The ambiguity in the Social Democrat ranks that has continued for some time now ended on Saturday, with half an hour left to the party council meeting. Having firmly stood by not withdrawing from the party, 8 members of the party’s Seimas group Juozas Bernatonis, Artūras Skardžius, Irena Šiaulienė, Rimantė Šalaševičiūtė, Algirdas Butkevičius, Rimantas Sinkevičius, Andrius Palionis and Gediminas Kirkilas announced their withdrawal from the Social Democrat Party. Antanas Vitkus, who was unwilling to withdraw voluntarily, was removed.
One of the eight members, former party chairman and up to withdrawal – vice chairman, Gediminas Kirkilas spoke on the show Savaitė on LRT TV.
G. Kirkilas downplayed the significance of his withdrawal from the party, stating that he currently feels a sense of freedom now and that he has a variety of options available to him to continue his political career, despite having always been elected to Seimas through the multi-mandate district, signifying party aid.
Nevertheless the politician was unwilling to share what his options are exactly, stating it is currently too early, but his opportunities have expanded greatly by leaving the party. This includes allowing himself to be critical of the party and its leadership, something he noted Algirdas Sysas and Aloyzas Sakalas would do on occasion. The veteran politician also observed that this will be a freedom he will need to test and that non-partisan candidates are currently popular. All of this adds up to create further opportunities according to him. Regarding his political views, G. Kirkilas emphasised that “You see, one can leave a party, but one’s views do not change due to it.”
He also noted that as far as the coalition goes what is being dealt with is state matters, rather than coalition disputes at the municipal level. “I offered various options, we had time to consider, but all of this was not the goal of the current chairman. His goal, you see… I believe that he is struggling with such heavyweights, who he tried to remove, but now they left on their own,” G. Kirkilas said.
Some other party veterans such as Vytenis Andriukaitis and Bronius Bradauskas urged to conform with the party line, but G. Kirkilas points out that based on their previous behaviour, they would have been the ones to be removed, having lacked discipline in adhering to the party’s stance, or in B. Bradauskas’ case even party ideology.
G. Kirkilas emphasised that in the end, the current government programme, including a budget project that has been prepared, is to no small extent based on the Social Democrat programme. In such a situation he questions the justification for entering the opposition, especially when this allows the “Conservatives to lead from the back seat.”
While the Conservative party has already demonstrated such actions to an extent, with Saulius Skvernelis and Gabrielius Landsbergis signing an agreement for exchanging support, G. Kirkilas explains that for now the Conservatives were limited in the questions they could exert influence. When asked if the Social Democrats could not take up a similar stance, Kirkilas states that “No, we are more responsible toward the state than the Conservatives. Furthermore a leftist programme isn’t acceptable for the Conservatives anyway. This isn’t the same.”
While the coalition partners have clashed on a number of questions, the veteran politician stresses that much has been achieved and in the end being in a coalition government yields far more opportunities to influence policy decisions, no matter what, given the extra information available as coalition partners.
In terms of young politicians arriving in politics and their differing perspectives, G. Kirkilas believes that while it is good, he stresses that nevertheless political experience, know-how and wisdom are still needed. When asked whether he is considering a return to the Social Democrat Party in two years, after the restriction to return is lifted, the politician stated that “Yes, we will more than return.”
Concluding the discussion the politician emphasised that the eight Seimas group members left the party in order to conclude the ongoing drama and admitted that it was partly of their own creation. “I believe that we must help social democracy – if there are several variants of social democracy, that’s not bad,” G. Kirkilas concluded.