PM Skvernelis could be faced with A. Butkevičius‘ fate

Algirdas Butkevičius, Saulius Skvernelis
DELFI / Andrius Ufartas

After the President’s annual address at the Seimas, politicians have responded with textbook statements.

Everyone got to hear that the Farmer Greens have used up her credit of trust, other than them themselves. Ramūnas Karbauskis commented that the President knows, just like they do, what needs to be done. Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis declared he does not believe it was criticism levied toward the cabinet.

This brings up the question of how far this criticism can go. After all, most of the cabinet ministers were vetted by the President. The Prime Minister never hid this fact. As such it would mean that she has to deal with her own choices? This time President Grybauskaitė spoke very little of foreign policy, even while numerous significant events occurred – Donald Trump’s electoral victory in the USA, Brexit… What direction will Lithuania take?

Unlike the Prime Minister and most other ministers, the Minister of Foreign Affairs appears to have understood what the President was trying to convey when making the conclusion that just strength and courage is not enough to make changes happen, that political will and most importantly – intellect – is also needed. The words of American naturalist Henry David Thoreau appear very suitable in this situation: “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”

History tends to repeat itself, the question is only how soon. At the end of Algirdas Butkevičius‘ term as Prime Minister, D. Grybauskaitė held no meetings with him, stating that she saw little purpose for it anymore. Saulius Skvernelis could be met with such a fate much earlier and not just because the President’s term ends in two years. During the annual address in Seimas, the President reminded that the current Seimas majority was brought about thanks to the changes they declared during the elections, ones to be accomplished by supposedly better, nonpartisan professional ministers. The work of some of these leaves room for concern however.

The President named a number of such concerns in her report, ranging from the extended interregnum chaos to the ambiguity of a number of reforms and continuing delays in a number of core pieces of legislation including those related to forestry reform, education and tax reform.

Political analysts believe that the head of state has sent a clear message to the Seimas majority on their work so far, outlining specific ministers who have been underperforming and demanding results. Nevertheless Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science director Ramūnas Vilpišauskas believes that only the President can explain whether she feels there is a need for a cabinet reshuffle or just review of current reform plans.

According to D. Grybauskaitė there has been a lack of political will and leadership in accomplishing reforms. Her criticism touched upon not only education and tax reform, but also that of the public sector, where the reform organisers received vast wage hikes, a stagnant forestry reform project and struggles regarding the new Labour Code and combating alcoholism.

“To prohibit, to confiscate, to wall off, to tax – this is a primitive and simple path, but it leads only into the shadows and underground. Political responsibility is not simply separate sector reshuffles, it is coordinated work and consistent determination regarding the entirety of decisions needed for the people of the country. To make these decisions you need political will, but it cannot be granted by either the Tripartite Council or a bulldozer pseudo-democracy,” the head of state said.

“I believe the President made a strong statement. The questions is though, what can you do with a majority like this? In essence we are trapped in a sort of experimental field of Mr. Karbauskis’. The Farmer Seimas group is colourful and I believe that in a few more months or half a year he may no longer manage to keep it in rein. The cabinet politically belongs to no-one, you definitely cannot call it a Farmer cabinet. The people there have no link to the Farmer Party. The Prime Minister isn’t even a member of the party, so are we to wait for 2020 and remain as experimental rabbits?” M. Romeris University docent Vytautas Dumbliauskas said.

“Grybauskaitė simply expressed her criticism and no longer grants a credit of trust to the current government, that this trust which the public and, say, the President granted the current cabinet and Seimas has ended and that now the time for new steps has come. We will see soon whether heads will roll due to this or whether the PM will defend his ministers,” R. Terleckas mused.

Taking heads may not prove to be a simple task because as R. Vilpišauskas puts it, the President also has to take responsibility for the ministers’ actions. They were vetted by her, with some even being recommended.

“The question is to what extent the President is now inclined to take responsibility for stagnating, or as she put it – imitated – reforms. How she will act in her next talks on responsibility of those ministers where she had a significant say in the appointment,” the expert said.

The majority’s attempts to curtail freedom of press received attention as well, the four times it occurred in half a year, seeking to prohibit news that is harmful to the reputation of specific companies and criticising the government, while handing over control of the national broadcaster to the Seimas.

“Everyone understands that the media is the foundation of democracy. It is laudable that we have top tier politicians who seek to not only cut its wings, but instead understand it and seek to support it,” said chief editor Monika Garbačiauskaitė-Budrienė.

This year’s presidential address at Seimas lasted under half an hour and the full criticism of Farmer Greens rule could be summarised as “Serious change and overall cleansing needs not only strength and courage, but also wisdom.”

The Farmer Greens appear to not have heard the head of state’s remarks and declared that the President views the problems and their solutions the same as they do. Meanwhile not only the opposition, but also coalition partners understand that without wisdom you cannot go far with change, no matter the intentions.

“I believe that lacking wisdom in reform, it will be something of a “perestroika”, one that has already occurred once before,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius said.

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