Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
Lithuanian PM Algirdas Butkevičius is in hot water up to his neck. The scandals embroiling a set of his Cabinet‘s ministers and a deputy minister have come perhaps during the worst time and, certainly, in a wrong place: in the far-flung Caribbean, where the Lithuanian Government head went for holiday.
Some seriously suspect that the timing is not out of the blue, but the holiday spoilers are not named yet. Instead of trying to quell the fire, Butkevičius added fuel to it upon returning, insisting that he is cognizant of the «plotters», who allegedly have long wanted to oust the popular Social Democratic leader.
Embattled ministers and deputy minister
Behind the political commotion lines up two ministers and a deputy minister, whose transgressions, to tell the truth, in the politics’ «off-season» would perhaps send little ripples, but they make a big bang with the nearing parliamentary elections this fall.
First there was Rimantė Šalaševičiūtė, already the former Health Minister, who in a tediously flowing radio interview admitted to having given a bribe to a doctor, who was about to operate on her close relative. To be precise, it happened back in the days, when no one knew Šalaševičiūtė and, well… greasing the palm in Lithuania has always been part of the life. The sincerity cost her post after the brouhaha engulfed nearly all- from the President rushing to scold the minister to the country’s Special Investigation Service which launched a probe into her confession.
Then, with Butkevičius already sauntering on a sandy beach in the Caribbean, another revelation came. It turned out that the Labor party-led Ministry of Agriculture had bought foods for the poor not for the market price, but paid for them twice more than it for a tin food plant in Kėdainiai, central Lithuania. The foods plant is run by the Labour Party founder, MEP Viktor Uspaskich. Other provisions, like buckwheat, grits and flour also appeared to have bought for exorbitant prices.
And, finally, with the PM still under the scorching Caribbean sun, his Environment Minister Kęstutis Trečiokas, from the Party Order and Justice, got into hot water for allegedly allowing the Social Democrats’ heavyweighter and party’s deputy chairman Ričardas Malinauskas, who is also the long-lasting mayor of resort town of Druskininkai, documentation for legalization of construction of manor house«Vijūnėlė» in the resort. Opponents allege it was legalized ahead of court’s unfavourable ruling for the estate.
Electoral campaign commenced very early
Unscathed in the past, Lithuanian PM has gotten now visibly chagrined over the accusations to the Government and him personally.
«I know there are people who have been long seeking to plot against me and make me leave the premiership,» he told when back in Lithuania . His words sparked tons of speculations who he had in his mind.
To Butkevičius, the accusations are all about the forthcoming election to Parliament.
«The electoral campaign has started very early. Frankly, I did not believe that it will be organized at such a pace. However, I do not want to blame anyone for it now,» the head of Lithuanian Government told.
Speaking to the Lithuanian state television network, Lietuvos Televizija, he recalled the life in the Soviet era, when he, a young fellow just off a high school, was invited to work to a Lithuanian district’s executive committee, an executive branch of local authority.
«I remember from those days, when some people would go on holiday and were informed about dismissal upon returning to the office. Of course, we are not much into that kind of a situation now, but the one I found myself while on holiday was very unpleasant. In the beginning of the holiday, I received an e-mail from the Special Investigation Service summoning me to appear for interrogation right away after my return to Lithuania. One can understand how I was feeling for the remainder of my holidays. I really cannot comprehend such urgency,» Butkevičius told.
It’s up to prosecutors
Asked by journalists whether he will seek resignation of the embattled Agriculture and Environment ministers, he answered that the decision depends on prosecutors’ findings.
After Šalaševičiūtė, former Health minister, revealed about the bribing, Butkevičius asked her to leave the ministerial position.He, however, came in defence of his Environment minister, arguing that the public does not the «entire circumstances» of the situation.
«The decisions regarding the estate have been subject to constant changes since 1992 and they affect not only this property but a lot of others of the kind, too,» Butkevičius said.
He underlines that there are «plenty» of different regulation affecting construction planning and permit issuance, so he reckoned it would «unfair» to blame only the minister for his actions.
«I can tell honestly and responsibly that no ruling without approval of respective institutions ends up on the ministers’ agenda. The same can be said about the «Vijūnėlė» estate, PM emphasized.
Butkevičius, however, admitted the Social Democrat Party may want Malinauskas, the embattled mayor of Druskininkai, to suspend his membership in the ranks amid the investigation.
The mayor has bristled against the idea, arguing he did not see «a reason» for a suspension.
Opposition set to go to the end
Picking on the premier, opposition Liberals did not exclude «a possibility» of «a minority government» and the Conservatives went further, implying that they will seek resignation of the entire Cabinet.
Insisting that high poll figures do not make «any value» in his life, Butkevičius, however, suggested that the best thing, with the political sparks scintillating around, would be wait a bit longer and make sure whether the accusations that the Government and Prime Minister are facing are «substantiated.»
«Only then decisions should be passed, no matter how painful they are,» Butkevičius said.
He reiterated he is «aware» of «plans» to throw him out of the office.
«You know that Lithuania is a small country and we all have many acquaintances in other parties. After returning home I found a kind of a document, not very serious one, though, saying that I, as the Prime Minister, will be showered with all kinds of attacks,» Butkevičius said but did not elaborate. Again, he sees it as «part» of the «rapidly forthcoming» electoral campaign.
Asked if he believes that President Dalia Grybauskaitė is implicated in the plot against him, Butkevičius replied he was not «naïve» to believe that only the opposition is involved.
«I will get back to you with an answer later,» he promised Lithuanian media.
Tensions between Government and President spell a fire?
Meanwhile, nearly all Lithuanian political analysts agree the distrust between the Government and the President’s Office will lead to a major conflict between the institutions.
Mindaugas Jurkynas, professor at Kaunas Vytautas Magnus University, says that the state’s-of-head language is becoming blunter and is containing more accusations against the Government and Butkevičius.
«In fact, the latest statements by the President are teetering on the brink of distrust to the Government…I we were to listen to the words of the ministers and Prime Minister, all insisting that there are no clear proves of corruption, it is obvious that the situation leads to conflict between Government, Parliament and President,» Jurkynas told.
Listen carefully to what President says!
But Ramūnas Vilpišauskas, director of the Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences at Vilnius University, doubts whether the President «really» wants resignation the Government and formation of a new one, perhaps a minority government.
«If President says that Prime Minister has to assume personal responsibility for the ministers and their actions, it does not mean that he has to step down. I’d rather suggest to more carefully heed the formulations that the President is using. When speaking about the Health and Environment ministers, she emphasized «personal responsibility», but she referred to the Agriculture ministry as an institution that is subordinate to Government. I believe that the head-of-state wants resignation of the former two, but does not seek removal of entire Cabinet,» Vilpišauskas underlined.
Neither Trečiokas, the Environment minister, nor Baltraitienė, the Agriculture minister, showed signs of giving in to the pressure.