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News2019.05.29 17:55

Nausėda’s victory in Lithuania’s presidential election could prove pyrrhic – opinion, Benas Gerdžiūnas 2019.05.29 17:55

If Nausėda doesn’t address the root of his support, he risks repeating the mistakes of Emmanuel Macron in France.

Gitanas Nausėda is set to become Lithuania’s fifth post-independence president. Yet, as much as heralding five more years of status-quo, the independent centrist victory could prove pyrrhic.

“Stability and continuity are my priorities and my values,” Nausėda told reports on Sunday night.

The sweeping, 66 to 33 percent, victory over Ingrida Šimonyte risks skewing how much people actually support Nausėda – beyond the protest-vote against a conservatives’ candidate and the crippling austerity legacy the party carries.

Nausėda’s opponent, Ingrida Šimonytė, was both the minister of finance behind the austerity, and was also backed by the same conservatives’ responsible for ‘belt-tightening’ that led to Lithuania’s emigration crisis.

The “Welfare State” programme that carried Nausėda to victory, therefore, connected with Lithuanians who still face dire economic realities – over a fifth of the country is at risk of poverty.

Yet, the ambitious economic pledges overstate the powers available to him as president.

“Welfare state is not an abstract idea,” says Raimondas Kuodis, deputy board chairman of the Bank of Lithuania, where Nausėda previously worked. “Filling this lofty phrase with content will require a lot of thought and balancing of interests”.

If Nausėda fails to deliver the, arguably, undeliverable, his public support could wane – even if propped up by the national-consensus topics of defence and geopolitical orientation.

And without addressing the roots of his support, Nausėda is moving to repeat the mistakes of another centrist, French President Emmanuel Macron, following the country’s election in 2017.

Macron failed to see his victory as a collective defence against Le Pen’s far-right, subsequently overestimating his political capital, and leading to the ongoing Yellow Vest movement.

Similarly in Lithuania, the illusion of the people’s mandate risks creating a false perspective for Nausėda.

Šimonytė’s “fate in the second round [was set to] be tragic” said Rimvydas Valatka, a political commentator. Her sole mission was to prevent the current PM Saulius Skvernelis, allied with the scandal-prone ruling party, from reaching the second round of presidential elections, said Valatka.

People who voted for Saulius Skvernelis then rallied behind Nausėda – despite losing by mere 2,647 votes in the first round, he defeated Šimonytė by a wide, 66 to 33 percent, margin in the second round.

In France, unfulfilled centrist promises meant a u-turn for Le Pen in the European elections this month.

This is highly unlikely in Lithuania, where even the far-right and identitarian candidates – who scored between 0.65 and 4.65 percent in the first round of the presidential election – refrained from attacking the country's membership in the EU.

"I hope that after a while, all the people of Lithuania, whom I'm grateful for the support, will feel they have won," Nausėda told reporters on Sunday night.

However, with a programme beyond the powers of the presidential palace, the promise of stability and a distant “welfare state” may quickly evaporate any support Nausėda enjoyed beyond the protest votes.

LRT has been certified according to the Journalism Trust Initiative Programme

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