contribute to more transparent elections and a more democratic spirit. According to him, such a system is already operating in some other Western democracies.

B. Ivanovas: opponents may seek to discredit the primaries

B. Ivanovas emphasises that the Conservatives should consider how to organise such elections and resolve potential technical challenges. According to the political scientist, with such elections, there is risk of troll and cyber-attacks, which the party’s political opponents could seek to use to ruin the TS-LKD idea.

According to B. Ivanovas, the organisation of such elections has interesting political aspects, but he is unwilling to hazard a guess at the results.

“The final result could be different to the expected,” the VDU political scientist doubted.

He points out that voters may interpret the decision to organise primaries as a public relations stunt, which seeks to deceive voters and increase trust in the party and its candidates. In his opinion, people may interpret this as seeking to postulate the ideal of transparency, that the party is electing not behind closed doors, but consulting with voters. B. Ivanov also agrees that political opponents may seek to discredit the idea and turn it into a public relations stunt.

“There will doubtless be anti-campaigns. If they succeed and various attacks and discrediting succeed, these primaries could yield negative results. There could be falsification of results or opponents ruining confidence in the procedure – it is no secret that all measures are possible in politics,” B. Ivanovas muses.

Voters must feel the weight of their vote

R. Urbonaitė also observes this risk and agrees that other parties could seek to interfere: “It is natural that opponents will not miss what both the Conservatives and other parties are doing.”

Nevertheless, she points out that the extent of political opponents’ influence on the elections will depend on the TS-LKD’s ability to manage the ongoing processes. According to the political scientist, it would not be difficult to notice external support for weaker or more suitable candidates.

R. Urbonaitė believes that people actively participating in the primaries could be disappointed with the results or the transparency of the process, thus it is important for voters to receive feedback and feel the weight of their votes. The political scientist states that people must understand that their votes are important not only during elections.

“It is very important that the people, who become involved in the process, would be heard, that it would not just be formal participation,” R. Urbonaitė says.

B. Ivanovas muses, how many people will register for the primaries. According to him, the success of the project will depend on the number of participating voters.

“If for example very few voters participate (5%) or only a few thousand go to vote, in such a case the question arises, whether this procedure has any real power,” the political scientist said.

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