News2019.05.28 15:18

What to expect from President Gitanas Nausėda

The Kondrotai family spent last Sunday night glued to their TV set, following election results come in as Gitanas Nausėda and Ingrida Šimonytė faced off in Lithuania's presidential runoff.

Both candidates would have made good presidents, the retired couple say, but now all their expectations are pinned on Nausėda.

The expectations are pretty straightforward. “To make life better for our children, grandchildren. So that you can travel freely. Not to run short of money,” Danutė Kondrotienė summarizes her expectations for the new president. “The pensions are very small”.

Her husband Alfonsas Kondrotas believes that Nausėda can deliver: “A young man, well-educated, he should achieve everything easily,” he says.

The election of the political novice Gitanas Nausėda to the Lithuanian presidency has everyone wondering about his political agenda. While his campaign focused on economy and income inequality, experts say these issues mostly fall beyond president's purview.

“Voters' expectations are high,” says Šarūnas Liekis of Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, “and they will essentially point the finger at one person for all the failures in domestic and foreign policy.”

“This might present a real problem for the president,” he adds.

First, the president-elect will have to assemble a team, observers say, which will be key to his success. Aistis Zabarauskas, the communications manager of Nausėda's campaign, has already agreed to handle his public relations from the presidential palace as well.

“Without any political experience, the newly elected president will have it hard, unless he has a good team, a backing from like-minded people with whom he agrees on basic political issues,” says Liekis.

Another challenge for Nausėda is to define the terms of engagement with the parliament, Seimas, and its ruling parties.

“And this, I think, is one of the more intriguing aspects,” says Dovilė Jakniūnaitė of Vilnius University. “He has said himself, and it will probably be so, that things will be different than they are under the current President Dalia Grybauskaitė who has had a tense and conflict-ridden relationship with the parliament.”

The area that Nausėda was less vocal about during the campaign was his plans for appointments to the courts, security agencies, and the prosecutors' offices which fall within the president's purview.

“It is going to be interesting, because we didn't hear anything about it during the campaign, no names were mentioned,” Jakniūnaitė comments.

On the other hand, observers expect few surprises from Nausėda in what is the president's main function, foreign policymaking. Most expect him to continue in the steps of the predecessor, President Grybauskaitė – tough line on Russia and efforts to build bridges with Lithuania's neighbours, notably Poland.

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Nausėda titled his platform “Welfare state” and made much of fighting economic inequality. Observers say it is an important priority, but not really in the direct power of the president. At the same time, no campaign could do without addressing economy.

“The Lithuanian society, generally, hold economic issues in high priority – inadequate incomes, low purchasing power, income inequality are important issues for the society,” according to Nerijus Mačiulis, a chief economist of Swedbank.

Read more: Lithuania's President-elect Nausėda press conference – key takeaways

“Welfare state is not an abstract idea,” says Raimondas Kuodis, deputy board chairman of the Bank of Lithuania. “Welfare state is a set of social rights, social security and welfare measures, social services that are very concrete and are already in place in Lithuania, some of them working better, some worse. So filling this lofty phrase with content will require a lot of thought and balancing of interests.”

The outgoing president has, regretfully, paid little attention to economic issues, he adds.

Still, economic and social policymaking is mostly the government's domain.

“The president, surely, can exert some influence, send a signal to the Seimas, the government, and the society, to put forward important priorities, but he does not make the decisions directly,” says Mačiulis. “He can only either sign bills into law or not.”

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