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2020.01.03 11:04

Lithuania in 2020: general election, stadium constructions and 5 long weekends

BNS2020.01.03 11:04

BNS offers a preview of the political year ahead, set to bring foreign visits, the next parliamentary election, and corruption trials.

The Seimas puzzle

While the Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD), the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) and the Labour Party are expected to gain ground in the Seimas election, the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union will likely lose some of their seats in the parliament.

The conservative Homeland Union expects Ingrida Šimonytė, who lost out against Nausėda in the presidential election, to help attract more votes. TS-LKD will also invite Rokas Masiulis, the former transport minister favoured by the Lithuanian public, to join the team.

The conservatives' election campaign will focus on strengthening the state, while the opponents will criticise the private school business managed by the wife of Gabrielius Landsbergis, the party's leader, and point to the crisis experience a decade ago, when the conservatives in power enacted harsh austerity measures.

Even if the Homeland Union wins the election, it will face the challenge of forming a government because the Liberal Movement's support will not be enough to muster a majority.

The Social Democrats (LSDP) will win back some of their voters from the Farmers and Greens (LVŽS), as the focus to reduce inequality will resonate well in the countryside. The LSDP will likely to bring in popular faces from outside to achieve a breakthrough in major cities, especially in Vilnius, which it needs to declare a victory.

Opponents will remind Gintautas Paluckas, the party's chairman who seems to be liked by President Gitanas Nausėda, of his past conviction of abuse of office.

The Labour Party with Viktor Uspaskich at the helm will try to ride the wave of rising approval ratings, and make use of the LVŽS downturn and the split in the Order and Justice party. The LVŽS, the biggest party in the current Seimas, will try to stem the decline in their ratings by claiming credit for people's rising incomes and the social benefits increases, put into the budget by the party.

If the Seimas overrides the president's veto on a lower election threshold, the next parliament may be more fragmented than ever with more fringe parties gaining seats.

Making friends

Foreign ministers from the Bucharest Nine, the nine states in NATO's eastern flank, are expected to visit Vilnius for the 30th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union on March 11.

In July, Vilnius will host the Ukraine Reform Conference 2020, expected to be attended by President Volodymyr Zelensky, among others.

Read more: Ukrainian President in Vilnius: investments, war and solidarity – key takeaways

In the summer, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has been invited to attend celebrations of the 300th birth anniversary of the great Talmud scholar known as the Gaon of Vilnius, while French President Emmanuel Macron may come to Lithuania in August to visit a company of French soldiers to be deployed to the country.

An agreement with the United States on the security of 5G networks, effectively placing restrictions on China's Huawei, may get the Lithuanian president or the prime minister an invitation to the White House. Lithuania is also due later this year to sign a contract with the US to acquire Black Hawk military helicopters.

Nausėda will appoint new ambassadors to the US, Russia, Ukraine, NATO and the European Union.

New leaders

The Seimas should confirm the first ever female president of the Supreme Court, Sigita Rudenaitė. Her nomination was overshadowed by the ongoing judicial corruption scandal involving high profile Lithuanian judges.

The president will have to decide on a candidate to replace Dainius Žalimas, the president of the Constitutional Court, following his six-year term, as well as whether to nominate Darius Jauniškis, head of the State Security Department, and Arūnas Dulkys, the state ombudsman, for another term. In all three cases, the parliament's approval will be necessary. Up until now, no intelligence chief or state ombudsman has ever served two consecutive terms.

Corruption trials

Prosecutors are due to hand over the judicial corruption case to court in early 2020 and Vilnius Regional Court is expected to rule in the MG Baltic political corruption case in the second half of the year.

The Constitutional Court is due to rule on whether the existing funding model for the national broadcaster LRT, stipulating that its budget is automatically calculated based on residential income tax and excise revenues, does not run counter to the country's Constitution. The case also includes other funding programmes for road maintenance, environmental protection and sports.

The European Court of Human Rights is due to start hearing the case of Konstantin Mikhailov, a former member of a Soviet special police unit who is serving a life sentence for this role in killing Lithuanian officers at Medininkai border checkpoint in 1991.

Read more: Soviet officer sentenced for 1991 border killings takes Lithuania to Strasbourg court

Building stadiums, playing sports

The authorities in Lithuania's second largest city Kaunas are facing unexpected problems with the much-lauded reconstruction of the Darius and Girėnas Stadium. 53 workers of a Turkish company have gone on a hunger strike over unpaid wages. Kaunas' authorities are now looking for a favourable solution.

Meanwhile, Vilnius plans to sign a concession contract for the Vilnius stadium with Axis industries, part of the Icor group, in February.

Lithuanians will set their eyes on the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Kaunas in June, followed by the Tokyo Olympics in July and August. The games will see the Lithuanian pentathlon athlete sLaura Asadauskaitė-Zadneprovskienė and Justinas Kinderis, swimmer Danas Rapšys, discus thrower Andrius Gudžius, rowers Mindaugas Griškonis ir Saulius Ritter. Arvydas Sabonis, president of Lithuania's Basketball Federation, plans to step down following the Tokyo Olympics.

Days off

Lithuanian residents will enjoy five long weekends of three days or more this year, including during the Easter holidays on April 11-13. Another long weekend will fall on the International Workers' Day on May 1-3. Other long weekends are due to fall on July 4-6, and again in early November and on Christmas.