LRT Radio and lrt.lt continues its cycle of political party introductions. This time, we introduce the history and work of the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania (LSDP).
The party with the longest history
The Lithuanian social democratic party is the oldest party in Lithuania. Even though its history dates back a 100 years, let‘s start looking at its work starting with the restoration of independence. A majority of people from this time are taking part in today’s elections.
From 1990 to 2000, the party couldn’t get lucky when it came to being elected. When Aloyzas Sakalas was head of the party, it won about 7-9 seats in the Seimas, also known as the parliament. A couple more candidates were elected through single-mandate district elections.
A conflict arose within the party in 1998, as people started having doubts about the party’s partnership with the Democratic Labour Party of Lithuania (LDDP), formerly known as the Communist Party of Lithuania. The only difference between LDDP and the Communist Party of Lithuania was the name change, which happened in 1990. Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas was the party leader at the time.
In 1992, LDDP won the elections and Mr. Brazauskas became speaker of the parliament. Because of his popularity, he was elected President in 1993, having gained 60% of the vote.
Won the most mandates, but became the opposition
The Lithuanian social-democratic party started gaining success in the elections only when they started associating themselves with the LDDP.
In the beginning of 2001, the party merged with the LDDP and became the largest social-democratic party in Lithuanian history. Around 6000 people were a part of it.
The coalition between the social democrats and the LDDP, led by Algirdas Brazauskas, gained 31 % of the total vote in the elections of 2000. The party won 51 parliamentary seats, 23 of which were won in single-mandate districts.
Even though the coalition made up the majority fraction in the Seimas, it ended up being in the opposition. The Government was formed by the so-called New Politics Coalition, which consisted of the New Union led by Artūras Paulauskas and the Liberal Union of Lithuania, led by Rolandas Paksas.
Even before the elections, the aforementioned parties had planned to form the government in the event of gaining enough votes. Valdas Adamkus, the President of Lithuania at the time, showed his support for the idea.
Conflicts of interest regarding international agreements
The Socialdemocratic coalition, which was led by Mr. Brazauskas and had won the majority of mandates, still had ambitions to form the Government.
“It will be strange when the party that won the most seats in the Seimas will be forced to become the opposition,” Brazauskas commented.
The social democrats had to deal with the role of the opposition, but not for long. In the summer of 2001, Seimas Speaker Rolandas Paksas gave up his position. This meant that the formation of the new Government was entrusted to Mr. Brazauskas and his social-democratic coalition and the New Union led by Artūras Paulauskas.
During negotiations, a new temporary Government was formed. Its leader was Eugenijus Gentvilas. During that time, the Prime Minister had to sign an agreement between “Williams” and “Yukos” concerning long-term oil supply to Mažeikiai. According to Mr. Gentvilas, Mr. Brazauskas pressured him not to sign the agreement.
President Adamkus called the actions as anti-state and had his representative Darius Kuolys convey the message.
“The President urged the Prime minister to sign this crucial agreement. He considers the pressure not to sign it as an anti-state action,” Mr. Kuolys said.
Avoided major scandals
“[With all the questioning] am I supposed to confess my sins? Everyone that is beneficial to Lithuania is equal in my eyes,” Mr Brazauskas assured.
The agreement was eventually signed. The new Government run by A. Brazauskas was formed and stayed in power until the end of its term in office. Until that time, no other cabinet of Ministers was this stable, as it managed to avoid major scandals that would rock its stability.
But they couldn’t avoid them wholly. In 2004, law enforcement officials requested the parliament to remove legal immunity from a couple of Seimas members, including Vytenis Andriukaitis, who was accused of taking a bribe from the head of “Rubicon Group” at the time. Mr. Andriukaitis decided to step away on his own terms.
An ultimatum for the position of Prime Minister
During the rule of Mr. Brazauskas Government, Lithuania had joined the European Union and NATO. In the 2004 elections, the coalition between Brazauskas and the New Union, led by Mr. Paulauskas, received three times less votes compared to four years ago.
However, a never before seen phenomena occurred as the social democrats gained the right to form the ruling coalition. This has yet to be repeated. The Prime Minister and leader of the social-democrats at the time, Mr. Brazauskas, said that a coalition with the Labour Party (which had gained the majority of the votes in the elections), was impossible if Mr. Brazauskas wasn’t offered the Prime Minister chair.
“I think that a coalition is impossible, since we have specific experience. There’s also the question of continuity, which is important for a country. If that [continuity] isn’t the basis of this Government, there won’t be any talks [of a coalition],” Brazauskas said.
And so, even though the social democrats had less power having made a coalition with the Labour Party (which had no prior political experience), a Government formed and ruled by the same Prime Minister started its work. This is something that had never happened in Lithuania’s history before. But the Government started crumbling right from the start.
Just two days after being assigned, the Minister of Education and Science of that time, Juozas Antanavičius, stepped away from his post. This happened after suspicions emerged of his ties with the KGB. In spring of 2005, Algirdas Butkevičius left his post as Minister of Finance. It was speculated that he made the choice after disagreements in discussions about the tax reform arose.
Warnings about the financial crisis left ignored
There was a scandal regarding privatisation of the hotel Draugystė. Suspicions emerged that Mr. Brazauskas, who was the President at the time, made a request to the Minister of Economy about the removal of the hotel from the list of objects that will be privatised using cheques, so that his future wife, Kristina Brazauskienė, could do it instead. Mr. Brazauskas denied these claims.
In the end the social-liberals left the coalition and the Labour Party split up following numerous corruption scandals. A coalition consisting of the lesser parties was formed for the first time, led by Gediminas Kirkilas.
On the brink of the financial crisis, in 2008, the media reported that even though the Minister of Finance at the time, Rimantas Šadžius, was warned about the upcoming downturn, he insisted that nothing is going to happen to Lithuania and approved the increase of pensions and benefit payments.
Prime Minister Kirkilas also spoke that no downturn is going to happen. Minister of Social Security and Labour, Vilija Blinkevičiūtė, disagreed with proposals of lowering the minimum wage and said that it needed to be increased.
Overthrown from the chair of the ruling coalition
Even after they had increased benefit payments and promised to increase pensions, the minimum wage and other benefits, the social democrats lost trust of the public in the 2008 elections.
The 2008 financial crisis had already begun when the elections took place, and even though the party won more seats, it wasn’t enough to form the Government. They had to settle with the role of the opposition. In 2009, the head of the old LSDP, Algirdas Butkevičius, was chosen to lead the party.
The dawn of the 2012 autumn elections broke, and LSDP managed to score a victory. Mr. Butkevičius became Prime Minister. At the start of his term, he was known for being indecisive, especially regarding the formation of the Government and the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant.
The current Government has had a constant trail of corruption scandals following it. They also provided material for many internet users to laugh at.
There was also an occurrence where the Minister of Economy, Birūtė Vėsaitė, couldn’t decide which Ministry she worked for. After she had received a question regarding a flight to Kazakhstan funded by the company Arvi, she ended up leaving the Ministry.
The Prime Minister was involved with the shadow economy
The mayor of Alytus at the time, Jurgis Krasnickas, was heard telling Lithuania to go to hell. The Special Investigation Service of Lithuania (STT) was investigating a possible case of power abuse in the municipality-controlled company Aqua. The hotel that is owned by the company could accommodate guests without any financial records being written. There is also the scandal of the so-called “Vijūnėlės dvaras”, where suspicions were raised that the mayor of Druskininkai and social-democrat Ričardas Malinauskas pressured the Minister of Environment to eliminate resort zones for his benefit.
The Prime Minister was also involved in scandals. Last autumn, it was revealed that the son-in-law of Mr. Butkevičius, Evaldas Vaitasius, held 50 % of shares in a public relations company Ministerium. According to the media, the company succeeded in many State contests.
“If I understand correctly, there was agreement to pay the full sum in halves. […] Everything went transparently,” the Prime Minister said.
Rimantė Šalaševičiūtė, the Minister of Health, had to step down after confessing about giving a bribe to a doctor many years ago. Bronius Bradauskas, a party member, was met with resentment after saying that Lithuanians who helped Jews during World War II should receive their pensions from the state of Israel, not Lithuania.
Friction caused by generational differences
The current “golden spoon and fork” scandal still hasn’t died down. It is related to the military buying kitchen equipment from the company Nota bene and paying a price that is way too high.
The approval of the new labour code has also drawn anger upon the party. The approval was largely supported by the social democrats.
Differences between the older and newer generations of social-democrats have emerged. Some say that the older party members call their younger colleagues “šeškučiai” (little skunks). Meanwhile, the younger members are forced to feel shame about the things their colleagues say. There was also a story of an organisational rally, where the US President Barack Obama was likened to a monkey.
This term, the social democratic fraction took part in more than a half of parliamentary votes. One of the three law projects proposed by a party member was approved. The LSDP is the largest party in Lithuania, with 21 thousand members.