Linas Jegelevicius for the BNN
Lithuania’s political parties are exceptionally steered by MEPs: four out of six major Lithuanian political forces in the country now will be headed by members of the European Parliament.
The last to have jumped on the Vilnius-Brussels wagon is Valentinas Mazuronis, the new Labor Party leader, who followed into the footsteps of fellow MEP Gabrielius Landsbergis, who was recently elected chair of the Homeland Union- Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU-LCD). Rolandas Paksas, the chairman of Order and Justice Party, which Mazuronis abandoned, is also on the MEP list, as well as Valdemar Tomashevski, the leader of Lithuania’s Electoral Action of Poles, who wraps up the MEP-Party honcho list.
Laborists have an edge
Mazuronis had been one of the Paksas party pillars before slamming the door amidst squabbles with the authoritarian chairman over a score of issues.
Now the questions many analyst raise first are these: will Mazuronis take revenge against the weakened Paksas and his party? How the Labourists and Order and Justice Party will get around virtually the same electorate? How damaging imminent departure of Mazuronis’ supporters from Order and Justice Party will be for it?
Majority concurs that the Mazuronis-led Labour Party now has a significant edge over the other in the survive-or-die duel before the electoral campaign to the Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) in October next year.
«There is really something magnetic about Mazuronis. He, obviously, has a very charismatic personality, is a tough man and also a very intelligent person who can talk for hours on a range of most complex issues. But as he is still being carried mostly by the huge support and respect – even from the poachers relentlessly persecuted by him – he has amassed while heading the Environment Ministry, it remains to be seen if he will be able to reinvigorate the party,» Vytautas Dumbliauskas, a Lithuanian political analyst, told BNN. «I believe he stands a good chance.»
Other commentators, however, are less optimistic on Mazuronis’ magic, arguing the Labor Party’s downward spiralling will continue.
Meanwhile, the new Labour leader, surprisingly to some, has been taking cozily «uncomfortable” questions on abortion, homosexual partnership and euthanasia among the others.
Albeit no one expects a swift turn-around from «the tough guy» on, say, same sex marriage, still a taboo topic in the country mostly, but the new rhetorical colouring tinges on the contentious issues did not go unnoticed.
Party merger again in the air
With Mazuronis’ election to the Labour Party chair, the forgotten talk on merger of the Labor Party with Order and Justice Party has been rekindled and, no doubt, the subject will in the discussions for a while, especially so that Mazuronis is staunchly embracing the idea.
«I’ve always been a supporter of the two parties’ coalescence. If it had occurred a year ago, we would have set a strong political force. As it, because of the ambitions, did not happen, my moving to the Labour Party has not altered the ultimate goal: get the (parties’) voters and politicians united for the task. It is logic and consistent,» Mazuronis told Lithuanian media.
Asked whether the merger bid is not retaliation against Paksas and the abandoned party, Mazuronis inclined he has «no rebukes» whatsoever to the former party boss.
«I had just been voicing different approaches in the discussions on state’s development, geopolitics, the interior matters of the party,» he emphasized.
Analysts have been pointing out for a while now that Paksas has taken an anti-EU course over the last two years- bristled against the euro introduction, shale gas exploration and mining and «EU’s meddling in EU member states’ national issues.»
Mazuronis says he is not intending to leave the MEP seat and argues that the cushy MEP’s salary is not the reason for the decision.
«An issue of distance does not mean anything nowadays. It is possible to arrive from Brussels (to Vilnius) faster than from Klaipeda these days. On the contrary, I see some advantages of being in Brussels- fewer possibilities to get mired in interior trifles and other problems. I have a good team to pursue the strategic aims, so the kilometres are not an impediment neither for the work nor love,» the new party leader bantered.
Mazuronis says he will endeavour «changes» in the state, which, he says, he did while being the minister. But first he needs to make it to the Seimas in 2016, which might not be that easy.
«Party has set for itself ambitious goals and I believe that, next year, most of the voters will be voting for us,» he said convinced.
Different notions on the new leader
Inquired about the Liberals’ legislative initiative to pass an act on human rights, which would also involve a more liberal take on abortion and same-sex partnerships, Mazuronis told he is against abortion ban and, though supporting traditional marriage between man and woman, inclined that «some aspects» concerning homosexuals partnerships, like property sharing, for example, should be addressed.
Lithuanian political analysts, however, seemingly, got split over the prospects of the Mazuronis-led Labour Party.
«I do not see a prospect that, with the new leader now, the Labor Party will become more popular. It happens rarely that with a popular politician swapping parties the ratings of the party he comes to soars…I don’t think there is anything here what could persuade the voters that some changes are praiseworthy,» Mažvydas Jastramskis, a political analyst and lecturer at Vilnius University’s International Relations and Political Sciences, told tv3.lt
The afore-mentioned Vytautas Dumbliauskas says Viktor Uspaskich, the founder of the Labor Party and now its honorary chairman, has played a strong ace in the bid to put the party back on the track.
The Labour Party has notched up 29 MP mandates in the parliamentary election in 2012 and is part of the Ruling Coalition, but has been mired in lengthy judicial wrangling over shady book-keeping.
Dumbliauskas says it might be too exaggerative to call Mazuronis «the party’s savior», but, he insists, the man stands “perhaps a historic chance” to turn things around in the party.
«It is all about the personality he got. He’s obviously very well educated and can debate on complex issues for hours. He is very good at dealing with the grassroots and always has his ear ready for the people’s needs. He can relate with the masses in a fashion to be envied by most of the politicians out there. This is what singles out him,» the analyst pointed out to BNN.
Electorate base is shaky
According to him, Mazuronis had shown up himself «excellently» in the ministerial post, which, Dumbliauskas says, he left with his head «raised high.»
«Remember, even poachers, despite the draconian measures against them, were looking up to him,» he noted.
Still, the Labour Party cannot expect to repeat the 2012 success, he believes, so its key target now is to overcome the 5 percent barrier, giving the parties “party list seats” in the multi-mandate election constituencies.
«There are some quite loud voices out there insisting that the Labour Party will not make the barrier. But it will be a lot more problematic, I believe, for Order and Justice Party, which is feeling the consequences of Mazuronis departure and will (feel) for now,» Dumbliauskas emphasized.
It is «natural» to expect, he says, that part of the former party members will be swapping the sides, following charismatic Mazuronis.
The second thing the new chairman has to do, the analyst says, is try to get back the electorate that has been very shaky throughout the history.
«The numbers are up and down, in some election to stark degrees, which raises the question at the end of the day what the party’s electoral basis is,» the analyst underlined.
Analyst cannot grasp SD support for Labor Codex reform
Asked to weigh on the new leader of Lithuanian Conservatives, Gabrielius Landsbergis, Dumbliauskas said he has an ambiguous impression about him.
«I have apprehensions that despite his modernity he is trying to show he might lack political weight. In that regard, Gabrielius Landsbergis seems to be in a featherweight category in comparison to Mazuronis the heavyweight player,» the analyst noticed.
The Social Democrats, he believes, will be among the hardest to beat, but Dumbliauskas says he «cannot get» why the incumbent prime minister is rushing with the labour law core amendments.
«This is really unexplainable to me to see the party get through the contentious piece of legislation with just over a year till the election left,» he said.
A lot remains to be seen
Vladas Gaidys, a well-known Lithuanian sociologist and director of Vilmorus polling company, brought BNN’s attention to the fact that the Labor Party has squandered the support it had after the 2012 Seimas election.
«It is hard to tell whether a single man (Mazuronis) will be able to get the voters’ support back, especially that the party’s voter base is very unstable, varying perhaps from a UK and Ireland factory worker to a middle-class voter,» the pollster pointed out.
The party has evidently has been through a crisis lately, especially dealing hard with the leadership crises, so Mazuronis’ election, tackles the most acute issue the part deals with- the leadership’s.”
«To me, he resembles Dalia Grybauskaitė, who would swing by Lithuania from Brussels and scold all on the way here. He has assumed similar tactics,» the Vilmorus head noted.
«One leader can hardly make a big change. What he needs is a proper team to get the party changed from the core and re-energized, something they are talking about now,» Gaidys underscored. «Now the party seems pretty tired and, frankly, it is hard for me to see it revving up.»