Political scientists note that the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS) plans to increasingly distance themselves from the ruling bloc’s initiatives aren’t the fulfilment of party chairman Ramūnas Karbauskis‘ whims, Leonardas Marcinkevičius writes in lrytas.lt.
Rather, it could be held to be a planned effort by the “Farmers” to mobilise their voters, aiming to showcase a clear distinction between them and the Conservatives.
Experts consulted by ELTA also spoke on what reasons led to the LVŽS withdrawing from the election oversight workgroup assembled in Seimas and why R. Karbauskis has spoken up already about a potential withdrawal from the ruling bloc’s initiative of a national party agreement on education.
The LVŽS is intentionally choosing to oppose the ruling bloc’s initiatives as much as possible in an effort to distance itself from the right-wing government, Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) political scientist Rima Urbonaitė says. According to her, when ruling and opposition parties cooperate, they also share the results of the cooperation and so, while seeking to distance themselves from the ruling bloc, the “Farmers” are aiming for the Ingrida Šimonytė cabinet to be held as the source of all possible failures.
“I think that they have a strategy of minimising certain aspects of cooperation because if you cooperate and there is a final result, you have to take responsibility for it. Thus, it appears the strategy is different now: oppose the ruling bloc as much as possible and not engage in certain elements of cooperation,” R. Urbonaitė told ELTA, emphasising that the role of most opposed “Farmer” politician has gone to R. Karbauskis, who has abandoned his Seimas member mandate.
The political scientist was surprised neither by the largest opposition group withdrawing from the electoral system review workgroup formed in Seimas nor the LVŽS chairman’s stated doubts over possibilities to continue participating in the parties’ negotiations on education. R. Urbonaitė believes that these steps by R. Karbauskis could be predicted already when the I. Šimonytė cabinet presented the implementation plan for its programme.
“R. Karbauskis immediately said after the government action plan was introduced that the plan has very exact lines related to education, which means that they have everything planned out already and there will be no purpose to do any work at all in terms of education. This telegraphing was done quite a while ago. Thus, the decision to withdraw from that group comes as no surprise at all to me,” the MRU political scientist stated, noting that seeing the LVŽS behavioural tendencies, their withdrawal from the ruling bloc’s initiatives can be held to be a planned act.
“As we already see such trends, we can draw the conclusion that these are probably not one-off, spontaneous events,” R. Urbonaitė said.
L. Bielinis: “Farmers” stepping away is something of an expression of criticism
Vytautas Magnus University (VDU) professor Lauras Bielinis believes that the “Farmers” are too large an opposition group to be ignored, even if they refuse to participate in certain agreements between political powers. This is especially the case given that, according to L. Bielinis, the criticisms levied against the ruling bloc are deserved. The political scientist says that withdrawal from various negotiation groups initiated by the ruling bloc is the way used by the “Farmers” to indicate their disapproval.
“This way, the LVŽS signals it is firmly inclined against the actions and decisions the ruling bloc are going ahead with,” the VDU professor said, noting that the “Farmers” understood at the very beginning of term just how fragile the ruling bloc is.
“We see that from the very get-go, the LVŽS understood and identified that the ruling bloc lacks a decisive or clear majority, which needs to be firmly bound together so as to go through with something. Thus, I wouldn’t call the “Farmer” decisions to withdraw as spontaneous,” L. Bielinis said.
A. Lašas: the LVŽS is intentionally choosing confrontation with the ruling bloc
Being the largest opposition party, the “Farmers” are intentionally choosing a strategy of confrontation as they feel that the right-wing government is faced with major challenges, Kaunas University of Technologies (KTU) political scientist Ainius Lašas states.
“The LVŽS currently senses that it has some power, that the government is struggling and perhaps they (the LVŽS) are unwilling to particularly contribute to changing the government’s image, instead looking to take a more confrontational position,” A. Lašas said.
According to him, R. Karbauskis can see the Lithuanian citizens’ voting trends, where ruling parties are usually replaced by opposition parties following Seimas elections. Thus, A. Lašas believes that by escalating the confrontation, the LVŽS chairman is simply looking to mobilise his voters.
“The “Farmers” are already looking at the long-term perspective and they see that such a confrontation will help them mobilise their voters, help them distinguish themselves from the ruling bloc and stand out in the opposition’s ranks,” the KTU political scientist believes, explaining that currently, the “Farmers’” confrontational strategy could be beneficial to them namely because of the challenges the government faces in handling the pandemic.
“So far, the government is limping a bit, it’s an easy target,” he said.
The withdrawal from the education agreement will not reduce the “Farmers’” popularity but will help mobilise voters.
A. Lašas doesn’t think that if the “Farmers” withdraw from the education negotiations, this could harm the popularity of R. Karbauskis’ party because the party agreement on education is of importance to only a small part of society, while, according to the KTU political scientist, the withdrawal allows to make a clear separation between the LVŽS and right-wing government.
“I am not convinced that this agreement has enough public attention focused on it to have any major influence on the perception of parties […] I think that it is more a peripheral initiative and so, the negative risk is minimal in this and, in both the sense of voter mobilisation and separation from the ruling bloc, it performs a function and supplements the general attitude towards the ruling parties,” A. Lašas stated.
LVŽS’ behaviour is rather constructive, but they should remain in the education agreement
While the largest opposition group’s withdrawal from the negotiations on education shouldn’t have any particularly negative consequences for the “Farmers”, L. Bielinis thinks that this wouldn’t be the right step by R. Karbauskis’ party because this question requires input from all parties and comprehensive discussions.
“[They] probably should participate in that discussion because the outlook on education isn’t just establishing a political party’s positions, it’s also a discussion on opportunities for the society’s general culture. As such, I think that the “Farmers” should participate and it would be incorrect to withdraw,” the VDU professor said.
Nonetheless, L. Bielinis believes that if the LVŽS knows ahead of time that it will disagree with some of the ruling bloc’s initiatives, in such a case, withdrawal from the respective group is the correct action to take because if they participated in such negotiations, they would just be talking without the expectation of reaching concrete results. Thus, the VDU political scientist thinks that the “Farmer” withdrawal from the election oversight workgroup was a constructive action by the opposition group.
“The LVŽS’ behaviour is fairly constructive because their attitude toward that election workgroup and its activities is quite clear. This is because the workgroup features a number of controversial and unclear proposals, which aren’t sufficiently discussed even within the ruling bloc and so, (participation) means talk for the sake of talking,” L. Bielinis said.
Some LVŽS members could already be viewed as renegades
However, MRU political scientist R. Urbonaitė views some risks in the LVŽS’ strategy because, with the “Farmers” distancing themselves from most parliamentary initiatives, divisions could form within the party, primarily between R. Karbauskis, who supports the withdrawal strategy, and Saulius Skvernelis, who looks to bring the opposition together.
“This potential for breaking away is sometimes already the party’s internal problem because some of the group’s members are becoming renegades, Rima Baškienė, for example. The question is whether Saulius Skvernelis won’t become one himself, seeing the ongoing polemics between him and R. Karbauskis,” the political scientist mused.
She thinks that such actions by the “Farmers” will not encourage the opposition Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) to join into a united opposition alongside the LVŽS.
“There’s no point for the Social Democrats to engage with this “telenovela.” They are better off maintaining their line and not trying to engage with something where you will get burnt and dirtied in all possible ways,” R. Urbonaitė spoke.
Voters might dislike generals who retreat without a fight
R. Urbonaitė believes that it would be possible to oppose the ruling bloc’s initiatives more constructively, namely by participating in negotiations and offering comments. According to R. Urbonaitė, participation does not mean that the party will have to sign the document prepared in the workgroup. However, non-participation simply showcases the “Farmers’” unwillingness to fight for a result.
“They are currently stepping away without anything even starting and this shows that they aren’t even looking to try, that the goal isn’t to first do their best to seek their desired result. If they do withdraw (though R. Karbauskis has already announced it), then logic will suggest that there wasn’t even any intention of working,” the political scientist said, concurrently wondering whether this strategy of R. Karbauskis’ could really appeal to the “Farmers’” own voters.
“The question is, what will they tell their voters? Because, I imagine, the politicians should say that they fought to the last blood and did their all. Because retreating before the battle even began isn’t a great strategy and we wouldn’t really want such generals,” R. Urbonaitė mused.
ELTA reminds that in early March, Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė initiated the first meeting between the political parties’ Seimas groups to discuss the writing progress of the National Agreement on Education. Minister of Education, Science and Sports Jurgita Šiugždinienė has said that the party agreement on education is expected to be adopted during the spring session.
However, recently, “Farmer” leader R. Karbauskis stated that while he understands that an agreement on the guidelines for education policy is crucial for Lithuania, differences of opinion and the expected “behind the scenes games” by the ruling bloc are an obstacle to cooperation. The “Farmer” withdrawal from ambitions to draft a combined party agreement on education was not ruled out by LVŽS Seimas group member Eugenijus Jovaiša as well. R. Karbauskis stated that it would essentially depend on Mr Jovaiša what position the “Farmers” will take regarding this matter. As for the position, E. Jovaiša says that the opposition “Farmers” are due to make a decision on Friday.
At the end of March, the “Farmers” withdrew from a workgroup formed by the Seimas board, which was to draft a reform package for the electoral system.