Chairman elections draw close for all the parliamentary parties

Seimas
The Seimas - DELFI / Tomas Vinickas

The six parties with Seimas groups should be holding chairman elections in 2021. While leadership changes are not expected in most of the parliamentary parties, at least half of the leaders heading these political powers will vie for another term in a vastly less comfortable environment than they did previously Benas Brunalas wrote in lrytas.lt

Both the Conservatives and “Farmer” leaders can expect fiercer competition. Most likely, only the liberal parties’ leaders and the neither criticised by fellow party members nor commented on the absolute chairman of the “Farmers” are to face challenges.

The ELTA news agency together with lrytas.lt presents an overview and evaluation as to how the circumstances of political parties entering the Seimas has changed over the previous term and whether we should expect changes in the leaderships of current parliamentary parties.

After lost elections, a question regarding R. Karbauskis: a challenge from S. Skvernelis or R. Baškienė?

Ramūnas Karbauskis has led the “Farmers” for more than a decade and was last re-elected chairman for a two years term in January 2019. The party congress that year was steeped in the atmosphere of nearing elections: then Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis was elected the LVŽS’ candidate for the Presidential Elections and R. Karbauskis celebrated the then elevated LVŽS ratings.

At the same time, the LVŽS leader made predictions, which never came about, that the “Farmers” would win all the elections to be held in the near future: the municipal, presidential, European Parliament and eventually – the Seimas elections. As it turned out, in all the elections, the LVŽS fell behind their rivals and the party chairman offered public interpretations a number of times as to what should be viewed a victory.

Thus, in 2021, if R. Karbauskis looks to vie for another term as the leader of the LVŽS, will be faced with an incomparably more pessimistic context: after a failed Seimas elections, the party has been cast into the opposition, the COVID-19 situation and elevated death rates often pose the question as to whether the previously governing “Farmer” party isn’t to blame for it. R. Karbauskis is no longer in Seimas either. Having conceded that just his presence in parliament prevents the LVŽS from claiming the rights that belong to it, he voluntarily stepped down from parliament.

Political scientists agree that it is unlikely that in the near future, any significant changes in the “Farmer” leadership will occur.

Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science (VU TSPMI) professor Tomas Janeliūnas says that despite the questions arising multiple times in the public domain about R. Karbauskis’ leadership among LVŽS MPs in Seimas, it is unlikely that this means the “Farmer” chairman’s seat has truly come into question.

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“I doubt that at the party level, you could find a sufficiently powerful and supported alternative to Karbauskis. He has a vast amount of influence in the party. Both due to his leadership style and his financial capacities, as well as surrounding himself with people he trusts. Thus, I do not believe that anyone will challenge him,” the professor said.

According to him, based on current circumstances, the most likely replacement for R. Karbauskis might be former Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, who still hasn’t entered the LVŽS party. However, T. Janeliūnas immediately points out that even he would lack the influence needed to truly challenge the current chairman.

The TSPMI lecturer also expressed doubt in whether R. Karbauskis himself, in preparation for the 2024 Seimas elections, would decide to place the far more popular S. Skvernelis in his current position. According to the political expert, by withdrawing from the party, R. Karbauskis would lose the leverage he already has. “Meanwhile, in the future Seimas elections, anything could happen. The candidate priority seats could be reshuffled, more screen time and publicity could be afforded to popular politicians, with himself being in the background,” the professor said.

Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) political scientist Rima Urbonaitė agreed that R. Karbauskis would find being re-elected for his next term far more difficult than it was in 2019.

“The elections will be held after a series of losses. Another thing is that currently, Karbauskis’ role is rather peculiar,” the political scientist said in regards to R. Karbauskis’ stepping down from Seimas. R. Urbonaitė believes that eventually, everything will likely depend on how R. Karbauskis views the situation and what strategies S. Skvernelis will harbour.

On the other hand, according to the MRU lecturer, we should not completely dismiss that R. Karbauskis could be challenged by party veteran Rima Baškienė. Over the past few years, she has been a consistent critic of R. Karbauskis. Thus, R. Urbonaitė muses, even without major hopes to win, R. Baškienė could attempt to compete.

“I would not be surprised at all by Baškienė vying for the post of party chairperson. Truth be told, it would even be more surprising if S. Skvernelis chose to openly compete with Ramūnas Karbauskis.

Meanwhile, Baškienė has never shirked confrontation. She might not have much chance of overcoming Karbauskis, but she might be thinking politically – just showcasing that there is competition against R. Karbauskis,” R. Urbonaitė said.

G. Landsbergis’ continued leadership: will the liberal wing of the TS-LKD face a challenge?

Having led the Conservatives since 2015, Gabrielius Landsbergis was re-elected party chairman in February 2017. Back then, the Homeland Union’s chairman was re-elected for the first time for a term of four years. Up to then, his term would last two years.

Despite the Conservatives winning the latest Seimas elections, questions do emerge regarding G. Landsbergis’ continued party leadership. Most likely, the greatest stimulus for murmurs of a potential rotation in the Conservatives’ chairmanship was the fact that G. Landsbergis was appointed minister of foreign affairs. The claim is made that due to the specifics of this ministry’s work, G. Landsbergis could struggle to control party affairs.

Nevertheless, there are also other accents being discussed in the public domain, which raise fairly real questions regarding G. Landsbergis’ continued chairmanship. He is one of the most disliked politicians and the party was led through the Seimas elections by Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė. Finally, the Conservatives’ ranks are divided into two wings – the conservative Christian democrats and the more liberal wing, which G. Landsbergis is attributed to.

The fact that the two wings of the party engage in discussions or even certain frictions is a fairly old question. Thus, even if G. Landsbergis chose to run for another term, the more conservative wing of the party could nurture the idea of having a chairman who would be more a match of their world view. This trend could also be reinforced by how, namely in the context of the latest Seimas elections, it could be seen that namely politicians in the conservative wing received significant support from among party members and society.

Nevertheless, political scientists believe that the situation in the TS-LKD leadership is unlikely to change in 2021. On the one hand, R. Urbonaitė says that she believes that G. Landsbergis’ positions in the TS-LKD aren’t immovable, but on the other hand, T. Janeliūnas notes that there are premises to think that the party’s two wings, despite debates, might even be interested in maintaining G. Landsbergis in the post of chairman.

Furthermore, the TSPMI professor points out, with I. Šimonytė integrated into the TS-LKD [she still has not joined as a party member, however], the party has been partially able to resolve the “Landsbergis problem.” “At the moment, I believe that the so-called “Landsbergis problem” has been resolved quite well.

It matters not which Landsbergis it might be – they will have a negative reaction charge, causing negative emotions for certain people,” the professor said, pointing out that while the Christian democrat wing of the TS-LKD did grow stronger with the latest Seimas elections, the politicians representing it have taken important posts in the Seimas’ structures and even the cabinet, which makes challenging the modern wing, nominating their own representative to become party chairman, not only something insufficiently prepared but also dangerous.

“I believe that at the moment, a takeover of party chairmanship isn’t truly necessary for the Christian democrats because this would incite tensions in the party. It would also not necessarily help retain the coalition. It could cause tensions within the coalition as well,” he said.

Will V. Čmilytė-Nielsen continue accumulating political capital as party leader?

Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen was elected the chairwoman of the Liberal Movement in September 2019. Back then, she won by a large margin against Trakai region Mayor Edita Rudelienė. During her leadership, the party did not shine in the Seimas elections, but it was precisely with V. Čmilytė-Nielsen that the liberals became part of the ruling coalition and a number of the party’s representatives received cabinet postings.

That said, the fact that, based on the coalition agreement, the Liberal Movement received the seats of the minister of the environment and minister of culture, as well as the Seimas speaker’s position, raised questions in both the public domain and within the party. Questions arise whether the Liberal Movement’s negotiators really negotiated as much as they could and should have when forming a coalition.

In this context, the Liberal Movement Seimas group saw the departure of a veteran member of Seimas and liberal MP Kęstutis Glaveckas. According to him, the party should have demanded more significant ministries. However, despite criticism, the fact is that with V. Čmilytė-Nielsen taking the position as Seimas speaker, she should be able to continue developing her political capital.

This is also indicated by public opinion polls – based on the latest data from Baltijos Tyrimai, she is found among the top five most favourably received figures when just in October, she was outside the top ten. Compared to previous party chairman Eugenijus Gentvilas, who entered the position following the scandal incited by Eligijus Masiulis, who landed in the epicentre of the MG Baltic corruption case, this is a truly excellent result.

Political scientists agree that most likely, the Liberal Movement’s chairperson elections for 2021 will be a mere formality. The incumbent chairwoman has not only become an excellent means for the party to handle its troubled past, which was left behind E. Masiulis’ infamous box – upon becoming Seimas speaker, she has also gained far more prominence as a politician. [E. Masiulis’ infamous box refers to over a hundred thousand euro in what is alleged to be bribes being found in a vodka gift box on E. Masiulis’ property]

“In this case, it wouldn’t be really logical to replace her. This is especially true because it could also be seen as an expression of distrust in her as Seimas speaker. I believe that the liberals should be content and doubt that anyone will pose a serious challenge to her. Čmilytė-Nielsen is only gaining momentum,” T. Janeliūnas said.

“The Liberals have nothing better, they have a person who continues to build political capital. Thus, replacing their party chairman would be at the very least foolish. I do not imagine what alternative there could be to Čmilytė,” R. Urbonaitė said, pointing out that the current Liberal Movement leader could perhaps only be criticised over her cadre policy prior to the Seimas elections.

Having offered up a surprise in the Seimas elections, the Freedom Party should see no leadership change

Aušrinė Armonaitė was elected Freedom Party chairwoman in June 2019. She was also one of the main founders of this political power, as well as the only candidate in the first party chairperson elections, which elected her for two years. It has become quite typical to say that the party, which emerged after disputes with the Liberal Movement leadership, was one of the Seimas elections’ victors.

Having been labelled a “two question party”, the political power not only managed to overcome the 5% threshold and form an 11 MP-strong group in Seimas but also become a part of the ruling coalition and take three cabinet seats. Thus, the expectations for the party were amply fulfilled and A. Armonaitė became the most prominent face of the political power.

Based on Baltijos Tyrimai data, in November, A. Armonaitė was viewed favourably by 37% of citizens versus 48% viewing her negatively. This result places the politician on the 15 place in the ratings chart.

Just like with V. Čmilytė-Nielsen, political scientists say, there is also no basis for changes in the Freedom Party’s leadership. Both R. Urbonaitė and T. Janeliūnas concur that it was namely A. Armonaitė, who was one of the factors as to why the Freedom Party had a successful showing in the parliamentary elections.

“No one judges the winner,” the TSPMI professor notes.

“Armonaitė definitely deserves a great deal of credit for the excellent performance in the elections, for the Freedom Party surprise. Thus, there is no pretext to replace her as if a leader who hasn’t met expectations. She not only met them, she surpassed them,” he said.

R. Urbonaitė believes that even if such a question did surface, it would be tough to find among the Freedom Party’s ranks equal or publicly recognised alternatives. Vilnius city Mayor Remigijus Šimašius might be an exception, but R. Urbonaitė pointed out that she very much doubts his desire to take lead of the party.

Changes in the Labour Party hinge on one man – it will be as V. Uspaskich decides

Viktor Uspaskich was last elected Labour Party leader in 2018. Back then, the party’s founder and long-time chairman returned to the political power’s leadership after a pause, having stepped down in 2013 when court proceedings on the so-called “black bookkeeping” case were ongoing. With proceedings concluding in December 2015 at the Lithuanian Court of Appeals, he had withdrawn from the party entirely for a time.

Up to 2018, Labour saw the temporary or elected leadership of Loreta Graužinienė, Vytautas Gapšys, Valentinas Mazuronis, Živilė Pinskuvienė and Šarūnas Birutis. V. Uspaskich returned to lead the nearly vanished from the political map party in 2018. He was elected without competition – no one competed for the position and back then, out of 731 delegates in the party congress, only two people voted against.

Over the span of a few years, led by V. Uspaskich, Labour recovered on the party ratings and in the 2020 Seimas elections overcame the 5% threshold and won ten mandates. This is very much a contrast to the results achieved in the elections four years ago – back then, the party only received a few mandates. That said, in October 2020, the Labour Party electoral list was not led by V. Uspaskich, but by Vigilijus Jukna. The party leader didn’t participate in the Seimas elections overall, only proclaiming that he is aiming for the seat of prime minister.

Analysts position the Labour Party among the “one-man” parties. Such political parties have basically one individual who decides everything and has the final say, while the party’s members are more akin to extras. Evidence for such generalisation was presented by the events of recent weeks as well.

After V. Uspaskich’s misleading claims about the healing water that supposedly treats COVID-19, as well as homophobic slurs, not a single one of those in Labour’s ranks, bar Antanas Guoga, dared criticise or even comment the scandalous statements made by the party leader. Thus, in terms of whether the Labour Party’s leadership will change, this will mostly depend on V. Uspaskich and only minimally on the wishes of party members.

The political scientists were also confident that there would be no intrigue in the party chairperson elections. According to them, there isn’t even anyone capable and willing to issue a challenge in Labour’s ranks.

“It is clear that this is a one-man party. This is evident from several matters. Firstly, the election results depend on whether V. Uspaskich is actively engaged in the elections. Secondly, we see critical situations and statements by the chairman, which could even pose a threat to society and people’s health, but the party’s members silently come to terms with this and it appears even fear to contradict the party leader,” R. Urbonaitė said.

She was echoed by T. Janeliūnas who noted that it is clear there’s no internal competition within this party.

“Those who perhaps are discontent with Uspaskich’s behaviour would likely rather leave the party and seek opportunities for their career rather than challenge Uspaskich. On the other hand, the Labour Party does not have any faces who could become leaders. Guoga’s case shows that even more recognised politicians have no chance to compete with Uspaskich,” he said.

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