Former finance minister Ingrida Šimonytė and economist Gitanas Nausėda have advanced to the second round of Lithuania’s presidential election. Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis placed third and has announced he will step down in July.
The remaining candidates are both center-right, so the outcome of the runoff on May 26 should not affect Lithuania’s politics in a major way. Even so, the result is largely a happy one.
- Lithuanians are becoming more actively involved in politics. Turnout was 57 percent. The last time so many Lithuanians voted was in the 2003 European Union membership referendum.
- Promises of unrealistically high pensions and wages did not help other candidates. Anti-EU nationalists barely received any support. This demonstrated the political maturity of the Lithuanian electorate. People don’t buy into empty promises.
- A next generation of politicians is stepping up. Šimonytė is 44 and Nausėda 54. In post-Soviet countries like Lithuania, there tends to be a huge divide between generations. Change in this regard is welcome.
- No drama. There were no scandals or strong accusations between the candidates, who managed to keep the election civil.
- The elections were boring and it wasn’t the lack of drama. Most of the ideas put forward by the candidates were unimaginative. I couldn’t feel any real difference between the two. They mostly spoke in phrases they seemed to have practiced in front of the mirror.
- Both candidates are inexperienced. Past Lithuanian presidents have been highly respected politicians. Valdas Adamkus had a successful career as a high-level civil servant in the United States. Dalia Grybauskaitė was named Europe’s Commissioner of the Year before she became president.
The next two weeks will be crucial for the candidates. Since they have so many policies in common, they will need to convince voters they are somehow unique.
Whoever gets elected, Lithuania is unlikely to change in a major way. This may not be a bad thing. Lithuania’s economy is doing well, but it is also still catching up with its richer EU counterparts in the West. A little more vision from the candidates would not be remiss.