Ušackas announces he will not seek the post of president if he loses to Šimonytė in the party primaries

Ingrida Šimonytė and Vygaudas Ušackas
DELFI montage

Ingrida Šimonytė has also arrived at the presidential election starting line. Whom will the TS-LKD choose – her or Vygaudas Ušackas? The former minister of finance will compete with the former minister of foreign affairs for the office of president.

Featured on Delfi’s Dėmesio Centre – Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats Seimas group member Ingrida Šimonytė. Also – comments from another potential TS-LKD candidate, ambassador Vygaudas Ušackas, political scientists and analysts.

When queried on her announcement of participating in the presidential race, I. Šimonytė noted that tension has eased and constant questioning of when and what will be stated. She notes that regardless of what decision she had made, there would be no turning back and that if she did not believe she had any chances of winning the race, she would not have entered.

Expert comments on I. Šimonytė’s advantages

Vytautas Bruveris, analyst for the Lietuvos Rytas newspaper

“The strongest side of Šimonytė is that she is a lively person. Her speech is lively, she quickly catches her bearings and speaks with confidence. Of course, she speaks with confidence on the topics she is familiar with – primarily economics, finance and other questions. Overall, based on her public image, how she acts and writes, mainly on Facebook, she leaves the impression of a lively person. In the current context, overall in politics nowadays, this is a sorely lacking trait and with this, she exceeds all her potential competitors.”

Vladas Gaidys, head of the public opinion research agency Vilmorus

“Most likely, her strongest side, a miracle and surprise for me, is that public confidence in her has always been high. In autumn 2009 when Šimonytė was minister of finance, her ratings were very high, around 30% evaluating positively and only around 9% negatively. If we are to look at the balance in that period, only D. Grybauskaitė and Cardinal A. J. Bačkis were above her.”

Mažvydas Jastramskis, VU Institute of International Relations and Politics and Kaunas Technology University political scientist

“I think she has two main advantages. Firstly, Šimonytė is appealing to Conservative voters and these voters will likely support her. And Conservative voters as a group are the largest group in terms of voting consistently and appearing in elections in Lithuania. Thus alongside respective conditions, this could even guarantee entry into the second round. Second advantage – very clear competence in economics and in Lithuania the largest problems for people are namely economic ones: prices, wages and such. I would also add that there is an immeasurable X factor – it is very hard to grasp, how being minister of finance during a crisis, Ingrida Šimonytė managed to nonetheless remain one of the most popular individuals in the Conservative sphere. This shows that she has something.”

In terms of comments on her lasting popularity, I. Šimonytė downplays it as not being all that phenomenal. Nevertheless, she notes, “But as I said earlier, I believe that people value simplicity and honesty. I do not know whether there are people, who thought at the time [During the 2008-2009 financial crisis] that all the country’s financial problems and their solutions bring me joy, that I do not care. To me, as a normal person, it was truly difficult and painful that we must escape the situation this way. Most likely, talking, not trying to escape the topic or sending advisors to comment was what appealed to people.

In her declaration of participation in the presidential elections, I. Šimonytė noted that the president is the guarantor of the Constitution and that there was need to safeguard constitutional principles. She points out how in her opinion, a part of the parliamentary majority have thought for two years now that democracy is the dictate of the majority against the minority. The presidential hopeful notes that the singular belief that dictate against anyone is ok is already a problem and this is a repeating narrative in recent years. “The Constitution speaks very clearly about human rights and about how the minority must be defended,” she emphasises.

Regarding her personal or value opposition to the current parliamentary majority, I. Šimonytė explains that there have been numerous discussions ever since the 2016 parliamentary elections, various proposals from the opposition, which were side-lined in Seimas. Nevertheless, she believes that there are matters, where consensus is possible, which was proven by the signing of the defence agreement.

As far as her family life is concerned, I. Šimonytė explained that she lives with her mother and happily cares for her sister’s children, when needed and that she holds no secrets in this regard. Overall, she believes that it is better to not judge people based on their personal life, instead operating on the principle of “live and let live”. “As long as other people’s life does not hinder you, it is fundamentally their choice, how to live. You should judge people based on their work,” she stated.

Expert comments on I. Šimonytė’s weaknesses

Vytautas Bruveris, analyst for the Lietuvos Rytas newspaper

“She is a very niche candidate and a very niche political figure. Šimonytė is known, liked and valued as a politician mostly on the right wing. I would say even more bluntly – in the Conservative camp or even a part of it. Of course, another matter that we all know her opponents will exploit is that she was the crisis minister, that the so-called nightly tax reform is her work and that she is one of the main figures representing the Vilnius elite of lordlings, banks and other evils, which robbed the nation.”

Mažvydas Jastramskis, VU Institute of International Relations and Politics and Kaunas Technology University political scientist

“Of course, just as there are strong sides, there are weak ones. If a strong side is that the Conservatives will vote for her, then a problem she has is the so called electoral separation. That is to say, when you have presidential elections and parliamentary elections, there will be differences in the voters of a candidate and of the party. I would guess that Šimonytė’s voters are on average a little younger than those of the Conservatives. But what the difference will be in terms of extra people from the side, who come to vote for her, it is hard to say right now. The Conservatives have to pray that this separation would be large because their electorate will not suffice to win the presidential elections. The second minus is obviously linked to the crisis. Now that she has declared that she will run in the party’s primaries and will likely participate in the main presidential elections, she will be hammered.”

As V. Bruveris pointed out, a potential narrative I. Šimonytė’s rivals may exploit is “Šimonytė robbed the nation.” To this, she responds that just the same, she robbed herself as well because the wages of politicians and civil servants were reduced first of all when the crisis struck and the reductions were the largest. “Yes, there were difficult and unpopular decisions. Psychologists say that people remember a raise for three months, while a pay cut – their entire lives. So I would find it difficult to counteract such conclusions, thus I will seek to explain, as I have up to now, why certain decisions were made,” I. Šimonytė states.

V. Ušackas is currently I. Šimonytė’s rival in the Conservative primaries that are to be held in November, but he is currently significantly behind in terms of nominations from party branches. The former ambassador states that in order to reduce the gap, he will continue doing as he has – speaking to people. “I believe in the idea that the TS-LKD party must open up to other people, other citizens. I have competence, experience that I gained over long years of work that is needed for a president. I believe that I will convince people,” he states.

Following primaries held in the United States, it is often the case that the losing party endorses the winner of the primaries in the final presidential bid. V. Ušackas notes that he is prepared to prove to people that he is a suitable candidate and will be presenting an economic plan for Lithuania. Nevertheless, he denies that he will forge ahead, regardless of the party’s choice and expresses doubt whether if one loses in the primaries, they could expect victory in the national elections.

When queried on what she would do if she failed to win party support in the primaries, I. Šimonytė directly stated that there could not be any talks at all of continued participation in the presidential elections if she lost in the primaries. Instead, she would withdraw from the race and would back the winning candidate because it was the choice of the community.

In terms of her campaigning, I. Šimonytė explains that she will be chasing Mr. Ušackas, travelling around Lithuania as much as possible within the remaining month. She points out that while V. Ušackas may be known to have supporters outside the party, this is not something exclusive to him and that she will seek support both within and without.

Regarding how she would view herself if she were outside the presidential race, I. Šimonytė notes that it is very difficult to impartially evaluate oneself. The closest approximation she could find was along the lines of V. Bruveris’ comments of being an open, honest and straightforward person, speaking what has to be said, not what someone may want to hear. “I believe that it will already be a great achievement if I reach as many people as possible with my message, for example regarding the social contract,” she notes.

I. Šimonytė is known for her fondness of quotes from the book The Good Soldier Švejk. She explains that it is actually hard to say it is her favourite book, but instead an aside that she keeps by herself. “When I need an idea, wherever you open up the book – you will find one. This is probably the sort of relationship that has develop with the book here. Perhaps because I have worked in state service for many years. There is much subordination and commands like in the military here. Unfortunately, also the idiotism as well. When you recognise these matters, it can’t fail to hook you,” Ingrida Šimonytė says.

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