Presidential debates held late on Monday at Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania offered the most popular presidential candidates, Gitanas Nausėda, Ingrida Šimonytė and Saulius Skvernelis, the opportunity to discuss foreign and defence policy as well as the legal system and allowed them to ask one another questions. The audience gathered at the National Library’s Conference Hall included staff of embassies residing in Lithuania, representatives of the election teams, politics experts, and other public figures.
The debates were organized by the BNS news agency, the Eastern Europe Studies Centre, Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the National Library. The debates were streamed live by BNS Lietuva via Facebook and Youtube as well as on the website www.bns.lt. The media outlets were also provided with the opportunity to re-stream the debates on their online platforms.
The debates which lasted almost two hours were followed by a discussion held at the National Library’s Video Studio during which the politics experts shared their views on the debates. Among the discussion participants were Dr. Laurynas Jonavičius, lecturer at Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science; Executive Director of Transparency International Lithuania Sergejus Muravjovas; diplomat Vytautas Plečkaitis; and Ignas Stankovičius, head of the Parliamentary Information Unit of the National Library. The discussion was moderated by Ginas Dabašinskas, head of the Information Analysis Unit of the National Library.
In their overview of the debates, some experts referred to them as a successful 2-hour transparency exercise, a good lesson on democracy, and an excellent opportunity to observe the presidential candidates’ body language, movements, their style of talking between the lines and their ability to pass the red face test (Muravjovas); whereas others called it a swampy, dull discussion where participants did not do their homework and the moderator did not ask provocative questions (Stankovičius). Some experts claimed the debates did not produce any breakthrough or any significant highlights, new ideas or thoughts, but added that continuity is something to be valued and not treated as a disadvantage, especially when it comes to foreign policy (Jonavičius); meanwhile others tried to find similarities and differences by comparing the presidential candidates to the former presidents as well as the current president of Lithuania, and said there was a lack of diverse opinions (Plečkaitis). Nevertheless, all the discussion participants reached consensus when assessing the fact of the debates and agreed that candidate debates are crucial. The format of such debates is a large step forward in the development of Lithuanian public’s political engagement.