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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09VILNIUS254 2009-05-08 12:50:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vilnius
Cable title:  

LITHUANIA'S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN MAY SHIFT FROM

Tags:   PGOV LH 
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VZCZCXRO9808
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHVL #0254/01 1281250
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 081250Z MAY 09 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY VILNIUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3475
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 VILNIUS 000254 

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/08/2019
TAGS: PGOV LH
SUBJECT: LITHUANIA'S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN MAY SHIFT FROM
QUIET PATH TO LOW ROAD

REF: VILNIUS 144

Classified By: Ambassador John A. Cloud for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).



1. (C) Summary: Lithuania's presidential election campaign
remains quiet, with frontrunner Dalia Grybauskaite, currently
on leave from her position as European Commissioner for
Financial Programming and Budget, still far ahead of the six
other candidates in the polls. Grybauskaite has thus far
deflected rumors of her homosexuality and past cooperation
with the KGB. But we have heard from a senior official that
media sources plan to present photos disputing her claims in
the days remaining before the May 17 election. Lithuania has
a reputation as a homophobic country, but nobody knows what
effect publication of such photos would have on
Grybauskaite's chances. End summary.



2. (U) Seven candidates are running to succeed Valdas Adamkus
as president of Lithuania for a five-year term:
Grybauskaite, an independent who has been endorsed by several
parties, including the Conservatives; Social Democratic Party
leader Algirdas Butkevicius; Order and Justice Party
candidate Valentinas Mazuronis; former Peasants' National
Union party leader Kazimira Prunskiene; Labor Party candidate
Loreta Grauziniene; Lithuanian Polish Electoral Action party
leader Valdemar Tomasevski; and retired Brig. Gen. Ceslovas
Jezerskas, running as an independent though he is a member of
the Order and Justice Party. Campaigning has been quiet,
with Grybauskaite getting by far the most media attention.



3. (U) According to polling done April 22-28, when voters
were asked "Which of these presidential candidates would you
vote for on May 17?" 52.8 percent chose Grybauskaite.
Butkevicius had 9.4 percent support, and Prunskiene had 5.7
percent. All other candidates drew less than 5 percent.
Grybauskaite's numbers had dropped about 10 percent since a
March poll by the same company, but Butkevicius gained only 4
percent. From March to April, the percentage of undecided
voters jumped from 10 to 19 percent. (Note: in our
experience, Lithuanian polls, despite their statistical
rigor, are sometimes wildly wrong.)

Winning in the first round means more than 50 percent


--------------------------



--------------------------





4. (U) Because of her commanding lead in opinion polls,
getting out the vote may be more important to Grybauskaite's
campaign than getting out her message. To win in the first
round, a candidate needs a majority of votes cast if voter
turnout is above 50 percent. If turnout is below 50 percent,
a candidate must receive votes equal to one-third of
Lithuania's 2.67 million registered voters. Thus, if turnout
were 50 percent plus one voter, a candidate could win in the
first round with a majority of votes cast, or just over 25
percent of the number of voters registered. But if turnout
were 50 percent minus one voter, a candidate would need about
67 percent of the votes cast, or one-third of the number of
voters registered, to win in the first round.



5. (U) In the first round of parliamentary elections in
October 2008, voter turnout was about 48 percent. In the
first round of the 2004 presidential election, it was also 48
percent, climbing to 52 percent in the second round. So
Grybauskaite, if her large lead in the polls holds up, could
benefit even by encouraging supporters of her opponents to go
to vote against her, since a heavier turnout could help her
avoid a second round of voting, where results have
historically been less predictable.



6. (U) "Because of the economic depression, many of our
pensioners will go to work in their vegetable gardens on
election day rather than vote," said Vladas Gaidys, director
of the Vilmorus polling company. "Last year, voters forgot
about this part of our economy. This year, they're not
forgetting" their vegetable gardens, because money is tight
for so many people.



7. (U) Elections for the European Parliament, which are done
entirely by party list in Lithuania, are scheduled for June
7, concurrent with a second round, if necessary, in the
presidential election. Voter interest in those elections is
low, so having a second round of presidential voting could
increase turnout and benefit parties whose presidential
candidate reached the runoff round. The Conservatives, who
support Grybauskaite, and the Social Democrats, whose leader
Butkevicius is second in opinion polls, are the largest
parties.

Will Grybauskaite's past catch up with her?


--------------------------





8. (C) In addition to the usual ups and downs of any

VILNIUS 00000254 002 OF 002


campaign, there are two things that could significantly
damage Grybauskaite's chances for winning: her links to the
Communist Party (before independence), and allegations that
she is a lesbian.



9. (U) Ties to communism have not stopped others from
attaining high office here, but there is certainly a segment
of society that views such ties as disqualifying.
Grybauskaite was a member of the Communist Party from 1977
until 1989. She worked at the Communist Party school in
Vilnius from 1983 to 1990. Fortunately for Grybauskaite, she
has already received the backing of Lithuania's most ardent
communist-bashers: MEP Vytautas Landsbergis, Defense
Minister Rasa Jukneviciene, and others have publicly backed
Grybauskaite. Whether this will effectively defuse the issue
remains to be seen.



10. (C) The allegations of her homosexuality are another
matter. Lithuania is the only country in the EU to have
refused permits for the European Commission's "Tolerance
Truck" to set up and promote tolerance of minorities,
including homosexuals. The public largely supported the
refusals.



11. (C) Almost as soon as she announced her candidacy in late
February, Grybauskaite was asked whether she was a lesbian.
She said she was not, and the issue, which many had expected
to play a large role in the campaign against her, gained
little traction. But we have been told by a senior
government official that someone in the media claimed to him
to have photographic "evidence." At a late April campaign
event, Grybauskaite said she had heard rumors of a
compromising videotape: "I know about that. I have been
threatened for two years. I was advised not even to dream
about running for president. There are various rumors spread
among journalists, and I consider this just an attempt to
apply psychological pressure.... I understand that and am
psychologically ready for that. The election will show
whether people are able to tell the difference between truth
and lies."



12. (C) Gaidys, whose polls documented Grybauskaite's
popularity even before she announced her candidacy, said that
her popularity goes against all tradition in Lithuania.
"She's a woman, maybe a lesbian, a teacher from the Communist
Party school. There are rumors that she is maybe not
Lithuanian, but maybe Jewish. She has the support of the
Conservative Party. She never says, 'In the future, we will
live better.' This woman has all possible stigmas. Yet all
demographic and social groups like her: the young, the old,
the educated, the uneducated, all party groups. It's so
unusual that I'm a little bit afraid of this phenomenon. Is
it real?"



13. (U) Gaidys added that Grybauskaite's popularity is
inversely related to Lithuanians' confidence index. As the
country lost its optimistic outlook, Grybauskaite's
popularity rose. "Her popularity is in strong connection to
economic expectations," Gaidys said.



14. (C) Comment: Political polling often seems to indicate
that the farther a person is from actually being involved in
politics, the more popular they are. Thus, Grybauskaite's
long residence in Brussels helped her. In our view, the
decline in her polling numbers is less a function of
allegations about her personal life, than of her becoming
more familiar to voters. Her popularity is still unmatched
with just over a week to go before the first round. End
comment.
CLOUD