Ahead of mayoral and municipal Council elections this Sunday, political parties and election committees are making their last strides in luring yet undetermined voters on their side.
Always upbeat Ramūnas Karbauskis, the leader of the ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union, LFGU, has said this week that his party will sweep not only the municipal Council elections, but also the forthcoming presidential and European Parliament elections, both to be held in May.
Over 13,000 local politicians are vying for 1,502 council seats in Lithuania’s 60 municipalities, and over 400 politicians want to be elected mayors. Due to shrinking population, Lithuanian voters will have to elect 22 fewer councillors this year, compared to the last election four years ago.
«I think we’ll have around 300 council seats. I think we’ll win in terms of votes as well. It’s more difficult to calculate when peaking about the number of mayors as it will depend on who will get into the runoff,» Karbauskis told journalists after casting his early vote in Kaunas on Wednesday, February 27.
Some 34,900 people, or 1.42 percent of all eligible voters, cast their ballots on Wednesday, February 27, the first day of early voting in Lithuania’s municipal elections, the Central Electoral Commission said on Thursday, February 27. The voter turnout was slightly up from 1.22 percent (30,900 voters) in 2015.
Thursday was the second and last day of early voting in the municipal and direct mayoral elections.
Karbauskis’ prognosis caught many political analysts scratching heads in disbelief: «Where the LFGU leader’s optimism is coming from?»
They argue that, although «farmers» and greens after two years in power enjoy relatively high support, the series of elections are so different that to call their winners is just impossible and expect that one party will win them all is just unrealistic.
«As one of the most supported parties, LFGU theoretically stands a chance of winning all the elections, but coming on top of the municipal and the presidential elections will be hardest,» Vytautas Bruveris, a political analyst and journalist of the daily Lietuvos Rytas, told BNN.
«As for the presidential race, LFGU’s candidate Saulius Skvernelis (Lithuania’s Prime Minister currently) first needs to pass the first round of the election and do nearly impossible in beating Gitanas Nausėda, the all-year presidential polls leader, in the second round,» he said. «So far his chances of getting in the second round looks pretty well».
Bruveris however doubted the LFGU electoral optimism in local elections.
«The party has never had big support in larger urban municipalities. It cannot expect to win a majority in say, Vilnius, Kaunas or Klaipėda municipal councils. If they clinch the list of three most popular parties in the elections, it will be a good result for them,» the analyst underlined. «The party stands good chances only in rural municipalities only».
None of the LFGU mayoral candidates can expect winning mayoral races in major urban cities, he argued.
«Perhaps only city of Šiauliai can be exception, where the LFGU candidate goes strong,» he noted.
The popular incumbent Kaunas mayor Visvaldas Matijošaitis who is seeking re-election for a second term, has also been supported by LFGU.
Approached by BNN, Rimvydas Valatka, a renown Lithuanian commentator, jabbed at the at the LFGU leader, Karbauskis.
«His forecast on 300 seats win reminds me a popular anecdote about the sagacious Jew, who humblebrags about his sons’ abilities to make accurate weather forecasts. One of the sons says that there will be rain and the other insists that it will not be raining. The situation with Karbauskis’ forecast is just of the kind,» wisecracked Valatka.
According to him, the «farmers» can technically win only the presidential race, not the other two.
«To win the municipal and the EP elections, they would need to garner 50 percent plus 1 vote, which is impossible,» Valatka told BNN.
Vytautas Dumbliauskas, associate professor at Vilnius Mykolas Romeris University, praised the ruling party for an increase in lecturers’ salaries, but doubted whether the party can see excellent election results.
«I am sure the «farmers» won’t show any miracles in the municipal council elections, especially in urban areas. The party has lowered gears in carrying out reforms before the elections, but it will have to proceed with some highly unpopular overhauls, like closing some of inefficiently loss-making hospitals following all the elections,» Dumbliauskas emphasised.
That LFGU retains relatively support after two years in power is due to the demise of the country’s left-wing parties.
After the once popular Social Democratic party split and after Viktor Uspaskich, the long-time chairman of the Labour Party, left it for the European Parliament, both gather less than 5 percent of support.
«As for the presidential election, Skvernelis stands the lowest chance among the other top candidates, Gitanas Nausėda and Ingrida Šimonytė,» Dumbliauskas noted.
In the European Parliament election, LFGU included Šarūnas Marčiulionis, one of Lithuania’s best basketballers ever, on its electoral list.
«It is a smart move but populist; the bottom line is that «farmers» do not have many outstanding people in its ranks. This is clearly seen in the Seimas, where the majority is dull and cast glances at the leadership all the time,» the analyst said.
Marčiulionis is at number two on the ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union’s candidate list after MEP Bronis Ropė.
The LFGU’s council has approved the party’s top five candidates for the May 26 EP elections.
In capital Vilnius, 17 candidates vie for mayor’s post. Among them is the incumbent mayor Remigijus Šimašius, former mayor Arturas Zuokas, Conservative MP Dainius Kreivys, LFGU’s Economy minister Virginijus Stankevičius, Lithuanian Social Democratic Party’s chairman Gintautas Paluckas, former leader of the Labour Party and now MEP Viktor Uspaskich. So far Šimašius leads the polls with ca 50 percent of support. The runner-up is Zuokas with 22 percent.
Having cast his early vote at Vilnius Municipality on Wednesday, Šimašius told journalists he has a «huge expectation» that his public election committee, «For Vilnius We Proud Of», will give him a majority in Lithuania’s largest municipality.
«I hope for that comfort, which I didn’t have during my past term, of having a stronger majority. I really hope and would like to win, everything will depend on the trust of Vilnius residents,» he said, calling on Vilnius residents to come to vote «for their expectations to be fulfilled».
The mayor said he would be willing to form a post-election coalition with all political parties, excluding former Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas’ list «Happy Vilnius» and the Labour Party. «These are political groups led by dishonest people, it would be easier to negotiate with others,» he said.
Šimašius was elected Vilnius mayor during the first direct mayoral election in 2015.
Meanwhile, former Vilnius mayor Artūras Zuokas, says he has no doubt he will get into the run-off.
«With no doubt, I will get into the run-off,» he told journalists on Wednesday after arriving at Vilnius Municipality with part of his team to cast his early vote.
Zuokas leads the Lithuanian Freedom Union (liberals) and is taking part in the election with his list «Happy Vilnius». He was Vilnius mayor in 2000-2007 and 2011-2015.
Perhaps it is Klaipėda, where the outcome of the mayoral and council elections is least predictable.
Liberals who have governed city for the nearly last two decades have suffered a major blow after the Liberal Movement’s chairman Eligijus Masiulis was charged on bribery and corruption in 2016.
It is thought that now Arvydas Vaitkus, director of Port of Klaipėda, stand the best chances in the port’s mayoral election.
Meanwhile, the long-term mayor of the resort of Druskininkai in southern Lithuania, Ričardas Malinauskas, has been dealt a blow after the election watchdog, VRK, removed his immunity following his alleged entanglement in in a large-scale judicial system corruption probe.
Law-enforcement officials suspect that bribes were paid in Malinauskas’ «Vijunėlė estate case» in Druskininkai.
«Sufficient evidence was collected during the ongoing pre-trial investigation, allowing us to suspect that Malinauskas and another person took part in criminal acts,» prosecutors told journalists.
Malinauskas is standing for the municipal election with election committee «For Druskininkai with Ričardas Malinauskas».