News2019.05.06 10:30

Who is who in Lithuania's presidential race

Justinas Šuliokas, 2019.05.06 10:30

Lithuanian voters are hitting the polls in a week to elect the country's new president. With nine candidates to choose from and over 13 percent of the electorate still undecided, the race outcome is far from certain.

The roster includes the incumbent prime minister, several MPs and MEPs, a banker and a European commissioner. One of them is going to be the next president of Lithuania.

Ingrida Šimonytė

With her no-nonsense tone, Šimonytė appeals to the fans of the current president who hope that she would continue the level-headed stewardship of the state from above party politics. Šimonytė's sober campaign slogan, “Let's agree, finally”, promises just that.

In addition to that, Šimonytė's platform pays tribute to fighting poverty and inequality – as do most other candidates – though in a decidedly un-populist tone. That, however, may be Šimonytė's weak point – as finance minister in the conservative-led 2009 government, she oversaw a package of painful austerity measures, including pension cuts, that her opponents readily bring up.

Opinion polls put Šimonytė among the front-runners with a fair chance to qualify for the run-offs. The latest survey put her voter share at 27.3 percent.

Gitanas Nausėda

A newcomer in politics, Nausėda hails from banking and does not have a political baggage to press him down. He has built a reputation as the ultimate expert on finance and economics, enjoying popularity with urban middle-class voters.

He has also worked to expand his basis into rural areas and “welfare state” features prominently in Nausėda's platform, though his appeal is one of a decidedly centrist candidate.

Since launching his campaign, Nausėda enjoyed a front-runner status and is still one of the favourites to advance to the run-off. The latest survey gives him 26.8 percent of the vote.

Saulius Skvernelis

The prime minister presents himself as a man of the people and feels more at home at his rallies than talking to the more sceptical media crowd.

A former minister of the interior and prime minister since 2016, Skvernelis likes to play up his government's more popular policies – minimum wage raises, tax cuts – while still presenting himself as a bit of an outsider opposing the political establishment.

His platform contains the usual giveaways to key constituencies – raising pensions, expanding benefits for parents – without specifying how it will be paid for, repeating the mantra of reclaiming taxes from the black market and streamlining the government.

The polls put Skvernelis in the third place, but with a significant number of voters still undecided, he has a realistic chance of making it to the run-offs. The latest survey gives him 20.4 percent of the vote.

Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis

Andriukaitis is a political veteran, having served as Lithuania's minister of health and currently a European commissioner.

The candidate of one of the country's major parties, the Social Democrats, Andriukaitis started his campaign late and low.

His poll numbers have steadily grown, thanks to a refreshingly consistent social democratic and pro-European platform, but may not be enough to land Andriukaitis a spot in the run-off.

In the latest poll, he is still a distant fourth with 9.7 percent of the vote.

Arvydas Juozaitis

An independent candidate, Juozaitis combines in his platform left-wing economic policies with nationalist rhetoric, railing against globalisation, “eurofederalism” and political correctness.

In one of the more memorable campaign moments, Juozaitis walked out of a live televised debate, having accused the public broadcaster of bias against himself and other underdog candidates.

The latest poll gives him 5.5 percent of the vote.

Valdemar Tomaševski

The leader of the party representing Lithuania's Polish-speaking community, Tomaševski has been around for a long time and has run many presidential campaigns. His base is loyal enough to land him a seat in two successive European Parliaments, but perhaps not populous enough to deliver the presidency.

Tomaševski campaigns for ethnic minority rights, but otherwise his platform is as socially conservative as it gets, advocating abortion ban, anti-LGBTQ rights, and a greater role for the Catholic Church. Tomaševski's pro-Kremlin views are another mark of distinction.

The polls put him in the sixth spot with 3.8 percent of the vote.

Naglis Puteikis

“I represent the underclasses,” Puteikis insists. The MP presents himself as the fiercest opponent of the political establishment, whom he accuses of corruption and cronyism of the worst kind, and defender of the underdog.

In his platform, Puteikis calls for more direct democracy, judicial reforms, and better pay for everyone. While not explicitly anti-EU, he has railed against “Europe of bureaucrats”.

The latest poll gives him 2.7 percent of the vote.

Valentinas Mazuronis

Mazuronis is best known as a former companion of the impeached president Rolandas Paksas, has served as the country's minister of environment and is now a member of the European Parliament.

Running as an independent, he has built his platform on calls to strengthen the nation state, fight inequality, and involve more people into state governance.

The polls give him 2.1 percent of the vote.

Mindaugas Puidokas

The youngest of the nine candidates, Puidokas sought his party's nomination, but decided to run without it – and leave the Farmers and Greens Union – when the party went with the prime minister.

Puidokas has built a reputation as a defender of families, fighting fiercely against foreigners adopting Lithuanian children and child services taking away offspring from abusive parents.

The polls predicts he will finish last of the nine, with 1.7 percent.

The poll results are based on a survey by Vilmorus conducted on April 4-13. The numbers exclude the undecided respondents.

The Lithuanian presidential election is scheduled for May 12, with the run-off vote on May 26.

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