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Lithuania’s ruling LFGU party remains unscathed by scandals

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Lithuania’s Peasant and Green’s Union (LPGU) party leader Saulius Skvernelis (R) and Lithuania’s Peasant and Green’s Union (LPGU) party Chairman Ramunas Karbauskis

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

It seems that, for now, Lithuania‘s ruling Farmers and Green Union (LFGU) has been nearly damage-proof despite the lambasting.

Yet not the LFGU, but the opposition conservative Homeland Union- Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU -LCD) enjoys the biggest support of the Lithuanian voters now.

If parliamentary elections were held next weekend, the conservatives would secure 17.3 per cent of the vote and the LFGU would be supported by 15.4 per cent, according to the poll conducted by Spinter Tyrimai (Spinter Surveys) pollster.

The Social Democratic Party would come in third with 8.2 per cent of the vote, just ahead of the Order and Justice party with 7.7 per cent.

In multi-mandate voting, the Liberal Movement would be the last party to cross the required 5-per cent margin with 5.1 per cent of the vote.

The parties‘ sequence in other polls is similar. That the Conservatives top polls is not surprising as being in opposition means being less prone to vulnerabilities of the political life.

«If not for the latest scandal involving Conservative MP Mykolas Majauskas, who has been accused of sexual harassment recently, the Conservatives have avoided any major upset. The other parties, including the ruling Farmers and Green, have dealt with a set of controversies and scandals in the Seimas,» Vladas Gaidys, director of Vilmorus, a public opinion researcher, told BNN.

When it comes to the LFGU, the party’s chairman Ramūnas Karbauskis has been in fire for quite some time over his apparently shady land arrangements.

Although Lithuanian law forbids a company in Lithuania to acquire more than 500 hectares of land, Karbauskis, owner of Agrokoncernas, an agricultural giant, has bought up thousands of hectares of land through his family members.

The critics say the LFGU leader violated law, yet he defends himself, saying the arrangements were made in accordance to the letter of law. A prosecutorial probe has been started however into the dubious acquisitions.

For now, it seems however the land controversy is not affecting the party’s ratings, which are hovering in the range of 15 per cent. Yet Karbauskis himself is seen as one of the country’s least popular politicians.

«This situation is pretty unique (when the party is on top of polls and the party leader is on the bottom of the rankings). I reckon that the popularity of Saulius Skvernelis, the prime minister ( delegated to the post by the LFGU) who goes firmly second in the presidential polls, keeps the entire party high the ratings,» Gaidys pondered to BNN.

Of 47 names being mentioned by respondents asked who they want to see a new president in Lithuania in 2019, Skvernelis’ name is among the top three.

According to Gaidys, both the Social Democrats and the Liberals are weakened in the wake of the major shake-ups.

A dozen of heavyweight Social Democratic MPs decided last year to bristle against the party chairman Gintautas Paluckas’ decision to withdraw from the ruling coalition and in the wake set up their own party. Meanwhile, the Liberals’ former chairman Eligijus Masiulis awaits court trial on charges of bribery.

«The other conventional parties, Order and Justice and Labour, also are not through their best times, although the former is surpassing the electoral threshold of 5 per cent,» the Vilmorus head noted.

Asked to weigh in on the newest poll, Rima Urbonaitė, a political analyst, pondered that the Conservatives have «perhaps» hit the ceiling of growth in polls.

In her opinion, it is the Social Democrats which have to worry most following the split.

«The party struggles to reach the heights it used to enjoy a few years ago. Back in June, the Social Democrats’ support was at a comfortable 12,8 per cent, but it slipped to 8,2 per cent now. The fall is rather significant, especially that the Order and Justice Party with 7,7 per cent has neared to them,» Urbonaitė suggested.

That the ruling Farmers and Green Union retains the second position firmly in all the polls is quite «a good accomplishment,» she says.

«I think their high positions are due to the voters’ disappointment in all the conventional political parties…The voter sees that out of all evils the Farmers are the least harmful,» the analyst noted.

Artūras Jonkus, partner of public relations company «Agency 1323”, also acknowledged that the ruling party is not scathed virtually at all by the controversies, especially by Karbauskis’ land affair and the unpopular restrictions on alcohol sales in Lithuania.

«Indeed, it’s pretty phenomenal that the backlashes against the LFGU leader and the LFGU Health Minister (Aurelijus Veryga) over the new booze sale order do not affect the public opinion tangibly. I chalk it up to the party’s voters being mainly in the provinces, where the people appear less on the social media. Thence the criticism does not bend the LFGU ratings,» the analyst said.

He, however, notes that he wants to see new polls in a month or so, when the respondents will have taken into consideration the allegations of sexual misconduct for Conservative legislator Mykolas Majauskas and by when the conclusions of the prosecutorial probe on Karbauskis lanch purchases may be known.

Meanwhile, Ignas Zokas, head of Spinter tyrimai, a market research and polling company, notes that political scandals are part of Lithuanian politics and not all of them necessarily ill-effect the political parties.

«There is the understanding among the voters that they do not have many parties to choose from and that none of them is entirely «bad» or «good». Unfortunately, in Lithuania, we have this popular understanding that all the parties «steal», so it makes sense therefore to support that one which does not do it brazenly and which does some good for all the people,» the pollster noted.

This week’s feud between the Conservatives and the Farmers over the voting to strip Social Democrat MP Mindaugas Bastys of his parliamentary mandate also may sway the public support to one of the sides.

Karbauskis has accused the opposition conservatives for the parliament’s decision to keep the MP mandate for Mindaugas Bastys.

Karbauskis said he got suspicions after public statements by the conservative Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats that they would not support Bastys the secret ballot held on Tuesday, March 13.

«I believe the conservatives had consciously plotted a provocation to accuse us now. The accusations now are very odd – after (conservatives’) Rasa Juknevičienė said in the Seimas hall that the party would vote unanimously, I got the suspicion and shared it in my comment made during the plenary that it seemed strange to say this before a secret ballot. How should this be viewed?» Karbauskis told journalists.

Karbauskis said he voted in support of stripping Bastys of his mandate, adding he only knew one LFGU member who had decided to vote otherwise.

The parliament failed to garner enough votes in a secret ballot on Tuesday to strip Bastys of his mandate despite the Constitutional Court’s ruling that the lawmaker had grossly violated the Constitution and breached the oath by concealing his ties with Piotr Voyeiko, a former KGB agent.

Angered by Karbauskis accusations, Gabrielius Landsbergis, chairman of the TS-LKD, has spearheaded the initiative of a new parliamentary election in the country.

Dismayed by the results of the secret voting on Bastys impeachment , Andrius Tapinas, the founder and host of «Laisvės TV» (Freedom TV), and a powerful face on the social media, has called on all to turn up in the square in front of the Lithuanian Parliament to protest failed impeachment.

Almost 8,000 people said on Facebook Wednesday afternoon that they planned to take part in the protest in Independence Square.

Ref: 020/111.111.111.5800


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