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Wednesday 29.03.2017 | Name days: Agija, Aldonis
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Celebrity Interior minister steps down, doubts loom over his political durability

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Resigned Lithuanian Interior Minister Saulius Skvernelis

Lins Jegelevičs (Linas Jegelevicius)

Seemingly scratch-proof Lithuanian Interior minister Saulius Skvernelis, who has been for months Lithuania’s most popular politician enjoying 60 percent favourability, has taken a steep plunge – into uncertainty after announcing of his resignation from the post.

Order and Justice Party leader disposed of popular minister

Having been delegated to it by the Order and Justice Party, he has drawn the party leader Rolandas Paksas’ grudge with the announcement that he is joining the electoral list of the Peasant and Greens Union (LVZS), which has lately seen an enviable rise in the polls.

Although Lithuania’s Social Democratic Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius told in the wake of the Skvernelis announcement that he saw no obstacles for Skvernelis to continue the stint in his government, Paksas has managed to persuade the PM to change his position on it. As a result, Butkevičius asked the popular minister to step down and the latter handed his letter of resignation to the prime minister on Friday afternoon, with Order and Justice scrambling to find for him replacement.

Prior to the stepping down, Skvernelis, already a top-seed holder on the LVZS electoral list, was scolded on the parliament floor for failing to timely propose legislation that is necessary to extend the current Code of Administrative Offences.

Staving off the accusations coming from all the aisles, the minister, who was visibly distraught having found himself on defence, explained the lag was due to shortage of funding. But many parliamentarians resisted believing the explanation, although some MPs noted that Skvernelis’s «biggest fault» was his betrayal of the Social Democrats and joining LVZS.

Skvernelis will run for Seimas with Peasants and Greens

Several Social Democratic leaders had confirmed earlier that the party was in talks with the rising star, Skvernelis, over his joining the party. The minister’s decision to join the LVZS election list has come as a blow to the Social Democrats, who, rumours amounted, were offering him the second place on the SD electoral list, right after Butkevičius.

«I’ve made up my mind to participate in the election with people, who base their works, ideas and thought on values. With those who cherish the ambition to change the state (for better) and create other kind of politics, which is human, honest and based on decency and keeping the word,» Skvernelis told at a joint press conference with the LVZS party leader, Karbauskis, a week earlier.

Lithuania will hold a parliamentary election in late October this year.

With many guessing who will possibly replace the popular outgoing minister, Order and Justice Party announced it has «at least two candidates» in mind for the post.

One of possible candidates posted refusal on Facebook

One of the possible candidates, Kęstas Komskis, was quick to refute on Facebook talks that he has been offered the seat: «Take it easy, folks. I really won’t change my higher post to a lower one (which the capacity of Interior minister is). To speak about it seriously, I really do not see any sense to change anything with just a half year in the Seimas term left. That half-year would be a waste of time – neither the new minister nor the new deputy Seimas chairman will be able to do anything useful. Besides, my character is such that I do not like jumping from one seat onto another.»

Meanwhile, Povilas Gylys, the other named candidate, who is known, first of all, as the first Foreign minister of independent, post 1991 Lithuania, did not repudiate the Interior minister post.

«It is up to the leadership of the party. It knows best what candidate suits the post best. I do not want to circulate any further rumours on what can happen and what cannot (happen),» Povilas Gylys, now a MP, told BNN.

The former Foreign minister clinched the MP seat in the 2012-2016 Seimas on the electoral list of «Drąsiaus kelias», a political party founded in the wake of the far-reaching paedophilia saga in the country, but later flip-flopped to the Order and Justice Party.

Other candidate is a fiery critic of President

With the name of Gylys in limelight, some media outlets have gone even further, suggesting that Gylys will be the embattled party’s next leader.

Speaking to BNN, Gylys denied it, saying, «It is way too early to speak about it. Now we have quite another situation, so better let’s wait and see what happens next.»

Several key Order and Justice Party members have been fending off accusations of influence peddling.

Known as a vociferous critic of President Dalia Grybauskaitė, Gylys may see a thumb-down from the head-of-state if proposed by the party to take the post. A new appointee will need to get the President’s approval  for the job.

The candidate, however, remains defiant and insists that Grybauskaitė deserves criticism.

«I can just reiterate what I’ve told many times before: the President is too engaged in the activities of law enforcement. And furthermore: she does clout the decisions when she finds it necessary to do. That is something that should not be in a democratic state,» Gylys underlined.

What about the chances now?

He also cautioned that it might be hard for the party to make right selection (of minister) as Order and Justice has been under fire for quite some time.

«I reckon that some people might shun the capacity because some really powerful forces attack the party in an organized way. Nevertheless, I think there will people who, no matter what, will stand up for the party,» Gylys was quoted as saying by Lithuanian media.

With Skvernelis leaving the ministry, many political analysts’ forecasts for his political future have become far less rosy than they were just a week ago.

«Well, as the minister, amid the abundant guesses what party list he will join before the election, he has been a headline grabber for long. But left without a portfolio and void of mentioning-worth ideas, the newcomer of the Peasant and Greens Union risks of spilling points of popularity,» Lauras Bielinis, associate professor at the Institute of International Relations and Politics at Vilnius University and a renown political analyst, told BNN.

Yet the saga of Saulius Skvernelis as the Interior minister is not over yet, he believes.

«He might stay for quite some time in the post. It might take the Party of Order and Justice Party quite some time to find a suitable candidate to replace him. And importantly, get the President nodding to it,» Bielinis underlined.

Very popular but lacking ideas?

That Gylys, now seemingly the most probable candidate to take over the ministry’s reins, lambasts the President might be a factor in the decision-making, he says.

On the other hand, with roughly eight months for the Government left, the President might close eyes to her former lecturer’s harsh rhetoric and approve the candidacy.

«With Skvernelis on LVZS election list, the party’s ratings will likely edge upwards in short-term, but they might be declining in four or five months from now. Skvernelis will be an ordinary man to many as soon as he leaves the ministry. A lot can happen and much remains to be seen yet,» Bielinis told.

According to the analyst, with the hype tapering off, it can become evident that Skvernelis has not brought any ideas for the party.

«As of now, I haven’t heard of them,» the Vilnius University lecturer noted.

Asked what is the main reason for Skvernelis’ charm, Bielinis replied that the outgoing Interior minister was «very good» at relating himself with different layers of the society and communicating in «a simple, understandable to all» language.

«He was quite swift with some key decisions and that reverberated well with all the people,» the analyst pointed out.

Government should stay until end

With Skvernelis gone, the Government risks of being forced to pass vote of confidence in the Seimas, but Lithuanian analysts mostly believe that the Cabinet will stay in the office until the end.

Rimvydas Valatka, a prominent Lithuanian journalist and commentator, believes that, as a state, Lithuania lacks real leaders.

«Some ministers were appointed just because they had a good command of a foreign language, others, like Skvernelis, was simply picked up on the street. Not surprisingly therefore that most Lithuanian Cabinets did not last their entire tenure,» the analyst noted.

He, however, is convinced that the Government will stay until a new one is sworn in in the autumn.

Vladas Gaidys, a pollster, believes that Skvernelis will be riding high until the Seimas election in October.

«The LVZS party will find means to make him attractive. He might lose something without the office, but he will be the winner at the end: voters, most likely, will embrace him again, just because he has come to the election as quite an independent candidate,» Gaidys pondered.

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