With the opposition vociferously speculating that the current ruling coalition, which is dogged by scandals over foreign policy, will only last until the autumn and then collapse in the face of unfavourable economic, pandemic and geopolitical circumstances, experts argue that such a scenario is unlikely, but that a collapse of the governing majority cannot be excluded, Indrė Naureckaitė writing at lrytas.lt news portal.
Political experts predict a difficult period: the imminent start of the election campaign will bring several internal tensions, and the MPs standing for local elections will shake up the already fragile parliamentary majority.
What would shake the foundations of the Government?
The European Commission’s (EC) clarification on the application of sanctions to the Kaliningrad transit has given a platform not only to the opposition but also to some members of the Liberal Movement, the coalition partners who rebelled against the Government’s decision to accept the new guidelines.
Gabrielė Burbulytė-Tsiskarishvili, a political scientist at Klaipėda University (KU), notes that the ruling majority has remained stable despite the problems that have arisen. Therefore, according to her, it is not worth thinking that this Government could fall apart in the near future.
“It is much more likely that the foundations of the ruling majority could be shaken by a more active opposition, which is what they keep planning to do, but never do, namely by initiating interpellations of individual ministers,” she told the lrytas.lt website.
According to Burbulytė-Tsiskarishvili, the main reason the opposition fails to overthrow ministers is the insufficient number of votes.
In June, the opposition failed to topple Agriculture Minister Kęstutis Navickas – the opposition did not attend an unscheduled meeting to protest against the ruling party’s decision to hold one. Still, the ruling majority managed to keep the minister’s seat.
“Until now, the opposition’s justification for their behaviour has been that they don’t see the point of an interpellation because when they count the votes, they see that the vote would still fail, so it’s not worth the trouble.
I would say this is a mistake because this is the opposition’s bread and butter, and it is their direct job to exercise parliamentary control. As far as the interpellations have been observed so far, and the last one for the Minister of Agriculture, they have not been well prepared,” the political scientist assessed.
The big problem
According to Burbulytė-Tsiskarishvili, Lithuania’s political history shows that as elections approach, all ruling coalitions begin to loosen up, which can lead to various tensions.
However, as the political scientist notes, the country’s forthcoming triple elections – for municipal councils and mayors (2023) and for the presidency and the Seimas (2024) – could be an even more important factor in the composition of the ruling majority.
“This will be the first time such a unique situation will arise, and there will be a lot of tensions. There will likely be MPs in the ruling majority and also in the opposition who will run for municipal councils or mayors.
If these are single-member candidates, it is natural that their seats will remain empty for some time. This could be a major problem for the ruling majority – there is a chance that one or another vote, one or another Member of Parliament, could fall by the wayside if they choose to make their future in municipalities.
There is no need for additional forces – it is a natural progression, and the opposition and the ruling majority are already actively calculating their potential,” the political scientist says.
Is a split likely?
According to communication expert Mindaugas Lapinskas, a fracturing of the ruling majority is currently a more likely scenario than a change of Government.
“The old rumours that there are those in the Liberal Movement who could break away are probably true, and with such a fragile majority, this could happen. Probably a more appropriate word is crumbling than simply a change of Government.
We can see that the opposition is extremely motley, accusing each other of being who is who’s spy, who is who’s a better friend, which is probably why there is no need to talk about them uniting and taking power.
Especially since they are not fools either and understand that taking over the helm of the state in a difficult situation would not add any pluses for them,” Lapinskas told lrytas.lt.
Can Ministers Change?
At the same time, according to the communication expert, replacing certain ministers in Šimonytė’s Government could be possible and useful.
“A certain amount of refreshing would be quite possible – in this case, in some areas, we could turn over a white sheet of paper and say that we would like to start afresh,” he noted.
Giving governments a “second wind” is quite common in politics, Lapinskas said, and in this case, it would be the right thing to do.
“The problem would start with the personnel and deciding which minister should be sacrificed to move forward. The problem is that if a minister who does not stand for something special, such as culture or agriculture, is brought in, it would not give such a new impetus because people do not really know what these ministers do.
And if some key players were brought in – foreign affairs or finance, interior or health ministers – they are too heavy so that if you take out one piece of the puzzle, the whole house doesn’t collapse,” Lapinskas noted.
This is not the first foreign policy scandal
The scandal over the foreign policy of the ruling party is not the only one that has accompanied the ruling party this term – the turmoil over the transit of Belaruskalij fertilisers even shook the foundations of the Government, and Prime Minister Šimonytė herself has also mentioned threats to withdraw from the coalition partners.
However, according to political analyst G.Burbulytė-Tsiskarishvili, a similar scenario should not happen in the case of the Kaliningrad transit, despite the fact that some members of the Liberal Movement rebelled against the Government’s decision to accept the European Commission’s interpretation.
“The Belarusian fertiliser scandal was the Government’s own negligence – deadlines were missed. Then, both the members of the Government and the ruling majority had to bear some of the blame – those arrows of criticism were targeted.
This time the criticism was of a different nature – it was more a statement of Lithuania’s position. This is not the first time that we have had louder statements of dissent in the ruling majority, but it should not be the stumbling block that leads to a split in the ruling majority or to harsher statements by the Prime Minister,” Burbulytė-Tsiskarishvili believes.