Eight years of President Grybauskaitė – more praise than criticism

President Dalia Grybauskaitė July 7, 2017

Today marks eight years of President Dalia Grybauskaitė in the post of head of state. In recent years of her second term she continued to adhere to her style and methods of work – criticizing politicians’ mistakes, demanding point toward solvable problems. There have been calls for a more active input into the country’s political changes from the president however, Lietuvos žinios paper reported on 11 July.

Feeling support

Seimas Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis believes that the president’s work both before and now is “consistently firm”. “I always find it pleasant to meet and talk. Our opinions frequently match. We are glad in feeling support for our decisions. The Seimas sometimes does not even manage to do as much as the president hopes,” the head of parliament told Lietuvos Žinios.

He stated he believes that the reforms which the majority has pledged to accomplish – governance, tax and education – should be accomplished with the help of D. Grybauskaitė as well. Regarding the criticisms expressed in her annual address, V. Pranckietis assured he does not take it badly. “Rational criticism is always a driving force,” the Seimas Speaker added. On the occasion of the third anniversary of her second term, the politician wished the president to “be proud of things she accomplished.”

To maintain a strict tone

Seimas Lithuanian Social Democrat Party (LSDP) group prefect Andrius Palionis split the last year of the president’s term into two halves – prior and following the Seimas elections. D. Grybauskaitė’s relations with the former majority was complicated.

The change in government initially gave hope, but now, the member of Seimas believes, it would appear that the largest coalition party, the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS) has disappointed the head of state. “If we do not sit down at the table and talk in rational language, there will be confrontation, just as in the end of the last term,” the parliamentarian warned.

During the last two years of D. Grybauskaitė’s term, A. Palionis expects her to participate more actively in daily political and public life, in discussions prior to passing important state decisions. He stressed that the Seimas sometimes does not even know the president’s opinion on certain questions, leading to certain legislation being vetoed afterward.

In A. Palionis’ opinion, D. Grybauskaitė will continue to be strict, demanding and will not pander to anyone. However he does not hide that he expects not only strictness and demandingness, but also closer cooperation between the Presidential Palace, Seimas and cabinet. “All the chief institutions should begin working together and for Lithuania,” the Social Democrat noted.

The leader of the largest opposition party, the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) and its Seimas group prefect Gabrielius Landsbergis highlighted that it was during the third year in this term that the new cabinet was formed, for whose actions the head of state took responsibility. “If the cabinet remains so inactive, lethargic and fails to live up to its commitments, the president’s mood can change greatly. We will then come to hear many harsh words,” the conservative considered prospects for the next two years.

He stated he believes that D. Grybauskaitė will remain strict and demanding in the future. Furthermore, Landsbergis guesses that the president will likely also begin to consider how her work will be seen after her term, whether she demanded the cabinet to perform the necessary work or if she allowed it to sleep peacefully. G. Landsbergis also highlighted and praised the president’s efforts and support in fighting for transparency.

Continuing to show ambition

The head of the opposition Liberal Movement group, Eugenijus Gentvilas said that the third year of D. Grybauskaitė’s term was dedicated to accomplishing strategic state tasks. There was a focus on strengthening national defence forces, opposing propaganda. As always the head of state was also active in foreign policy.

An important accent of this year’s work was the appointment of the new cabinet. According to E. Gentvilas it was far easier than that of Algirdas Butkevičius‘ cabinet. This time there were no foreign language examinations prior to appointment.

“There was no test of professionalism. Perhaps there was trust in the claim that these are professionals. Regardless, it looked like a step in the right direction, compared to 2012,” the liberal stated.

In E. Gentvilas’ opinion, last term D. Grybauskaitė had to establish herself as an individual who without a doubt can continue to lead the country, while now she does not have to display any exceptional ambitions. However the liberal is certain that even with the last term rolling into its second half, the president will not lower her pace and will remain active.

“I believe she is an ambitious person and upon ending her term would not want to be viewed as the politician who gave up and let things proceed on their own. The president will not allow herself to be like that and will display her ambitions to the last day and these are not just personal ambitions, but also those of Lithuania. D. Grybauskaitė wants to enter Lithuanian history as a politician who cannot be viewed as giving up and limping away. She is not an individual of such a character,” the parliamentarian stated.

E. Gentvilas mused that D. Grybauskaitė will continue to hold the same view of strategic questions and will strictly demand the promised reforms from the cabinet. “I would perhaps want the president to participate in formulating the reforms. Not like right now. For example her criticisms over the forestry and higher education reforms were in my opinion very accurate, but this is only criticism when the process is nearing its end. I would like to see the president working together with the cabinet, discussing the direction of reform just as it is being developed,” the member of Seimas said.

Could have done more

In a press release by the Presidential Palace it is highlighted that during the last year D. Grybauskaitė dedicated most attention to raising social security, reducing corruption, ensuring justice and continuing to strengthen national defence. Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science docent Kęstutis Girnius partially agrees that the president was active in these fields.

The political scientist does not believe however that D. Grybauskaitė put in any particular effort into social segregation and other social problems. Yes, she urged to include more notions into the new Labour Code that would benefit employees, but in essence she was not as active as she could have been. “If she wanted, she would have dedicated more attention to these matters, would have invited both parties, both representatives of the employers and employees, to the Presidential Palace, would have organised discussions, offered proposals, even demanded, the president would have been able to do significantly more,” Girnius conceded, “I do not argue that she, no doubt, took interest, but to I see more passivity than active support here. This is something the president is slightly overpraising herself on.”

He highlighted the shift in D. Grybauskaitė’s view of the new cabinet. Initially the head of state was very positive regarding the ministerial cabinet, supported and backed it. However reading her annual address she turned to the opposite side and is now not avoiding sharp criticism. “This is an interesting phenomenon. It appeared to me that the president will definitely support the cabinet the first time and will help it reach some sort of goals. But now she washed her hands of it and returned to a confrontational position,” the political scientist explained.

The relations of the Presidential Palace and the majority can continue to remain tense according to K. Girnius. D. Grybauskaitė pours on criticism over the forestry and higher education reform, the termination of the VAT exemption for heating, the approval of a liberal Labour Code and such. “I believe that relations with both Seimas and cabinet will begin heading to those seen in the last two years of the previous government’s term. There will be no love lost between them,” K. Girnius explained. Furthermore he does not believe that Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis will, particularly after his clash with the president, manage to regain lost positions.

The political scientist forecast that over the remaining two years of term D. Grybauskaitė will not change much, will continue to concern herself with justice, defence and foreign policy. “Elsewhere she will remain more of a critical observer. The president’s advantage is that when domestic problems which impact regular people arise, she can choose when to become involved and when not to and under what conditions. The head of state differs from the cabinet and prime minister, who have to struggle with those questions every day. I believe the president will remain the president rather than trying to actively participate and act in state life. It would be good if she began considering or creating a strategy to combat emigration, urge at least some people to return. That said I understand there are no easy answers in this,” K. Girnius noted.

A changed modus operandi

According to Vytautas Magnus University professor Algis Krupavičius, the president has set her priorities for the second term very clearly. Recently among the traditional affairs of foreign policy and national security, the problematic of social policy was also dominant. “The social realm is more prominent in D. Grybauskaitė’s second term, more significant than in the first,” the political scientist highlighted.

During her second term the president’s modus operandi changed compared to the first term, A. Krupavičius believes. Earlier she was a strict leader, fully willing to criticise politicians. “Now D. Grybauskaitė is far freer, more relaxed in all spheres, not such a strict teacher as she was during the first term. One way or another she is the first among equals, but does not try to stress her status. No doubt the advantage a politician in their second term has is that the head of state is now well known in the international arena and there is no need to present oneself. The president’s international weight and influence is fairly significant. This eases her life as a politician,” the political scientist explained. However Krupavičius does not believe that the president’s modus operandi will soften much over the remaining two years. “There are numerous unresolved problems. Domestic policy issues, the economy, social issues, in other terms politics with a human face should be a stronger component of the next two years,” the expert outlined.

D. Grybauskaitė’s relations with the majority, he believes, will mostly depend on how the latter manage to cope with arising challenges. If work proceeds successfully, the majority can expect support from the head of state. “If the coalition does not succeed, as looks now, it will receive more criticism from the president and it will be far more acute,” A. Krupavičius guessed.

Learning from mistakes

Mykolas Romeris University docent Virgis Valentinavičius states that the second term of D. Grybauskaitė is of a different level than the first. “She is not repeating mistakes from the past, one can feel she learned. The president understands how parliament and the cabinet works far better, wields her powers less energetically, but will far more cunning,” the political scientist said.

The clearest changes can be seen in foreign policy. V. Valentinavičius reminds that D. Grybauskaitė began her foreign policy with the “somewhat unwise refusal to participate in a lunch organised by Barack Obama in Prague.” “Now she enthusiastically attends all serious forums, values all opportunities to interact with the American president. On the other hand Lithuanian-Polish relations are clearly stalled,” the political scientist said.

As a positive factor he pointed to the fact that in her annual address the president spoke about the importance of parties to democracy. “Half a year ago when the “Farmers” won the elections, D. Grybauskaitė was still content that the parliament will have one consolidated power which will be able to govern more consistently. However the opposite happened. The president did not consider that populist parties – big or small – are the same and one cannot expect anything good from them. Thus such a quick realisation by the head of state is a positive,” V. Valentinavičius assured.

He believes that over the remaining two years of term D. Grybauskaitė will express her opinion on various questions more freely because she will not have to be concerned with new elections. On the other hand when “the cabinet is distanced from reality” and the parliament and majority are fractured, it is difficult to achieve anything serious with such partners. “I suspect that there will be much and justified criticism for the cabinet and Seimas,” the expert predicted. Another matter according to him is that the international and security situation for which the president is directly responsible, is becoming ever more complicated. “As such it is very important that under increasingly difficult conditions the president would maintain a balance and consistency in Lithuanian politics,” V. Valentinavičius stressed.

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