Who could replace Šimonytė?

Ingrida Šimonytė
Organizatorių nuotr.

After the leaders of the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats, Gabrielius Landsbergis and Ingrida Šimonytė, decided to call for early elections, and if they do not take place – to resign the entire government, a certain veil of uncertainty has been created in the political field: no one knows exactly how the other political actors – the parties that make up the coalition, the opposition forces, and the President Gitanas Nausėda – will act, Eglė Samoškaitė is writing at the tv3.lt news portal.

Assuming that the early elections fail to win 85 votes in the Seimas, it is possible to go one step further and assume that Prime Minister Šimonytė will keep her word and leave office. In such a case, the President would, in accordance with the Constitution, either give the current Government a temporary mandate or appoint one of the ministers to act as Prime Minister until a new Government is formed.

In the absence of early elections, it is likely that the current ruling majority, which currently consists of the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats with 50 members of the Seimas, the Liberal Movement with 13 seats in the Seimas (including the Speaker of the Seimas), and the Freedom Party with 11 representatives, could be maintained.

Who could continue as Prime Minister until the next parliamentary elections in 2024? What kind of Prime Minister would suit both the President, who is himself likely to seek a second term in May and the fragile majority of the Parliament? There are several scenarios in this respect, which tv3.lt discussed with some conservative politicians who are deliberately not named in this article, as well as with communication expert Linas Kontrimas.

Ingrida Šimonytė II. Resurrection 

After resigning from her post, Ingrid Šimonytė could legally be nominated again by the President to the Seimas for the post of Prime Minister, but the conservative politicians who have agreed to share their thoughts with the portal believe that this is not a very likely option, because Ingrid Šimonytė herself would look rather comical, even if she were to get the backing of the same ruling majority.

The politician herself has previously stated firmly that she does not intend to seek a vote of confidence in the current composition of the Seimas and that a new confirmation would be like a new vote of confidence. Conservatives consider it highly doubtful that Šimonytė would want to put herself in such a position. 

“I think it would be a shame for her and for the party to nominate again someone who, in principle, does not have a good understanding of the state as a whole,” said L. Kontrimas, a communications expert, adding that the Prime Minister has demonstrated her unsuitability for the job recently when she decided to step down from the post if the Seimas does not call for snap elections.

This was the strategy chosen by the conservative leaders in response to the cheque scandal, which has affected all political parties, but has hurt the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats quite badly because they are currently the ruling party and promised a much higher level of political culture prior to the elections.

“I don’t believe that in thirty years, the Patriotic Union has been unable to develop other leaders. I think Šimonytė is already a burnt option, although I am not saying that the conservatives could not put her forward. It’s just that, from my subjective point of view, it would be a mockery of politics”, says Kontrimas.

How much is in the President’s interest?

When assessing the political situation, President Nausėda will always take into account the map for the 2024 presidential elections, as he will not want to breed a competitor for himself, according to politicians and high-level officials who spoke to tv3.lt.

A second bid for the presidency would be in the President’s interests, as he has already lost to Nausėda, and as the incumbent prime minister has traditionally been accused of sins that would not have been committed, he is as comfortable as a boxing pear.

“If the Patriotic Union tries to make a martyr out of I. Šimonytė, saying that they have irritated her, but she was good, it would pay the President to bring her back to the premiership and let her experience all the pleasure of the created “politics”. Because the consequences are already coming and coming”, contemplated L. Kontrimas

“But if he chooses to play a game that is good for the country, then he should ask for another nomination”, the interlocutor thought.

Nausėda himself, in an interview with TV3’s “Dėmesio Centre”, did not close the door to such a possibility, saying that “everything is possible”. In this way, the Head of State demonstrated that he was waiting for the political parties’ next steps and did not limit his actions.

Monika Navickienė. One shot, two birds with one stone

The nomination of the Minister of Social Security and Labour, Monika Navickė, as Prime Minister could be a kind of salvation for the conservatives. Some conservative politicians believe that Ms Navickienė is projected to become the new President of the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats after Mr Landsbergis, who has declared that he no longer intends to run for the post. Navickienė would greatly benefit from greater visibility in national politics, which is exactly what the post of Prime Minister guarantees – all she needs is a year without making serious mistakes.

The election of a party leader within the Homeland Union of Lithuanian Christian Democrats is scheduled for the beginning of 2025, after the regular parliamentary elections in October 2024. If things go as they are now, the regular elections would be meaningless for the conservatives, and it would be difficult for a representative of the Landsberg faction to celebrate a victory in the chairmanship elections. And the fact that the Conservatives do not expect anything good in the next parliamentary elections is signalled by their desire to hold early elections: that is to say, to cut costs sharply now.

Navickas’s delegation could be a turning point: she has not yet been caught up in any political scandal, has so far behaved in an accentuatedly cautious manner, and is quite well regarded in society, although she does not come close to the popularity of Arvydas Anušauskas.

According to the data of Vilmorus, a public opinion and market research company, in May this year, 20.3% of respondents had a positive opinion of Navickas, while 33.3% had a negative opinion. In May 2022, 30.9% of respondents had a favourable opinion of Ms Navickas, and 24.3% had an unfavourable opinion.

“The most likely scenario is that she will be nominated for the premiership”, one conservative believes, suggesting that this is a way for Landsberg’s flank to continue to lead the party without facing more competition from other ambitious politicians in the party.

According to the interlocutor, if Ms Navickienė is successful in demonstrating her good qualities, she could take over the leadership of the party after Landsberg’s early resignation and lead the party into the next parliamentary elections in October 2024 or possibly be put forward as a candidate for the presidential elections in May 2024.

“If she were to be nominated, she would be a chance of hope for the Conservatives for next year. If she does well, she would help the electoral list. But we don’t know if it would succeed”, believes communications expert L. Kontrim.

“In my opinion, she has not yet shown herself to be capable of taking on public affairs. But, you know, a politician of Irena Degutienė’s type would be the most helpful for the Patriotic Union right now,” Kontrimas said.

To what extent is it in the interests of the President?

If Ms Navickienė does well and has a concrete plan to strengthen her image, she could be the candidate of the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christians in the presidential elections and a rival to Mr Nausėda. This might not appeal to the President, who has not yet said he will seek a second term but has not said he will not. Traditionally, the “neither confirm nor deny” posture in political matters means a “yes” answer.

“If Ms Navickas’ image is strengthened to the point where she could be a presidential candidate, then the President would be in a bit of danger,” Kontrimas believes. However, it will be difficult for the President to assess the potential of this politician for the future when making a decision.

Arvydas Anušauskas. The most popular person to be “burned”?

Another potential candidate for the prime minister’s chair is the Minister of National Defence, Arvydas Anušauskas, although the conservatives who spoke to the portal believe that this would only be done if “they wanted to burn him”. The problem is that while Anušauskas is quite popular in society, he is not liked in the party, especially among Landsbergis supporters. The politician is seen as inflexible, lazy, and uninitiated, and it is often said that the Prime Minister should work for him.

One conservative politician who spoke to the portal considered that the appointment of Anušauskas as Prime Minister could “burn” his popularity and expose his weaknesses, but this would probably damage the political party before the next parliamentary elections and would therefore be a highly questionable step.

But Anušauskas is the most popular politician in the party: according to Vilmorus data from May this year, Anušauskas was viewed positively by 44.3% of people surveyed and negatively by 27.7%.

People generally seek to use their popularity as a resource to achieve bigger goals. But in the expert community and his own party, Anušauskas does not have many supporters, or they have kept quiet so far.

“I’m afraid to be very critical, but Anušauskas is not even in the running to be a minister, so what about the position of Prime Minister? If there are rumours that if his candidacy were to be submitted, he would be burned and would no longer pose a threat to the future of a certain internal group of the Homeland Union, that is an option, but I don’t see a good option for us, the citizens,” says Kontrimas.

To what extent is it in the interests of the President?

When considering such a candidate for the premiership, Nausėda would undoubtedly assess whether Anušauskas would be able to compete with him in the presidential elections. The fact that this politician is popular in society should not bode well for Nausėda.

But, for example, communications expert L. Kontrimas says that a competitor like Anušauskas could be quite comfortable, as the incumbent has objectively better credentials for the presidency.

For her part, Rima Urbonaitė, a political scientist at Mykolas Romeris University, has said that Anušauskas is untouchable only because he has the backing of the President.

Gabrielius Landsbergis. Why not?

Although Landsbergis’ name has not been mentioned as a candidate for Prime Minister, in a democracy, the leader of the largest political party usually heads the cabinet of ministers, so it would not be surprising if, after Šimonytė’s resignation, Landsbergis were to take her place for a year especially since he and Ms Šimonytė have been the ones who have been cooking this political pot.

This politician often repeats that he is ‘over popularity’, which means that he is aware that he is unpopular, that he no longer has any hopes in this area, and that he could therefore be seen, in principle, as a worker bee when duty calls. This would not be good for the political party, as the next parliamentary elections will be in October 2024, but the situation can be remedied by finding a good and popular presidential candidate before then.

“There is a lot of caricaturing of Landsbergis, whether necessary or not, but I will say it positively: he has changed a lot during this term of office; his communication has changed, his behaviour has changed, and he has become so involved in the role of the foreign minister that he has even forgotten that he is the party’s chair. If he were to be appointed Prime Minister, political justice would be restored. We would see how the President himself would react to that. If he fails, he will be in for a full dressing down. But maybe it will work?” said Mr Kontrimas.

How much is in the President’s interest? Given the exceptionally poor relations between Landsbergis and Nausėda, the President would probably want to “teach him a lesson” for his mistakes and might decide to put forward a candidacy to the Parliament if that was the will of the majority. Moreover, Mr Landsberg’s unpopularity is a favourable factor for Mr Nausėda, as Mr Landsbergis would be no match for him.

However, Kontrimas points out that the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats, as a party, has significant financial and human resources and, in some cases, demonstrates the ability to control public opinion, for example, by turning Valdas Benkunskis, an unpopular politician who lacks charisma, into the Mayor of Vilnius.

“Bearing in mind that our voters have a short memory, and with a great deal of communication, the minus for Landsbergis can be turned into a plus in some places,” says the expert, stressing that this rule could also be applied to Navickienė.

Technocrat. Mr or Mrs X

Politicians and experts do not rule out the possibility that a technocrat from outside the country could be appointed as the head of the cabinet for a year and then rewarded with a post abroad.

For example, in the government of Andrius Kubilius, Algirdas Šemeta was the first Minister of Finance, who did unpopular things, cut spending, and then was offered the post of European Commissioner.

L. Kontrimas notes that such so-called technocrats were also I in their time. Šimonytė herself, as well as Vilija Blinkevičiūtė, although they were appointed ministers, not Prime Ministers. He did not rule out the possibility of a technocrat becoming Prime Minister, especially since many ambitious people revolve around conservatives.

A representative of the small coalition partners

There is currently little talk among politicians about a prime minister from outside the Conservatives, but one of the interlocutors, who did not want to be named, suggested that a politician from the small coalition partners – a politician from the Liberal Movement or the Freedom Party – could become prime minister. However, this would only happen if the conservatives, the major coalition partners, did not object or if the governing majority was reshuffled.

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