“We received no requests regarding specific posts from the Social Democrats. They are not raising any advance conditions,” stated the leader of the Lithuanian Peasant and Greens Union Ramūnas Karbauskis. He also said that the cabinet will perhaps have only one member of his party and that it may not be worthwhile to look into the list of party candidates or among the 56 members elected to Seimas to find the names of future ministers. On the beginning negotiations – a discussion hosted by journalist Nemira Pumprickaitė featuring Ramūnas Karbauskis and Social Democrat Party Deputy Chairman Algirdas Sysas, LRT.lt reported.
– Mr Sysas, on election night the head of your party Algirdas Butkevičius spoke at the LRT studio that it was 70% likely the Social Democrats should negotiate with the Peasant and Greens Union and 30% that they shouldn’t. Was this in line with the party or just his own opinion?
A. Sysas: I cannot say because I wasn’t there. There are many different opinions in the party. Right after the election there were more of those thinking we should go to the opposition. However seeing how the negotiations are progressing, the arrogance demonstrated by the winners of the second place – the Conservatives – our opinions shifted. There wasn’t a single person in the party presidium who spoke against negotiating at all.
– On the same night Butkevičius also said that if the party presidium or council agree, to starting negotiations with the Peasant and Greens, he would definitely not participate in forming the majority. Now, however, he is not only forming it, he is even the negotiation group’s leader. How do you explain this?
A. Sysas: He is the party chairman. But this doesn’t mean that he will make the decision for all of us and the whole party. There is a council, on Friday we will have a council meeting and it will decide on entry to the coalition. Till then we will participate in the workgroup, which will attempt to piece together and merge the programmes of our two parties, to look at what is acceptable for us and what isn’t.
– Could it be that the council will not agree on forming a coalition?
A. Sysas: There have been such cases, anything can happen. However for now I see no reason for refusing. We are negotiating, as for whether the coalition agreement will be signed, it will depend on the goodwill of both sides. We are raising no advance conditions, demanding no posts.
– Ms Karbauskis, what are your impressions after the first meeting? Will you come to terms?
R. Karbauskis: I am glad that we have politicians who raise the interest of the state above party interest. I can confirm that the Social Democrats raised no advance conditions to us and thus we have been speaking pragmatically. We clearly understand that first we have to come to agreement in regard to programmes. Then we can discuss what form the majority government will take.
– What values and programme points are there that you will be negotiating on?
R. Karbauskis: We have to do everything to stop emigration from Lithuania, to solve the catastrophical demographic problems present. Another important task – decreasing poverty. We agree on this, but there are other important questions – education, healthcare. Over a week we have to lay it all out so that both sides understand how we view the problems and how the solutions should look. Goodwill from the Social Democrat side shows that they understand the importance of change. We chose to work based on our “Harmonious Lithuania” programme.
– I would be odd if you worked based on the Social Democrat programme.
R. Karbauskis: Our programme is broader, perhaps it will be simpler to work with. We do not hold our partners to be junior or less important. The most important thing for the future government is to listen to the Lithuanian people, experts and one another.
– I understand that the most important question in the negotiations with the Social Democrats are social issues as well as finances, taxation?
R. Karbauskis: Most important is education. The current education system and 1800 study programmes, many of which have nothing in common with Lithuania, are preparing young people for emigration. There are masses of problems with the healthcare system as well. We have a decent treatment system, but we do not have advance diagnostics, disease prophylactics, the institution of the family doctor is fairly weak. We have to make it so that people would have to reach out to second or third level medical institutions as little as possible so that we could pay doctors higher wages.
– Mr. Sysas, Ramūnas Karbauskis highlighted what the future government should achieve. The Social Democrats spent 4 years in power and failed to do it? Now you are sitting down to negotiate on things you didn’t do yourselves?
A. Sysas: Somehow what we have accomplished is always forgotten. We have done much at the macroeconomic level, Lithuania looks far better in Europe than four years ago. However we forgot our core slogan – “People first” – because we focused on Lithuania itself. Now everything that was achieved at the macroeconomic level should be brought closer to the people, to improve their livelihoods. For 8 years now the wages of civil servants and those paid from the state budget have been frozen, a part of them are emigrating due to this.
– You admit you didn’t do it?
A. Sysas: Yes. Even the voters believe that we didn’t, which is why we have so few mandates.
– Mister Karbauskis, I will quote your party election programme: “In the long term to decrease income inequality we will seek to reform the tax system and implement progressive taxation, when public opinion will be favourable for it.” How will this progressive taxation look? I understand that you believe that current income and Sodra [social and health insurance] taxation is not progressive?
R. Karbauskis: There is progressivity in the taxation already, but it is insufficient. We are holding discussions about it. The point is that those earning more income should pay higher taxes. We will speak with our coalition partners regarding this, their programmes have such notions as well. We will definitely not do this overnight, instead discussing it at length with experts.
– Another quote from the Peasant and Greens programme: “We will create a national citizen income raising programme and the necessary consensus among national parties.” Am I correct in assuming that you are speaking of an agreement akin to that signed for defence funding?
R. Karbauskis: We are talking both with employers and employees. It is a composite issue.
– You want to involve business as well?
R. Karbauskis: All the decisions that touch upon employers and employees have to be discussed in the tripartite council. The main problem of the current Labour Code is that in the Seimas it was twisted and moved away from the variant confirmed in the tripartite council. If it didn’t happen, we would not be speaking on the topic today.
– Mr. Sysas, would you sign such an agreement?
A. Sysas: We do not object to things that improve the lives of the Lithuanian people, it would be stupid, but we have to find a mechanism. Many such agreements were made during Andrius Kubilius’ time, but it yielded no results. It isn’t agreements that are decisive, but decisions made. People no longer trust promises much.
– The Peasant and Greens Union continues to assure that the Labour Code needs amending. On Thursday a hearing is expected in Seimas. Mr. Karbauskis, are you happy with the amendments proposed by the Social Democrats?
R. Karbauskis: I am not. I think that we need the Labour Code to come into power and then prepare amendments with the tripartite council, which would systematically resolve all the problems encoded into the Labour Code.
A. Sysas: I have been in Seimas for 20 years and various amendments related to the Labour Code have been constantly registered for those 20 years. The sale and purchase of labour is an unending process.
– How will you come to agreement on partnership? The Peasant Greens say that it is superfluous, while the Social Democrats have proposed legislative changes regarding partnership. Some Social Democrats registered amendments on same sex partnership together with Liberals. What do you think?
R. Karbauskis: We agreed that questions regarding values are to be left to Seimas. We do not have to come to compromise. Nevertheless I think that the new Seiams will have sufficient political will to not make a decision on partnership.
– Let us speak of personalities. Are the Social Democrats expressing any demands regarding specific posts?
R. Karbauskis: No.
– Mr. Sysas, do you have any illusions that you will receive any sort of post?
A. Sysas: Until we arrive at agreement on essential things and cabinet programme, we will not discuss posts.
– But you do have some sort of preference?
A. Sysas: Not specifically. After the previous election we were criticised for first deciding on posts and not programmes.
– But you do want at least a few ministries?
A. Sysas: That’s another question. If we come to terms that we will work together, we’ll see then. There are certain proportions based on member count.
R. Karbauskis: During the election we spoke of a cabinet of professionals. I understand that many do not understand what that would be. For now we are not speaking of any proportions, however we stress that those working in the cabinet have to be experts in their field. They have to be responsible and have to work based on cabinet programme. Then we will have no problems.
– Is it the same to you, who proposes candidates, you or the Social Democrats?
R. Karbauskis: Of the candidates we see, only one is a member of our party. If we were to propose all 14 members of the cabinet, 13 would be nonpartisan. We are seeking people who have sufficient competence, professionalism and experience in state governance.
– And you have such people?
R. Karbauskis: We do. But if you look for them in the list of our members of Seimas or electoral list, you won’t find them there. There are only a couple who are proposed as candidates to minister posts.
– Mr. Sysas, your party Chairman A. Butkevičius has said that he can hardly imagine the cabinet in the hands of people who did not participate in the elections because who knows how to work with them. What do you think of that?
A. Sysas: If we shift the centre of gravity from the cabinet to the Seimas and grant the Seimas greater parliamentary control, why not? Those who enact cabinet programme and do not politick will be ministers. It is completely possible, why not try?
R. Karbauskis: It is clear that in this term, the leader of all parties will be in Seimas. It will be very strong this term.