Kęstutis Girnius. The Conservatives’ youth need adult supervision

Kęstutis Girnius
DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

Usually, the highest office is not granted to amateurs lacking experience. I suspected that the new generation and especially the new chairman would need adult supervision. But it wasn’t clear how much and for how long.

There are cases where a newcomer displays incredible political shrewdness from their first days, while in other cases, political awareness and maturity remains as unreachable as the horizon. G. Landsbergis lands in the latter category.

In a recent TS-LKD board meeting, a resolution was discussed on declaring a moratorium against the tax reform approved this June.

G. Landsbergis stated, “We have to present a united Lithuanian position. When we talk about next year’s budget, there is no such thing. It is the decision of one prime minister and one cabinet.” According to him, same as national defence, there is need to sit down for a serious discussion and seek agreement among all the parliamentary parties.

I am not wholly certain, what Landsbergis had in mind. I believe that he wished to claim that decisions made by solely the prime minister or cabinet, or in other terms the ruling majority, without the agreement of other parties are in some form flawed, inadequate, perhaps even undemocratic and that only consensus based agreements are flawless.

Consensus on acute political questions is difficult to reach. The joint agreement on defence spending is an exception and may not be upheld in case of economic downturn, same as the 2004 commitment of eleven Lithuanian political parties to dedicate no less than 2% GDP for defence spending was not upheld in 2005-2008.

While sometimes agreement on foreign and defence policy is reached, it is not realistic to hope that there will be agreement on the budget, which set out what programmes are financed and how the necessary funds are to be gathered, thus – how the people will live.

Views on these matters inevitably differ, they are represented by political parties and entities and the elections decide who gets the final say.

Even if it were achievable, consensus on economic matters would not guarantee the best results because it would most likely be a jumble of compromises, which contradict one another, rather than a consistent plan of action. The ruling coalition is left to take responsibility for the situation and it is up to it to choose, how to react to opposition proposals. If the proposals are wise, it is wise to implement them, but politicians are not known for rationality.

G. Landsbergis knows well that parties often act on their own, disregarding the minority.

An excellent example is the recreation of Lithuanian independence on March 11. If the Sąjūdis had sought a compromise, which would have satisfied A. Brazauskas‘ Communist Party, the declaration of independence would have been long delayed if not buried.

The disputes between V. Landsbergis and K. Prunskienė‘s supporters did not lead to compromise and consensus, but Prunskienė’s resignation. In both cases, the right decision was made.

Another, perhaps less dramatic, example is the Kubilius cabinet’s “nightly reforms”, which sought to halt the collapse of the economy. While they faced and continue to face much criticism and while they were not without certain flaws, they were necessary and had to be passed quickly rather than seeking unanimous consent.

“Nightly” decisions made the basis for stabilising the economy, thus we should commend the Conservatives’ resolve. The Seimas commission reviewing the crisis will no doubt criticise certain decisions, but it is easy to be wise post factum. It would be better if the commission were to investigate current, that is to say their own, mistakes, which can still be fixed, rather than those of the past.

The parties, which win elections, are granted the right to decide, how much and how they will interact with the opposition. This year in elections in Kentucky, USA, one candidate gathered 6319 votes, while his opponent received 6318, thus one less.

However, no one is proposing for them to share their mandate, for one to be in office for 183 days, while the other for 182 or for the winning candidate to often opt to vote as his opponent would have.

Eventually, the TS-LKD board made a normal political decision. It was proposed to implement a moratorium on the tax reforms and dedicate the freed funding for structural public sector reforms, financing the long-term wage raise programme for educators, doctors and cultural staff.

If the moratorium is not passed, the party’s group in Seimas is obligated to not support the cabinet’s budget project for next year.

It was planned to pass a resolution on “The TS-LKD becoming the People’s Party” in the board meeting. G. Landsbergis has been nurturing the idea of the People’s Party for some time now. At the end of September, he was explaining that, “It is a party or community, which is on the people’s side. It is a party, which stands by the people and seeks to help them.”

Landsbergis admitted that such a name leaves a smile, which will gradually vanish and added that, “We must be on the side of the people.”

It would appear that common sense won out or more likely, crude populism was overcome because the resolution was not passed. But the inclination to bandy populist slogans has not been overcome. The party’s strategic document for the 2019 elections has been named “We are on your side.”

The document states that the TS-LKD “have never been populists, who would irresponsibly scatter promises, try to lure with appealing, but actually ineffective solutions.” It is hard to match this sentence with the slogan “We are on your side” when there is no indication of who the “your” is. It is impossible to be on everyone’s side because aiding some will inevitably hurt others or at least help others much less.

The Conservatives’ discussions and resolutions show that they will seek to appeal to educators, doctors, cultural and other public sector staff by promising wage increases during the municipal elections.

The staff of these sectors has been ignored, the state saved at the expense of their wages, thus it is suitable to dedicate particular attention to them. But when the wages of public sector staff is raised significantly alongside defence spending, there will be savings at the cost of other groups. The more you give one group, the less is left for others. Thus, the Conservatives will not be on everyone’s side, the “yours” will be selective.

Admiring populist slogans may be a means to draw in voters, but nevertheless it is a step toward demagoguery and likely shows that the Conservatives lack new appealing ideas. But perhaps that’s not needed for a “people’s” party, which has declared it is “on your side.”

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