If Skvernelis is seeking to rally his electorate, he chose the wrong opponents

Saulius Skvernelis
DELFI / Domantas Pipas

Meanwhile, S. Skvernelis called upon the intelligence services on information he spoke of on Kremlin and Russian special services’ efforts to overthrow legitimate government. President Dalia Grybauskaitė described such behaviour as being unsound and inappropriate. The prime minister responded emotionally. Political analysts say that this way, the prime minister seeks to rally his electorate for the nearing presidential elections, but that he chose the wrong opponent. There are even more pessimistic evaluations, advising that S. Skvernelis should postpone the dream of presidency for a long while now.

While not having declared candidacy, S. Skvernelis is held to be the most realistic Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union presidential candidate. While he is demonstrating that no publicly recognised authority is an obstacle for him, his ratings show that things are not going all that well.

Adding work as head of cabinet to the rhetoric, we find a ratings curve, which does not land the prime minister in more lofty political heights. In December 2016, the prime minister had a positive rating from 68.3% of voters, last December this was down to 49.8% and this year it has decreased to 36.8%.

With the opposition Conservatives demanding to postpone the approval of the state budget in Seimas, S. Skvernelis spoke to the Liberal Movement Seimas group that the teachers’ strikes are a part of a leaked secret Conservatives plan and promised to show its guidelines.

On the same day, during cabinet hour, he clarified: the Conservatives are influenced by foreign powers.

“It really seems that this is the implementation of Kremlin policy, doubts arise if there may perhaps not be links to the Russian special services. I believe that our intelligence services will have answers. Such premises can be made,” S. Skvernelis said on December 6.

On Tuesday, the prime minister declared he does not take back his words and demanded that the country’s intelligence services would present information. Meanwhile, the president, to whom the country’s special services are accountable to, assures that there is no such information as of right now.

“Right now I can state in public: there are no reports, no information from intelligence services about Russian special services together with the Conservatives participating in the organisation of the strike or somewhere else, there’s nothing. Even after this statement was made by the prime minister, perhaps in the heat of the moment, in the heat of the debate, after all, he inquired later. First, he declared and then asked for something to be found. That’s inappropriate. For an official of this level it is irresponsible and very inappropriate,” the president stated on LRT Television’s Dienos Tema.

After such words by the president, the prime minister, unsurprisingly, reacted emotionally in an interview next day and thus showed that criticism irritates him.

“It is what it is, the tulip mail story opened the curtains a little, where you also saw what epithets were used in my direction. They continue to this day. I understand that for ten years, there was only one person in Lithuania, who made no mistakes and knew everything. Now there are other people, who also try to know much, but make mistakes,” he remarked bitterly.

S. Skvernelis explains that classified information reaches him that he will present to “Farmer” group prefect Ramūnas Karbauskis, Seimas Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis and the Seimas National Security and Defence Committee (NSGK), however the information will not be made available to Conservatives members on the committee.

Former State Security Department (VSD) head Mečys Laurinkus says that such a situation cannot persist in the country. It is very specifically outlined how the presentation of such information is coordinated, what order state officials responsible for national security are informed in: first of all the president, the Seimas speaker, the prime minister and the Seimas NSGK. Now, suspicions can appear that such coordination no longer exists in the country.

“If it touches questions of national security and this term is mentioned, it matters not, what is being brought up – Moscow, China, Iran or something else – what is most important is that the boundary of local use is exceeded. It must have a certain set order and this has happened in Lithuania. And no member of the Seimas NSGK, who participates in it, can have any limitations,” M. Laurinkus says.

According to the former intelligence chief, if there is a real national security threat, the State Defence Council should convene. The members of the council are the president, prime minister, Seimas speaker, minister of national defence and head of the armed forces.

Political scientist Marius Laurinavičius says that the “Farmers”, in making accusations and raising tensions with talks about threats to national security and ongoing plans to overthrow the government, may bring themselves trouble.

“I view this as dangerous rhetoric because this is how real threats are discredited, with the Russian threat being very real and very threatening. The current criminal Russian regime always employs all problems and tensions in all states,” M. Laurinavičius notes.

The “Farmers” have likely already started their electoral campaigning and with talks about external threats are seeking to divert attention from R. Karbauskis’ problems due to business links to Russia, due to which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has contacted the Prosecutor General’s Office, and also away from S. Skvernelis’ musings on reviving the interstate commission with Russia. The president is being provoked to enter a public war of words and the “Farmers” are seeking to rally their electorate this way.

The prime minister has mentioned that the supposed assault against the cabinet is making him consider a presidential bid.

“It makes me think about it [participation in the presidential elections], such reckless assaults, which cannot be justified in any way, it makes one think, what will come after if a president backed by one of the political powers is appointed, how the cabinet will work then,” the prime minister stated.

According to professor Tomas Janeliūnas, S. Skvernelis started his electoral campaign mistakenly, trying to intimidate with threats, attacking opponents with serious accusations and picking a fight with the incumbent president.

“I believe that it is unwise to fight the president, who is ending her term, even if you want to show that he will eb different or that he has the courage to oppose the president. If S. Skvernelis is really considering a presidential bid, he now has to think about how he will compete and fight the other candidates, not the incumbent. In this regard, I think he is choosing the wrong opponent,” T. Janeliūnas assures.

There are those, who have more pessimistic forecasts for the prime minister. VDU professor Algis Krupavičius believes that picking fights and the war of words with the president delays his dream for an indeterminate period.

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