Karbauskis and Skvernelis – who is the real leader?

Saulius Skvernelis ir Ramūnas Karbauskis
DELFI (R. Achmedovo nuotr.)

While currently Ramūnas Karbauskis has the support of a significant portion of the LVŽS fraction, the more moderate Saulius Skvernelis is turning more and more “Peasant” heads, Lietuvos žinios paper reported.

The scandal which engulfed LVŽS party leader Ramūnas Karbauskis and his deputy Greta Kildišienė, shaking the party to its core, has strengthened the positions of PM Skvernelis who did not shirk from expressing criticism regarding the developing situation. “It is not that S. Skvernelis is in R. Karbauskis’ shadow, but Karbauskis and the whole LVŽS are becoming S. Skvernelis’ shadow,” political scientist Lauras Bielinis concluded.

After the scandalous withdrawal from Seimas by G. Kildišienė and LVŽS leader R. Karbauskis’ announcement that supposedly the events of the past weeks are “the first serious attempt to overthrow a government elected by the people”, PM Skvernelis’ position that the “Peasants” should not stoop to extreme interpretations caused numerous discussions of his potential to take leadership in the party.

“S. Skvernelis may want to become party leader, but I do not believe it is happening already. If Skvernelis has such thoughts at all, I believe they are long term and not oriented toward the coming few weeks or months of governing. Hence all the current events are assisting his long term goals, but I do not believe that R. Karbauskis is already being overthrown,” Chief Editor for the LRT.lt portal Vladimiras Laučius said.

According to Lietuvos Žinios sources while R. Karbauskis has broad support in the parliamentary LVŽS fraction, the more moderate S. Skvernelis is turning more and more “Peasant” heads.
“The recent actions of R. Karbauskis or his entourage in trying to protect G. Kildišienė at any cost almost ended up fracturing the LVŽS fraction. S. Skvernelis is currently not yielding to emotion and is commenting on the situation from a neutral position. He likely understands that sooner or later R. Karbauskis will “screw up” by himself. Skvernelis will not even have to do anything,” said an anonymous member of the LVŽS Seimas fraction.

Risk of fracture

Yesterday the LVŽS parliamentary fraction met to discuss the current situation for the first time since G. Kildišienė chose to resign from parliament. After a two hour long meeting R. Karbauskis told journalists that apparently the fraction is united as never before. “We have never been this unified in the fraction. Support for the cabinet is absolute, the cabinet’s support is absolute. We will work hard up to the spring session begins in order to accomplish the pledges made to voters. We are committed. Thank you for your attention,” he said.

Lietuvos Žinios sources in the LVŽS fraction paint a different picture, there was no demonstration of absolute unity. “R. Karbauskis firstly apologised for the mistakes he made, but the overall atmosphere remained the same as in the public sphere. S. Skvernelis who participated briefly said that the fraction should not fear interacting with the media, explaining its position, meanwhile R. Karbauskis held to the opinion that the attack that the “Peasants” have supposedly come to face with will continue. The discussion on this proceeded and I would not say it was overly calm,” the source said.

According to him, the decision of a part of the LVŽS fraction members to not stay silent and express their opinion could have been due to an idea proposed by another group of “Peasants” after G. Kildišienė announced her withdrawal from Seimas. They took up gathering signatures that the young politician would change her mind and would not withdraw. The idea was based on the argument that if the fraction does not protect G. Kildišienė, the “attacking forces” would take them out one by one.

“This was prevented, otherwise the situation could have caused the fraction to break up,” the anonymous politician revealed.

Some LVŽS members interviewed suspected that the initiative to protect G. Kildišienė with others’ hands could have spread from R. Karbauskis and his entourage. “They tried to probe the situation, perhaps thinking that by staying aside they will be able to accomplish such an idea, but they were met with a fairly harsh retaliation,” the “Peasant” source said.

Potential for conflict existed

In the background of the ongoing scandal S. Skvernelis, according to “Peasants” that Lietuvos Žinios spoke to, remained reserved and commented on the situation as if he was unrelated to the LVŽS fraction, which he is a member of. “There were no open clashes, disagreements in Seimas to be seen,” explained the LVŽS members.

They did not conceal that there were situations where S. Skvernelis had opportunities to display emotion or enter direct conflict with R. Karbauskis already during the electoral campaign.
Supposedly R. Karbauskis was wont to argue categorically against the often rational proposals of S. Skvernelis, doing so in earshot of other LVŽS representatives, but the future Prime Minister would remain silent. “The impression arises that S. Skvernelis has rationally foreseen a number of moves ahead and knows up to what point to bide his time or to compromise. He will make use of favourable opportunities, particularly because R. Karbauskis is hot headed,” the “Peasants” pointed out.

Nevertheless they note that within the LVŽS there has yet to be a shock that could shift everyone or force a decision between the leaders thus for now it is not convenient for S. Skvernelis to enter any conflict with R. Karbauskis. “You can speak up when you want to take authority or influence. If S. Skvernelis speaks up now, it will appear that he seeks to push out R. Karbauskis and in such a case he could be met with resistance from a portion of the LVŽS members. But if he remains solid, especially if R. Karbauskis tangles up into new conflicts, authority will fall into his hands itself,” they noted.

Creating an image

Vytautas Magnus University (VDU) professor L. Bielinis believes that currently S. Skvernelis is playing a subtle game, positioning himself as an impartial and critical politician both in terms of the opposition and in terms of the party that delegated him. “This way S. Skvernelis ensures that he, as someone just and critical to both his own and to others, is particularly supported by public opinion. Furthermore let us not forget how he entered politics. He came to the LVŽS not as a member of the party, but as the one to bring them ratings and help gain momentum. S. Skvernelis knows his personal contribution and understands he has political weight. Due to this his relations with the party need to be constructed in a way that he would not be associated with the “Peasant” problems,” explained the political scientist.

L. Bielinis believes that R. Karbauskis is currently best off to “just suffer through and not argue too much”. “The PM could even speak more harshly toward the party, reflect on its lack of professionalism in Seimas and I do not know what it would end with. If we are to talk about what depends on what, then today S. Skvernelis is in the more useful and convenient position that R. Karbauskis,” Bielinis explained.

The head of the LRT.lt portal Vladas Laučius believes that S. Skvernelis would not find it beneficial to pursue R. Karbauskis’ position currently. “Right now such a move would portray the LVŽS as weak and unprepared to govern, floundering in scandal where its main leaders are failing, a fracturing party. This would hurt even S. Skvernelis and his supporters, albeit indirectly and less painfully. I believe that for now they are better off to maintain stability and order and only later, with the middle of the term nearing, taking up more serious change, if S. Skvernelis truly would seek to replace R. Karbauskis,” the analyst said.

Nevertheless he notes that it is currently unclear whether S. Skvernelis would truly want to aim at LVŽS leadership. “His plans could be completely different – perhaps he is aiming at participating in the presidential election or perhaps overall intends to go to the European Parliament because in 2019 those elections are also held. Perhaps he would even benefit from R. Karbauskis continuing to lead the party, managing the affairs of the Seimas fraction, but having less strength, looking less appealing and thus strengthening the contrast between the excellent S. Skvernelis and the less than excellent and politically tarnished R. Karbauskis,” V. Laučius mused.

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