When the strategists of the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats were thinking about how to overcome the crisis of the cheque scandal, which has engulfed the whole municipality and affected the government, they probably never dreamt that the proposed remedy – early elections with a threat of the government’s resignation – would turn against them, Eglė Samoškaitė is writing at the tv3.lt news portal.
The small coalition partners unofficially state that the Conservatives’ position has weakened after the failed vote on early elections and Ingrida Šimonytė’s resignation, while that of the Liberal Movement and the Freedom Party has strengthened. Thus, Prime Minister Šimonytė, if she decides to continue, will find it more difficult than before.
“It would be incorrect and unwise to say how we will take advantage of this or that mistake of a competitor, in this case, a coalition partner. That is not the task here, but I will not hide the fact that everybody tries to take advantage of their strengths or opponents’ mistakes in politics. These things will probably happen, but I would not like to say here the mechanisms and technologies,” said Eugenijus Gentvilas, the elder of the Liberal Movement group.
“When you do things that are difficult to explain without consulting anyone, you don’t usually take a stronger position,” said Vytautas Mitalas, the elder of the Freedom Party group, in response to a question about the power distribution in the coalition.
He received an incredible question
Some members of the ruling coalition in the Seimas, who do not hold high positions, say that the conservatives, in their search for a cure to extinguish one scandal, have created another scandal but have weakened as a result: in the vote on the early Seimas elections, the members of the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats have become split, the position of the chairman, Gabrielius Landsbergis, has wobbled, a branch has even dared to propose a vote of no confidence in the party, and the prime minister, V.Mitalas, is not a member of the coalition. Šimonytė has lost some of her authority because she initially took the emotional and tough step of promising to resign after the agreement of the NATO leaders but then declared that she had said too much. It was basically poor blackmail, which did not excite the coalition partners.
That the small coalition partners felt they had wings can be seen from the indirect repercussions of the coalition meeting. This meeting took place on Tuesday, after the vote on early elections, with the Speaker of the Seimas, Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, and on her initiative.
According to politicians from the Liberal Movement and the Freedom Party, who have received information from their party leaders, at the meeting with the Speaker of the Seimas, Šimonytė asked everyone whether the coalition could see the coalition continuing to see her as prime minister. The coalition partners were very surprised, as neither had they ever raised this question before nor had they been informed in advance of Ms Šimonytė’s wishes to resign.
They found it strange that the question had been asked after the failed vote on early elections and that Šimonytė had publicly said she had gone overboard when discussing resignations.
“What the fuck? Why is she asking us that? She didn’t say a word for three weeks before”, one politician in the ruling coalition wondered.
Now we will speak the language of ultimatums
Politicians also say that even after shaking up the entire political system, the Prime Minister had the arrogance to say that she would only work with the coalition if the Liberal Movement and the Freedom Party supported the tax reform. But the coalition partners just shrugged their shoulders, made no promises to her, and made no secret that now the game of exchange will begin: me for you, you for me. “They still have a distorted perception of reality”, said one of the small partners’ politicians.
“Now we will speak the language of ultimatums”, said another politician from the small coalition partners.
“After all, we have been fed up the whole term, they alone decide everything, and we were only needed as meat. Well, really… In the morning, they come and tell us how to vote. If you don’t vote that way yet, you get a bulge. It doesn’t work that way. Now we have come to the opinion that there has to be a reboot,” said an interlocutor from the small coalition partners.
There is no doubt in the political circles that the Freedom Party will try to pressure the ruling party to approve civil unions and decriminalise small amounts of cannabis. The Liberal Movement may try to overthrow Agriculture Minister Kęstutis Navickas. According to some politicians, there was an earlier agreement with the conservatives that Navickas would lose his post, but this was never implemented. Šimonytė herself has said that she might question the minister if the crop declaration process was not successful, but this is not necessarily the case.
“Along the way, we were promised to resolve the Navickas issue. When there was all this noise of dissatisfaction so as not to look bad, they said we would wait a little longer and throw it away on the next turn,” said one politician.
However, Gentvilas, for example, claims that the Prime Minister made it clear at Tuesday’s coalition meeting that if she stays in the government, she would not want any changes in the current government.
“In her speech on Tuesday, Ms Šimonytė made it clear that if she remains as Prime Minister, she does not want any changes in the current Government. Of course, it would only be a matter of appointing a permanent Minister of Education,” Gentvilas said, adding that the Liberal Movement also understood this to mean the fate of Culture Minister Simonas Kairys in the Government.
Kairys, who the Liberal Movement nominated, is among three ministers who previously served in the Kaunas City Council, where a bizarre procedure for payment of office expenses was in force. According to municipal regulation, councillors were not required to submit receipts or other documents to prove that they had incurred expenses related to their direct work, even though the law seemed to require that expenses be settled reimbursable.
The Kaunas City Council also included the former Minister of Education, Science and Sport, Jurgita Šiugždinienė, who could not justify her expenses and resigned, and the Minister of Finance, Gintarė Skaistė, who reimbursed part of her expenses to the city coffers. Mr Kairys has so far done nothing, although his expenses are just as unjustified as those of other former members of this City Council.
Šimonytė: it is not easy to be the largest group in a coalition
When asked about the power dynamics of the conservatives in the coalition, the Prime Minister herself said that the position of the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats in the coalition is permanently ungrateful.
“Well, you see, the position of the Fatherland Union in the coalition is probably permanently rather ungrateful. Because it is a very large group in the Seimas and the other smaller groups sometimes use this disproportion in relations as an argument, perhaps, expecting things from the large group that cannot necessarily be done quickly, sometimes we have a different discussion. As you can see, the coalition itself is not large in terms of votes, barely above half of the Parliament. It is not easy to be the largest group in a coalition. In that sense, I would not say that this is a very special situation. It is necessary to always look for solutions in the coalition so that the partners feel heard, understood and that they feel like partners,” Prime Minister Šimonytė told journalists.
When asked whether she was not afraid that the coalition partners would start making more demands on issues of importance to them, the Prime Minister said that the coalition agreement remained the same as before.
“You see, there is a coalition agreement. And we talked about whether the coalition agreement is valid. The coalition agreement is valid. And suppose you are referring to those issues on which there are differences of opinion within the Fatherland Union or the Liberal Movement groups, for example, on the Civil Union Bill or on the decriminalisation of small amounts of marijuana. In that case, the coalition agreement discusses how we are trying to deal with those issues, and nothing has changed very much. There are different opinions, which were never in the Homeland Union’s election programme. The fact that the majority of the group supports those decisions is simply the individual opinion of the members of the group. I have never hidden this opinion, and my colleagues have not hidden it, nor have the opponents of these decisions in the group. But if the coalition agreement is valid, then we are working on the same principles that are defined in the agreement,” said the Prime Minister.
For their part, the Freedom Party politicians, speaking to journalists, retort that their programme does not contain a clause on tax increases, which is partly provided for in the tax reform. So it is as if they are hanging the tax reform in the air, and they may try to barter on this very issue.
Andrius Vyšniauskas, the deputy elder of the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats group, is also trying not to be distracted by the change in the mood within the coalition.
“Let’s start with the fact that all three partners in the coalition are equal and have an equal voice. It is usually the case that the smaller coalition partners, because the coalition is narrow, have a really influential voice, and it is impossible to make decisions without them. That is why we consider that all coalition partners’ voices are equal. Now to say whether our position has weakened or strengthened depends on the evaluation criterion. The number of votes has remained the same. I think that no one has strengthened, no one has weakened”, said Mr Vyšniauskas.