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Monday 19.03.2018 | Name days: Jāzeps

Lithuania‘s ruling Coalition, Social Democratic Party shaken up

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Speaker of the Lithuanian Seimas Viktoras Pranckietis

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

The fate of Lithuania‘s ruling Coalition hung on a thin thread after the Social Democratic Party, the junior partner in it, decided to pull out from the political majority, although part of the senior-level SDP parliamentarians were against the move.

Stability will be tested soon

Thirteen of 19 members of the Social Democratic Party’s fraction in the Seimas, Lithuanian Parliament, expressed their will to stay with the coalition orchestrated by the Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU). However, those who did not back the deal do not have intentions to leave the SDP parliamentary fraction.

SDP stalwarts’ decision to stay in power has angered the party grassroots, who overwhelmingly voted for the withdrawal and brought about a rift in the party.

Now, the six SDP MP-less coalition will have more roadblocks to remove along the way and, to avoid any major hurdles ahead, Viktoras Pranckietis, the speaker of Lithuanian Parliament, hinted that LFGU may sign a coalition agreement with the parliamentary fraction of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Union of Christian Families, a political bloc based on Polish ethnicity.

«It is one of the options. We may need this. I believe the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania is one of the candidates we can talk to,» Pranckietis said in an interview on Wednesday, September 27.

He noted that after a group of the Social Democrats decided to stay in the coalition, the ruling majority remains, but its stability will only be tested «after the first important vote.»

To remind, last Saturday, the Social Democratic Party’s Council decided to leave the ruling coalition with LFGU. In disagreement with the decision, the parliament’s Social Democratic fraction signed an agreement with LFGU on forming a coalition between the political groups.

On Tuesday, September 26, the Seimas speaker announced that the new ruling majority will consist of 76 MPs and more MPs might come in support of it on different issues along the way.

Some big SDP names resigned

Among the big names who did not support the SDP deal with LFGU were Algirdas Sysas, chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Social Affairs and Labour, and Rasa Budbergytė, vice-chairwoman of the Committee on European Affairs, have already submitted their resignations from the posts.

Now, whether or not the ruling coalition has the minimum majority of 71 votes in the 141-member parliament depends on how many Social Democrats support the coalition.

LFGU has 56 votes plus the vote of Pranckietis, who is formally not a member of the party’s group in the Seimas.

This is the first major shake-up of the ruling coalition that is nearing to its first anniversary of work in December.

However, it was tangible across the party aisles in Lithuanian legislature, with some analysts pondering that Lithuania may be rolling to an early parliamentary election.

LFGU leader is vexed

Gabrielius Landsbergis, the chairman of the opposition Conservative party, also brought up the possibility, angering Ramūnas Karbauskis, the LFGU leader.

«We need to say it clearly that some of the articles and commentaries run by (the site is the most popular Lithuanian news portal) foist inevitability of an early election,» he said.

«We clearly see the attempts to destabilise the political situation…The President’s statement that the Government has to check its support has also sounded as if suggesting that the ruling majority does not exist anymore, therefore the Seimas has to be dissolved if it does not hold a voting on trust in the Government…The journalists whose commentaries inciting political instability were published are known as consultants to some of the parties,» the LFGU chairman maintained.

However, he called the happening «a normal political practice» and claimed he was not accusing anyone.

«We have to see who wins in the situation, i.e. who would have the best chances to come out victorious in the new election…I reckon it would play into the hands of the party leaders, who do not want to see certain people in their fractions in Seimas…It is evident that the differences between the SDP leader (Gintautas Paluckas) and the party’s parliamentary fraction are huge and the same could be said about the Conservatives – some of the party members from the Christian wing are quite dissatisfied with the leader (Gabrielius Landsbergis). If the election takes place today, the grumbling people in both parties would be eliminated,» Karbauskis reasoned.

In his words, both the Conservatives‘ leader and the Social Democrats’ leader may have «coordinated» their steps aimed at derailing the Government and the Seimas.

Conservatives leader: «Pure baloney»

However, Landsbergis rebutted the reasoning by the LFGU leader, likening it to «raving» and claimed that Karbauskis is responsible for the coalition shake-up.

«People sometimes tend to prattle nonsenses because of different reasons. Because of big tensions, for example, or due to some personal problems. The situation now is such that we do not have a normally functioning majority in Lithuania and it is unclear what will happen next – will Gintautas Paluckas, the SDP chairman, make the fellow SDP MPs leave the party or will resign from the party’s top post himself,» Landsbergis said.

In his words, the ruling Coalition has gradually moved to the situation in which it found itself this week.

«Go over all the rhetoric the LFGU leadership has employed, note the disparaging remarks they’ve done about Paluckas, and Saulius Skvernelis, the prime minister, is the champion in the abusive language. They’ve created the situation themselves and now they are looking for a scapegoat for the mess. This is ridiculous…The time to assume responsibility has come,» the leader of Lithuania’s Homeland Union and Lithuanian Christians Democrats, HU-LCD, or, colloquially, Conservatives, chastised the LFGU leadership.

Is there anybody worth speaking?

According to him, now, the key question is whether there are people in the Seimas who could be invited to sit at the table and speak about the state’s key issues.

«Are there left people who can take on the tax reform? Who can knowledgeably speak about other important issues? Are there people who want not to jostle over every post, but rather draw up a plan and follow it? Frankly, I don’t see them. I see only a battle field,» Landsbergis is quoted as saying.

For now, his counterpart at the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party, Paluckas, seems to be in a lot worse situation.

With 13 fellow Social Democrats sticking with the coalition and the party branches squabbling, what serves the party’s interests best, Paluckas is staving off accusations over his incompetence both from the party stalwarts and political observers.

Mood like in a quarrel-ridden family

«The mood in the party is such that we see in a child whose parents are quarrelling. In such a case, it is the child who suffers most as his mood is the worst. Now, all are waiting to see whether the row will lead to a divorce,» Vitalijus Mitrofanovas, the chairman of the Social Democratic party’s Akmenė branch said.

With the tensions simmering, the best thing what the party can do now is to «recharge» its relations: «Sit down and do the talking, discussing what the party has done bad and et cetera.»

Meanwhile, Povilas Isoda, the chairman of the party’s Marijampolė affiliation, wants to hear from the fellow party members in Seimas why they voted for a new coalition deal with LFGU.

«Now, we’re hearing just expostulations in the media,» he said.

In his words, if they, for some reason, decide to leave the SD fraction and the party, no «massive exodus»  will follow at the level of grassroots.

«Look, the bottom line is that the sheer majority of the party affiliates voted for pulling out from the Seimas majority. That certain individuals think in one way or another is a natural process, but I don’t see a reason to speak of the party’s schism,» Isoda asserted.

A wrong message to voters

Yet Paluckas, the SDP leader, who amid the rift called all on «blowing away» dust from the Social Democratic roses (the rose is the symbol of the party), has sowed mistrust over his leadership between part of the SDP members and political analysts alike.

Although many analysts tend to see the events as part of the party’s «rejuvenation» process, some, like Rima Urbonaitė, ponders that the SDP leader has «overexerted” himself and may have to resign from the post eventually.

«The party’s problem is that their rose has withered significantly. To resuscitate it, a lot of efforts need to be given…It is not surprising that many people wading into politics do not have a slightest understanding about it and got only one message to the voters: «Elect me and you will see Lithuania turning into  Switzerland.»  It seems that the Social Democrats are shooting at their own feet. What is the Social Democratic party today is downright unclear,» the analyst said.

It will strengthen party long-term

But Vytautas Dumbliauskas, also a political analyst, played down the challenges the SDP and his leader Paluckas face, affirming that the party is in «progress of change.»

«The Butkevičius-era (Butkevičius chaired the SD before Paluckas) is over and some of the party stalwarts just cannot accept it. Furthermore, they, like before, want the party leaders, not the grassroots decide on everything. What we see now going on within the party are generational changes -the old-school chairmen of the party‘s branches are being replaced by young politicians. Some of the party‘s big shots, like Gediminas Kirkilas (an influential SDP member), resist to it. Although there are some tensions within the party amid the transformation, the changes are needed and will work in favour of the party long-term,» the analyst told BNN. He added: «The Conservatives have already been through the process.»

Dumbliauskas believes that the ruling Farmers and Greens will stay in power with help of 13 detached Social Democrats.

«The Electoral Action of Poles may aid the LFGU on certain questions, too. However, I exclude even the remote idea of an early parliamentary election as it would do no good to nobody, but the Conservatives whose support has been rising,» he emphasised.

Other parties mired in scandals too

Last week, Lithuania‘s political life was shaken up by the prosecutors‘ allegation that the Liberal Movement could have possibly used shady financial schemes to finance its 2016 parliamentary election campaign.

Following the announcement, Economy Minister Mindaugas Sinkevičius, a member of the SDP, urged the party to decide whether it can continue working in municipal coalitions with the Liberal Movement and the Labour Party, which had faced corruption suspicions, too.

The minister, who ran for the party’s chairman last spring and was defeated by Gintautas Paluckas, this week submitted resignation from the Economy Ministry after the Social Democratic Party’s Council decided to leave the ruling coalition.

Ref: 020/

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