The “Farmers” are planning changes to the Constitution that will prevent members of Seimas from being cabinet ministers, as well as reducing the number of members of Seimas to 101 and holding Seimas elections not in autumn, but in spring instead. These proposals were discussed with Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union Seimas group member Povilas Urbšys, Seimas vice Speaker Gediminas Kirkilas of the Social Democrat Party and Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats group member Andrius Kubilius during the talk show Dėmesio Centre, on lrt.lt.
– Mr. Kirkilas, do you believe it is necessary to change the Constitution so that Seimas elections would be held in spring rather than autumn every four years? Is the argument that this way the new government would have more time to prepare a budget and tax changes sufficient?
G. Kirkilas: I believe that a constitutional majority will not be reached regarding this question. In this case if the elections were held in spring, then the new government would definitely start work with an already formed budget. This is an even worse situation. In this case I would suggest making it a month earlier instead. For example elections in September. This way the new government would have more time to review the decisions that need to be made.
A. Kubilius: I have to partially agree because this claim that we should hold elections in spring, which would allow more time to prepare a new budget project, this in itself suggests that the new government would have to live for a whole year with the previous government’s budget. Thus the new government would have to live based on the dictation of the previous one for a year. Another thing is that we take a long time to form ministerial cabinets. This is perhaps a question of cabinet legislation. Just take a look at Great Britain which has an old tradition of democracy. They, of course, have fewer coalitions, but in Great Britain the leader of the winning party visits the Queen and then the next day he is already the Prime Minister. Here matters tend to drag on. After elections the new government typically forms only in early December with all of its new authority.
– Mr. Urbšys, is this a core Farmer and Greens aim – moving elections to spring?
P. Urbšys: Yes, it is a proposal we outlined during the electoral campaign. My colleagues here say that in such a case the new government would have to live with the previous government’s budget for a year. That is not the case however. The budget is currently approved by the new Seimas, which definitely does not have the time over two weeks to have an in-depth review of what it approves. With our proposed amendments we are exactly trying to allow the Seimas to have an in-depth review of the budget project. An opportunity arises to adjust certain matters. Do agree that the government budget cannot be formed in two weeks.
A. Kubilius: That depends on how well the party entering power prepares. For example in 2008 we arrived, approved our programme in which we already felt that the global crisis is looming and made a complete outline. We had a fairly radical review of the budget left behind by Gediminas Kirkilas by Christmas. Of course some were angry afterward that we had “overnight reforms”, but there wasn’t enough time. It was a crisis situation. Under different circumstances, if the party enters power prepared, there should be no problems arranging the budget. On the other hand, what we currently see with the government programme implementation plan – almost 100 days have passed, but the implementation plan is essentially still unclear and undefined, what talk of preparing for budget deliberations can there be then?
– Mr. Urbšys, would September solve the problem?
P. Urbšys: perhaps. But if we are to talk about preparedness, then A. Kubilius is talking about how the Farmer and Greens Union was unprepared, but during budget deliberations of the project prepared by the previous majority, we definitely did not see any key proposals which would show that the Conservatives were prepared to come. After all they clearly felt that they could be the axis to form the majority. During the budget deliberations those things were not noticeable. As for September… You see to change the legislation, a constitutional majority will be needed, that is to say 94 members of Seimas. We will seek political compromise. Thus if we see that the other part of Seimas agree to making earlier elections, we would try to find a sensible solution.
– Mr. Kubilius, does September sound like a compromise for you?
A. Kubilius: Perhaps. I just don’t know how much we would need to change the Constitution for it. Perhaps Seimas could start work a few weeks earlier on its own. Such a mechanism exists after all. In such a case the calendar shifts and the election date changes. After all October was not randomly chosen, instead elections are held on that month because in 1992 the then Sąjūdis political majority was unable to continue governing and snap elections were called. They happened to occur in October. It has continued to be so – we have been holding elections in October for twenty five years now. Thus if we all agree on September, then we will not even need to change the Constitution.
– Another, more controversial, question is the reduction of Seimas membership to 101. The Ministry of the Interior proposed to make these constitutional amendments in one go, but to my understanding the majority chose to make every proposal separate. Mr Urbšys, do you think it could be the most difficult question?
P. Urbšys: I believe that it really is the most difficult question. We are currently declaring that it is necessary to make public sector administration more effective, we are talking about optimisation, about reducing the number of staff in certain ministries. At the same time we are reacting to reduced population counts. Thus we should come to agreement on reducing Seimas membership. Our group is united in this matter.
– Mr. Kubilius, instead of 141 – 101?
A. Kubilius: During my time in Seimas, such initiatives have arisen some 10 – 15 times. Often they arise from politicians who have no better ideas how to improve the country’s lot, so they try to earn points by proposing a reduction in Seimas. Most often that enthusiasm to reduce Seimss membership appears prior to elections. What is new now is that such an initiative appeared right after the elections. I do not view this as serious. The number of parliamentarians is more a matter of tradition than a mathematical calculation. To my memory, the reason why the number of Seimas members is 141 in the Constitution since 1992 is because the architects of the Seimas hall, the Nasvyčiai brothers, counted how many seats can be comfortably placed in the great hall. Of course you can say that this should be viewed more seriously, not counting based on the number of seats. In such a case let me present another argument – we are the largest Baltic state. Our brothers in Latvia and Estonia have 101 members of parliament each, so what of us? Do we want to diminish ourselves?
– To talk seriously though, Mr. Kirkilas, is it possible to pass this in Seimas?
G. Kirkilas: Overall I am sceptical about changes to the Constitution. I believe that the more stable this document, the better for us. Another matter is that if we need to change anything in the Constitution, then it is changes to double citizenship. It is a crucial question. It is a vital issue. Whether we have 141 or 101 members of Seimas, that’s secondary. Overall all of these ideas were brought into our life by Viktor Uspaskich and the “Labour Party”, which likely brought the idea from Russia.
P. Urbšys: I would like to react to the initiatives that arise regarding reducing Seimas membership. In the last term I signed under a constitutional amendment proposal initiated by Antanas Matulas. It was not from the Labour Party, instead it was from none other than from the Conservatives.
– Mr. Urbšys, is it worth “pushing” this through parliament if it is obvious that it will not be possible to consolidate sufficiently many political parties? Perhaps it should really be left to some party which would want to leave this to a general referendum?
P. Urbšys: You see we brought up the number during our electoral campaign, we have nowhere to back off to.
– You also mentioned ministries in Kaunas, but it appears they will not head there.
P. Urbšys: Yes, but we have prepared projects for this amendment. Of course we see from the other political powers that they are not prepared for this discussion. If we would perform a public survey, most would say that the number of parliamentarians needs to be reduced. But A. Kubilius will say that the people can say much, they could even say the Seimas needs to be disbanded.
A. Kubilius: Yes, that would be popular. Parliament isn’t necessary at all.
P. Urbšys: But I believe that we should not fear our citizens and should try hearing out their will for once.
– Final issue – the ban on members of Seimas becoming ministers. This would also require changes to the Constitution. Mr. Urbšys, is it really necessary to change the Constitution like this? After all the political parties which delegate individuals to cabinet, they can hold to this principle themselves and appoint individuals who are not members of Seimas. For example at some point the Labour Party ordered its members of Seiams to relinquish their mandate, they did so and only then became ministers. Is it necessary to change the Constitution and implement such a rule?
P. Urbšys: I agree that there can be a different model. But there are also other models, such as those in Austria or Estonia, where politicians are limited in their parliamentary work if they are ministers.
G. Kirkilas: Let’s not mislead people. Parliamentarians are completely restricted from the cabinet only in non-democratic states. Let us be forthright with that. Also in the USA where completely different cabinet formation principles exist. On the contrary in most EU countries ministers have to be members of parliament.
P. Urbšys: But if we are to talk realistically. Currently when you look at a member of Seimas, who is a minister, you will not see them in Seimas, they do not participate in committee meetings. The ministers are invited to committee meetings and stay there, while at the same time they definitely have work in their ministries. Our principle was to choose non-partisan professionals. But are parties not faced with the problem now, that they are not nurturing new people internally? We see the same faces in Seimas and cabinet for many years now. Would this not encourage the parties to expand and increase their competences?
G. Kirkilas: Mr. Povilas, I have been both Minister of National Defence and a member of Seimas at the same time. It helped me greatly. Being a member of the Seimas Committee of National Security and Defence I was able to more easily and firmly defend my system. Being a member of Seimas and a minister allows more active participation in legislature creation and such. It is a matter of organising your agenda. A minister who is incapable of organising their agenda while being a member of Seimas, they wouldn’t be able to organise an agenda just a minister.
A. Kubilius: Logically speaking, it would be a misstep. If we look at the great European democracies such as Germany or Great Britain, it would be hard to imagine that a person would become a minister without becoming a member of parliament. Status as a parliamentarian is proof of people’s confidence in you. In my opinion one of this cabinet’s flaws is that most of the ministers lack political experience. Political professionalism and experience are important traits.
– Mr. Urbšys, we are faced with a situation where you are presenting amendments with clear awareness that neither your coalition partners, nor other parties will support it, correct?
P. Urbšys: I do not believe that we know this clearly, it is being discussed. Such new thigns always make for strong reactions, it is normal. I believe that changes to the Constitution are a political process and politicians can do so.
G. Kirkilas: These are absolutely not new ideas. We have said a number of times where the wind is blowing from – all of these ideas are sent from the East. And they only appear progressive when you look at it from close by, but from a farther viewpoint you can see that they are intended to compromise and deconstruct democracy.