Algirdas Butkevičius specifies who will compete in the second round of the presidential elections

Algirdas Butkevičius
DELFI / Andrius Ufartas

Former Lithuanian Social Democrat Party (LSDP) chair and former Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius is sceptical of talks about S. Skvernelis choosing to not participate in the presidential elections. “It is not only gut feeling, but also information I have and matters I thought through that lead to the conclusion that he will participate,” A. Butkevičius said. In his opinion, the current PM will compete with Gitanas Nausėda in the second round, writes.

The former PM criticises the incumbent government for lacking competence and political experience despite having called itself a government of professionals. “State governance demands specific knowledge and skills, thus it is not surprising that among the current ministers, it is those who already had experience that are doing the best. Political experience is primarily a holistic view, analysing and evaluating consequences. Lacking this, rushed and imbalanced decisions are passed without a perception of the entirety of circumstances and without considering potential alternatives,” the politician said. He points to forestry reform, alcohol advertising restrictions and especial attention to target state service groups as examples of steps made without adequate consideration.

In regard to S. Skvernelis’ proposals to initiate talks with Russia and reforming the Lithuanian-Russian intergovernmental commission, A. Butkevičius points out that firstly state leaders must at the very least agree to adhere to a general joint position, as much as possible. Beyond that, despite Russian enthusiasm to cooperate, it is often accompanied by unacceptable demands from the other party, which leaves potential for cooperation dubious.

The new Labour Code passed last year is seen as being functionally equivalent to that prepared by A. Butkevičius’ government, with only cosmetic adjustment. In this respect, A. Butkevičius emphasises that this serves to prove that criticising is by far easier than acting.

Following the end of the Social Democrat government’s tenure, Stasys Dailydka withdrew from leading Lietuvos Geležinkeliai [Lithuanian Railways] and Dainoras Bradauskas – from the State Tax Inspectorate, with LG in particular facing much criticism for a lack of transparency, internal procurement system and potential fund waste.

The politician expresses concern that as of recently a practice has been established, where new leadership is emplaced in state owned companies and institutions. “I am greatly concerned over the practice which has been forming recently where there are searches for new leaders for state owned institutions and companies. Does experience and competences accrued over a long time mean nothing? We are moving toward a perception that if you change the leader with someone new, all problems will resolve themselves. It is only an illusion

Regarding LG – do you know that the company’s internal transactions rose twofold over 2017? Moreover, the former head had to resign specifically due to this. However this practice is continuing and to a greater extent. I appealed to the Public Purchase Service regarding this, but I was met with silence. It turns out that transparency standards do not apply to everyone equally,” he stated, adding that in D. Bradauskas’ case, the matter reached the Constitutional Court and muses that the whole uproar was simply an effort to place the majority’s own people in various posts.

Emigration has continued to rise since 2014. When asked whether he agrees that his government was partly responsible for failing to resolve the social issues which lead to emigration, A. Butkevičius firstly states that the government is always responsible. Nevertheless, he downplays the failure, stating that it is no simple matter for Lithuania, which is behind in terms of welfare to form similar economic and social conditions, compared to developed Western states. He also expresses criticism toward how the 2007 financial crisis was handled, stating that it impoverished social groups which were already weak. “During the history of re-established independence, the largest emigration levels were in 2010, 83 thousand people left then,” the politician emphasises.

He observes that the country has made great strides, something that has been recognised by foreign experts, but at the same time, it would be naïve to expect that the country would manage to reach the same standards of life in a few decades that took other countries centuries.

A. Butkevičius notes that in terms of recent emigration, what concerns him greatly is that those who choose to emigrate recently have been stating they are doing it not for economic reasons, but other matters such as a poor psychological climate, an atmosphere of distrust, disrespect, even mockery. “But these are things that are mostly dependent not on the government, but on all of us. If children do not respect their teachers, doctors and patients feel mutual distrust, drivers are intolerant on the roads, officials perform their functions unsuitably and we only see negative messages on the media, these are problems of the entire society, though typically the government is blamed.

The opposition long criticised A. Butkevičius’ government of inaction and stagnation, while the GDP grew, EU funding flooded into Lithuania and no crisis was in sight, most did not experience an improvement in their welfare and in certain regards such as average wages, Lithuania fell behind not only Estonia, but also Latvia. To this, Butkevičius fires back with a number of criticisms toward the opposition Conservatives, who were especially vocal critics of his government, ranging from pension and benefit reductions to not borrowing from the IMF and instead in financial markets during the financial crisis.

The politician admits that real incomes decreased for some, particularly for civil servants and pensioners. However, he points to the large amount of debt accrued following the financial crisis, which limited capacities, as well as the Russian embargo, the need to refocus on national security financing and to increase the state’s energy independence as having been the reasons they could not do better.

Butkevičius refuses to compare the performance of the Andrius Kubilius and S. Skvernelis governments, noting that the two face different circumstances and also that he is in the ruling coalition currently. Nevertheless, he observes that the incumbent government occasionally chooses priorities incorrectly, employs the wrong tools and means. He states that this is also due to a lack of experience in politics, thus an evaluation of final results will be more suitable.

When asked to comment on the LSDP’s split, A. Butkevičius noted that during his tenure as party chair, he strove to involve younger members more in party processes, having appointed Gintautas Paluckas party executive secretary. “Every one of them was granted the opportunity to reveal their abilities,” he emphasises, noting that the veteran party members’ departure during the party schism was not due to an unwillingness to recognise the results of the party chairman election, but because the new leadership was resolving questions of its consolidation of power and ambition, finding no room for dialogue with either the veteran members, nor coalition partners.

The veteran politician believes that what he describes as “youthful enthusiasm to return the LSDP to the path of “true social democracy”” is gradually fading. Instead, he sees the party’s new programme documents filled with old slogans, ideological discrepancies and efforts to appeal to different groups of voters. In this opinion, this is more of a prospect-less populism with no real changes, which has been noticed by more than just party members, as evidenced by recent public opinion polls. Butkevičius expresses hope that the first elections in 2019 will put matters in order again.

A. Butkevičius explains he does not plan to join the new social democrat party with Gediminas Kirkilas and Juozas Bernatonis, considering how Lithuanian citizens view parties negatively today, which would suggest it is an effort with poor prospects. At the same time, he does not state any plans to return to the LSDP, only noting growing disenchantment in the party and among voters. “Let us leave questions about my next steps in politics for the future. Perhaps near future,” he states.

In terms of potential candidates to the post of president, Butkevičius notes that he believes the current most popular two – S. Skvernelis and G. Nausėda – will face one another in the second round, as for which one he would support, the former PM remains silent, only stating he will observe and decide when the time comes. In terms of S. Skvernelis hinting that he would not run for president, A. Butkevičius notes that, “It is not only gut feeling, but also information I have and matters I thought through that lead to the conclusion that he will participate.”

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