Linas Jegelevicius for the BNN
With many already convinced that the ruling Social Democrat Party (SDP) is proof to any scathe amid a string of scandals, the fallout has come belatedly – a new survey by Vilmorus, a Lithuanian pollster, registered a five-percent tumble in the support for the SDP since last month.
Although the party remains on top of all the polls, the surge of the runner-up in the latest survey, Lithuania’s Peasants and Green Union (LVZS), must be yet the biggest warning for the ruling party that the crumbling of the public support bids nothing good with less than half-year till the new parliamentary election left.
SDP has to pay a heavy toll now
«Over the last four years, we haven’t seen yet such a dramatic change in the party support ratings,» Vladas Gaidys, the Vilmorus director says referring to the LVZS’s ascension from the sixth place in March to the second spot in the April survey.
Asked by BNN what lies behind the SDP stumble, the pollster pondered that «a string of scandals» plaguing the party since last December is to be blamed.
«First there was the admission of the former Health minister that she had given a bribe for doctors (Rimantė Šalaševičiūtė, the embattled minister, resigned following the hoopla-L.J), then followed the Vijūnėlė homestead scandal. And then there was the kick -off from the Government of an extremely popular Saulius Skvernelis (the former Interior minister gave in to the Social Democrats’ pressure and resigned from the post after joining the LVZS electoral list-L.J.) Last but not least there was the spat between the Social Democrats and the disgruntled Druskininkai mayor (Ričardas Malinauskas-L.J.), all of which combined has been too much for the public to bear,» the Vilmorus head told.
Chats were wire-tapped
To remind, in the Vijūnėlė scandal, secret phone records of unsuspecting politicians, tapped by the local special investigation agency (STT) and released by the Parliament’s Anti-corruption commission, disclosed the officials’ chats over the phone about a luxurious estate, known as Vijūnėlė estate, in Druskininkai.
In STT’s focus was the government’s quick decision to amend a key law act on environmental policy. An entire chapter on «resort protection zones» that substantially limit construction in designated parts of Lithuania’s resort areas, in Druskininkai, too, was axed from it two days before a Vilnius court ruling on the estate.
Citing the change in governmental policy which came few days prior to the sitting, court ruled that the estate documentation was proper and in line with law.
But the phone record transcripts revealed not so innocent chats on the phone over the property among PM Butkevičius, Environment minister Kęstutis Trečiokas and the mayor of Druskininkai, Ričardas Malinauskas.
In a wiretapped chat, the mayor bugged Trečiokas to speed up the adoption on environmental policy so that it could not be applied to the estate. At the mayor’s request, the minister acted swiftly and removed the chapter.
Allegedly, the Vijūnėlė estate belongs to a friend of Malinauskas’ father. Reportedly, the mayor had expressed interest in purchasing the estate if it whenever ended up being on sale. Malinauskas had been one of the big-wigs in the party before leaving it when mired in the scandal.
Although there appeared to be no immediate ill-effects from the scandals on the SDP and its leader, Butkevičius, but now the party starts paying a heavy toll for the transgressions.
«I’d say the myriad of theme is tugging he SDP’s popularity down,» insisted Gaidys.
PM needs to change the way he talks
Notably, the PM’s support has also tapered off in the recent months, dropping 4 percent over the last month alone.
«Butkevičius certainly needs to address the strategy of public communications that he has been successfully employing until now. The cautiousness he was showing in the dealings worked before but it is not working now any longer. For many, now it means lack of resolve to cope with the situation in the party and the country, too,» Gaidys underlined.
And there can be a lot more somber days for the Social Democratic Party, warns Mažvydas Jastramskis, a lecturer of political sciences at the Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences in Vilnius.
«When the ratings of a ruling party show tendency to fall amid an electoral cycle, there is a very little chance that the downward trajectory will stop (edging down) and start pointing up. What the Social Democrats can wish for now is stabilization of the situation…But, very likely, their support might be dwindling further, because an electoral period does not play into the hands of any ruling party,» the analyst said.
Among the reasons for the SDP troubles, Jastramskis pointed out to the Vijūnėlė homestead scandal, the departure of Malinauskas from the SDP ranks and the PM’s lack of resolve when it mattered most during the scandalous events.
«I also believe the Social Democrats could have been less arrogant and wiser with Skvernelis, who is so long the country’s most popular politician. Asking him to resign from the post of Interior minister just because he announced he would join the electoral list of LVZS, not the ranks of SDP, was understood by many as revenge,» the analyst believes.
Attacks will not damage rising LVZS?
Meanwhile, Ramūnas Karbauskis, the chairman of Lithuania’s Peasants and Greens Union, says that the Social Democrats and their chairman can blame only themselves for the dip in the party ratings.
«Maybe the voter has focused lately on our Union because of the nasty informational attacks we are seeing against the Union, me and Saulius Skvernelis…Those people who know how to appreciate good work do not turn away because of the offense. In fact, they are getting united. There is no doubt that the arrival of Skvernelis to the LVZS election list gives a big boost for it…» Karbauskis told Lithuanian media weighing on the Vilmorus poll.
Skvernelis had been courted by the Social Democrat Party and Lithuania’s Liberal Movement, so his decision to join the LVZS electoral list came as a big surprise to many.
But the rapid rise of the Peasants and Greens Union did not catch off guard Gaidys, the pollster.
«Dubbed as the nearing election’s «dark horse», the LVZS has been constantly adding up a percentage-by-percentage to the growing public support, which has reached record-highs now, and this is not an end (to the rise),» the pollster is convinced. «Such formations as the LVZS makes the politics much more interesting.»
The support for the Peasants and Greens has upped from 7,1 percent in March to 11,1 percent in April.
Parties vie for voter support
Karbauskis says, however, he is not giving in to the cheering poll results.
«The electoral campaign is long and many things can happen yet,» he told.
He lambasted the existing political system, calling it «political elite» which is «preoccupied» with the only thing – how hold the grip on power.
«It could be said both of the ruling coalition and the opposition,» he underlined. «Our platform gives a possibility to all who are disappointed by the conventional parties, both in position and opposition.»
Behind the SDP and LVZS in the Vilmorus survey stood Lithuania’s Liberal Movement with 9.6 percent of support (compared to 10.4 percent in March). The Party of Order and Justice sat on the fourth rung of the ladder with 8.4 percent (7.7 percent in March) of favourable opinions. The Conservatives (Lithuania’s Homeland Union and Lithuanian Christian Democrats) notched 8 percent (10.2 percent in March). The Labour Party with 7.7 percent wrapped up the list of parties able to breach the 7 percent electoral barrier today.