Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
Just recently, now outgoing Lithuanian PM Algirdas Butkevičius could easily garner any support in Lithuanian legislature, Seimas. However, with Social Democrats (SD) playing now just second fiddle in a new-ruling Coalition, the SD leader failed to muster a necessary number of the MP’s vote to give him a seat of the Seimas’ Vice-Speaker.
Four vice-speakers elected
Four vice-speakers were elected in late hours of Monday in Lithuania, but Butkevičius came two votes short of being elected to the post. The outgoing premier enjoyed support from 66 parliamentarians, while 53 were against and 14 abstained. He needed to secure support of at least two more legislators to land the job.
The elected vice-speakers include «peasants» Rima Baškienė, Arvydas Nekrošius, Social Democrat Gediminas Kirkilas and Conservative Irena Degutienė.
Baškienė was supported by 105 of 141-member Seimas’ MPs, while 15 were against and 14 abstained. Degutienė secured 101 votes, with 18 against and 16 abstentions. Kirkilas was backed by 96 parliamentarians, 20 were against and 19 abstained, while Nekrošius had 82 votes in support, 24 against and 27 abstentions. Kirkilas and Degutienė served as Seimas vice-speakers in the 2012-2016 parliament.
The Butkevičius fiasco has come not without thumb-downs to his candidacy from some of the fellow Social Democrats who, presumably, voted against him in the vice-speaker voting.
Visibly upset, Butkevičius, who still holds the post of chairman of the SD Party, called the voting results a «betrayal.»
SD leader grapples with animosity
During the deliberations of vice-speaker candidacies late Monday night, namely Butkevičius’ name has drawn fire both from his own party and the Lithuanian Peasants and Greens Union (LVŽS), the winner of the October 8 general election in Lithuania.
«We did have accord with the «peasants» to support him [Butkevičius], but seemingly the ranks did not vote accordingly. My suspicion is some votes from the coalition partners did not come as expected. The tally of the votes suggests that our entire fraction did not vote [in favour of Butkevičius], which is not the case obviously,» Irena Šiaulienė, the leader of the SD fraction in Seimas, said.
She, however, suggested that the name of Butkevičius may reappear on the ballot again as the legislature has to elect all five vice-speakers before mid-December.
Šiaulienė, a senior-rank Social Democrat, reminded that, back in 2008, the then-Seimas failed to choose Arūnas Valinskas, the-then chairman of the outlandish Nation’s Resurrection Party, as chairman of a new-tenure Parliament.
However, political pundits believe that Butkevičius may never clinch the Seimas’ vice-speaker’s seat.
Animosity to his candidacy and his personality on the whole following the fiasco in the parliamentary elections, in which the SD grabbed only 17 mandates. LVŽS, the election winner, secured 54 seats.
Butkevičius played double game
After the election, Butkevičius was exhorted to step down from the post of party chairman. He did resign but flip-flopped swiftly on the decision and said he will stay at the party’s helm until convention in the May.
He also came under the party stalwarts’ heavy criticism after it turned out that, with the talks between the two parties’ negotiation groups ongoing, he had met with the LVŽS leader, Ramūnas Karbauskis, in private and discussed with him division of ministerial portfolios.
In the clandestine meeting, Butkevičius agreed to relinquish social security and labour minister’s post, which had been sought by the SD negotiators, and opted for the same position in Economy ministry. The latter is seen as one in charge of large financial resources.
After the arrangement was brought to the daylight, four members of the Social Democratic Party’s negotiation team have expressed their indignation over Butkevičius actions.
Especially harsh was Gintautas Paluckas, deputy mayor of Vilnius and a rising star in the SD ranks. He is considered to be among those to throw gauntlet against Butkevičius in the upcoming SD convention.
A sign of trouble?
«The failure to pass the vice-speaker voting does signal that Butkevičius may be in a deep trouble. There is obviously an opposition against him, both at the Parliament and within the party,» Vytautas Dumbliauskas, associate professor at Mykolas Romeris University and a political commentator, told BNN. «Butkevičius’ foothold is now a lot weaker and he just cannot to firm it.»
Butkevičius hinted this week he has not made up his mind yet whether he will let his name to be on the ballot for a repeated election of Seimas’ vice-speaker.
Meanwhile, Karbauskis, the LVŽS leader, blamed the new MPs’ «inexperience» for the unfavourable outcome for Butkevičius in the voting.
«If the Social Democrats will want Butkevičius on the ballot, the «peasants» will vote for him. If there will be their another candidate, then we will support him or her,» Karbauskis said.
Big names will vie to head SD
Yet Butkevičius cannot expect it will be a smooth sailing. On the contrary, with the SD Party gearing up for the first round of a new party leader’s election, during which the party’s each division in the country’s 60 municipalities will be proposing its own candidate for the upcoming convention, the feeble positions of Butkevičius might get just shakier.
«I am pretty sure we will have a new leader. Butkevičius has said clearly he will not seek reelection. I am sure the party divisions will come up with handful candidates, including Vilija Blinkevičiūtė, the SD stalwart and MEP now, also young generation-representing Gintautas Paluckas and Mindaugas Sinkevičius. There can be some other names, too, of course,» Kirkilas told BNN.
He admitted he personally wants to see a young person in the party’s helm.
«It won’t be easy, however, for the young candidates to beat Blinkevičiūtė, for example. Just because she is known much better to the ranks across the country,» the MP said.
When asked about Butkevičius’ chances in the repeated Seimas vice-speaker election, Kirkilas claimed it was «entirely» up to him whether to seek the post or not.
Meanwhile, Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaitė has proposed this week the parliament to consider Saulius Skvernelis as a candidate for prime minister.
Skvernelis, former police chief and interior minister, was the number one candidate on the list of the Lithuanian Peasant and Green Union.
The president said she expected the new ruling majority to make decisions to boost social security of the nation and fight social exclusion.
In her words, it is just as important to take decisions to facilitate economic development – balance the Labour Code, strengthen transparent business, further seek energy security and follow sustainable financial policies.
The state should be governed in a transparent manner «to make people feel that the administration is working for them rather than interest groups, » said Grybauskaitė, emphasizing the need to restructure state-run companies, bring more transparency to public procurement and continue efforts against corruption.
Lithuania should also restructure the education system, step up its diplomatic relations and ensure readiness to counter geopolitical challenges, she added.
Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings told BNS that the inclusion of the Social Democrats in Lithuania’s new coalition government reduces policy uncertainty after last month’s parliamentary elections and believes that «material changes to economic, fiscal and social policy agendas are unlikely.»