Saudargas – we’ve already lost liberal voters attracted by Landsbergis

Paulius Saudargas
DELFI / Domantas Pipas

“Reading the programme G. Landsbergis presented, I am left wondering where was he up to now, if he points to problems that have existed throughout the leadership of both A. Kubilius and himself,” said P. Saudargas told

The politician rates his chances to win the chairman election positively. Furthermore P. Saudargas is convinced that he is the best prepared among the five candidates seeking to become chairman of the TS-LKD.

– Why did you decide to challenge the current party chairman Gabrielius Landsbergis? He was only just appointed.

Why just appointed? He has been chairman for two years, a whole term has passed. He shortened it on his own initiative, called for early elections himself. I decided to run for the office already prior to the holidays, agreed to be raised as a candidate and can confirm that the voters will be able to find my name on the ballots.

I believe the party has a number of problems seen by the members and branches. Without a changing in leadership style we will not solve these problems. One of the problems is ideological ambiguity. The Lithuanian Christian Democrats and the Homeland Union merged in 2008. We clearly identified all the value directions, made a charter. On the basis of the European People’s Party we created a wide spectrum, but conservative party. We could even call it traditionalist and specifically a liberal paradigm does not suit this party. If the leaders try to adjust the party rhetoric toward liberalism, I am left with the question of whether these things are suited for one another.

There is a liberal party and I wish for them not to drown in corruption scandals, instead participating in Lithuanian political life. But that is not the party I joined in 2000, not the sort of party we created. I believe I have the right to express my opinion and do everything that this party would remain with its programme and ideology.

Furthermore since the crisis we have been repeating that the party has focused in on the big cities, quite frankly – specifically on Vilnius because in Kaunas we no longer really have positions. There was an intention of formulating that we are a party of the big cities and are proud of it, glad. I have always said that this is a dead end because in the big cities it will be the liberals who will receive support, if they recover and gain strength. It would likely not be logical for us to find our niche and compete for an even small group of voters, abandoning the regions. If we were strong in the regions, we would win in the single mandate districts and would have the majority of mayors, we could then say that it is time to take back the cities. But if we are losing the regions one after another, I believe it is there we should first direct our attention. It is a question of our political activity, decisions made, rhetoric and party management. Our election campaign is always lavish and usually oriented toward a national campaign, the advertising of our main leaders. I believe that is a mistake because during elections the leaders are already sufficiently highlighted during debates, have ample opportunities to present their positions. You can spend hundreds of thousands on a video, but a single live TV debate can take it all away. It is more important what you appear like, what ideas you present, how you answer the questions of journalists and competitors.

– G. Landsbergis calculates that during the Seimas elections he expanded the Conservative Party electorate to 275 thousand voters. A part of them could be from the Liberal Movement (LS). Are such voters unnecessary to you? You could lose them.

We already have lost them. In the second round of Seimas elections they did not vote for our candidates. This shows that they are not our voters. LS voters chose who to give their vote because at that time Eligijus Masiulis’ party [the Liberal Movement] was faced with scandal. Let us turn time back and have a look at the LS ratings their dynamics, with a few months left until those events – they were going up and we were then dealing with the junior and senior brother dilemma, who will be the junior, who will be the senior. Thus it is natural that the voter who was searching who on the right to give the vote, ended up giving us the vote. Supported us in the first round voting for the party, but not even voting for all candidates because the single-mandate candidates were clearly behind in the first round as well, while in the second round we experienced a total fiasco.

Thus yet another problem of ours is the lack of a second choice. This is particularly painful in the second round of Seimas elections. When people vote in mayor or municipal elections, they look at what party the person represents and the party background influences the voter’s decision, regardless of our electoral programme and decisions made.

People see us as knowledgeable, but perhaps unable to explain certain things or decisions, perhaps simply insensitive. We have the political will to make certain decisions, but society always blames us that we do not always respect the views of all of society. We are always reminded of the 2008-2012 term when the government had to be saved from financial crisis and financial stability was a priority. The question is, however, whether we managed to keep our ideological identity with three essentially liberal parties in the coalition. They always pushed toward their ideological side in making practical decisions on pensions, wages and such.

– You would like the party to be more Christian Democrat?

I do not think that Conservatism is very different from Christian Democracy, particularly in Lithuania. I am a Christian democrat, conservative and traditionalist myself. I care greatly about historical memory and respect what we have – the heritage of political prisoners, exiles and historical legacy. We can put a full stop here. That should be the face of our party. In 2008 we won with our ideology, speaking about our values, reminding the people of history, that we are the party to always stand in guard of statehood, nationhood and Christian values. I believe that is enough. I struggle to understand why we should expand and lose sight of what we are. Yes, I am not a liberal and I do not want the party to drift toward liberalism.

– As you said yourself, you have been a member of the party since 2000 as a Christian democrat. In 2000 the Christian Democrats lost the Seimas elections and lost the status of a parliamentary party. In 2004 the party failed to regain this status, not managing to surpass the 5% barrier. Will the Homeland Union not repeat the same failures by turning toward a Christian Democrat identity?

I don’t think that everything is decided by ideology. Much is decided by people and ideology can be good, with appealing ideas, but their positioning can be poor. The popularity of the Christian Democrats fell not because they had the wrong ideology or ideas, they just experienced a crisis of leadership, a merger with the Lithuanian Christian Democrat Union led by Kazys Bobelis. It did not add unity or political stability to our party. We can also see where Petras Gražulis went – to the Order and Justice party. I was then a weak political actor, taking my first steps in politics, so I cannot take responsibility for those times. But the Christian Democrats definitely did not experience difficulties because of poor ideas or being uninteresting. Furthermore the tradition of Christian Democracy is more than a hundred years old in Lithuania. 80% of Lithuanians identify as Christians.

– If it so happens that the party re-elects G. Landsbergis, while you are saying that the party has problems. What then, will you remain in the party and come to terms with the loss or do the Christian Democrats have other plans?

We will see what will happen on February 12. But I believe in the united party project, I believe in our unity and I am prepared to work with any chairman that is elected. Nevertheless, unlike so far, I will never remain silent. If I believe the party is making mistakes and that certain decisions are not suited to our programme, I definitely intend to talk. It is not just the chairman that the party’s direction depends on.

– How do you imagine the TS-LKD’s work in the opposition, should common ground be found with the LS or should you back away? Here we can remember the disputes regarding opposition leadership and the Liberals’ unwillingness to join you in coalition negotiations.

The Liberals are solving their problem and want to take their own path. Perhaps at this stage of life our paths are not the same. Cooperation or union with the Liberals I can imagine as a potential coalition in Seimas or the municipalities, but to speak of some sort of broader ideological union I see no basis. If we are in the opposition, I see no demand for any sort of greater integration or cooperation. We have to look at how we should act not in the opposition, but in Seimas. For us relations with the majority government, who pass decisions, are more important. We have to consider how to convince them to cooperate that the decisions made would also reflect our programme and our ideas. This year we entered the elections with a serious plan for Lithuania. It contained many ideas regarding the major problems Lithuania faces. We carefully follow the majority’s projects, propose our amendments. If the projects are necessary for Lithuania we must support them and not oppose them just because we are in the opposition.

– How would you rate your chances in the chairman elections? Support for G. Landsbergis is likely the largest and you do not have many chances of winning?

I view my chances positively. Yes, there is a certain momentum. Perhaps G. Landsbergis has better starting positions, but I have spent much time discussing with fellow members. We are travelling around Lithuania, meeting in branches, the regions, answer all questions. A number of debates and meetings await. I believe that I will manage to convince many party members that we can be different, can chose a different direction and different rhetoric. G. Landsbergis himself has presented his programme, but reading it I want to ask where he was so far, if he presents certain problems that need resolving. During both Andrius Kubilius and G. Landsbergis’ terms those problems remained and we failed to solve them. I believe that without changes at the top leadership of the party we will not remove the party’s flaws.

– Do you have total support from the Christian Democrats? Will you be their only candidate?

The Christian Democrats proposed all the candidates proposed by the other branches. This way we have displayed that if a branch proposes a certain candidate, he has the right to participate in the chairman election, express his opinion, present his programme. I am one of those candidates and will definitely present a strong programme. I understand the government apparatus well, I know how every branch lives, I have visited and interacted with people directly many times. I know almost everyone personally and I know the problems they are discussing. I am no theoretic, who writes up however things appear to him. I am the one who first talks, looks in depth and only then presents a plan of how to solve things. My programme arises from what I heard through my trip around Lithuania, so I think it will appeal to most party members.

– You see yourself and G. Landsbergis in the second round?

Perhaps the first round will suffice.

– For you or him?

Of course I am talking of myself. All the candidates have ample opportunity to enter the second round and we could have various surprises. There is a month yet, I won’t take up predicting the results.

– The TS-LKD chairman election should have happened in spring. Were you surprised with G. Landsbergis calling them early?

Yes, it was a surprise. I was sitting in a council meeting and just as many others in the council was surprised by G. Landsbergis’ proposal, that the election should be hurried by a few months. I did not like one detail – that the branches had to propose candidates during the holiday period between Christmas, New Years and Three Kings. It was definitely not easy to organise an extra meeting for raising candidates. Many branches simply did not do so.

– Were you preparing plans for candidacy to the post of party chairman for spring?

Politics is a dynamic field where you have to be prepared every day. I believe I am the best prepared of all five candidates. My experience in political and party work allows me to say so. I may not be the oldest candidate, but what the party lives, what it needs – I definitely know.

– Why did Landsbergis rush the election?

You should ask him. According to him he wanted the party to renew his mandate.

– Why did he really rush it?

Every candidate has their own tactics. If a decision is made, they likely think it is beneficial to them. A shorter time period for the candidates to prepare.

– If you are to be elected party chairman, how would the party change and look? What would you start with?

Party life has to change fundamentally. We should be unafraid of one another, the party needs more openness, more discussion, more listening to others. After a difficult period with K. Bobelis and P. Gražulis the Christian Democrats, under the leadership of V. Stundys had entered a period of balanced activity when we would discuss decisions in government institutions, management, council, conferences. If people demanded, we voted; if they wanted discussion – we discussed. We somehow learned to live as a harmonious society which supports one another because we are better off together, we believe in the same things. Our party has enough idea and ideological glue.

We arose from the Sąjūdis, we believe in the values of statehood, we are unified by ideas and not interests, we are not a one day project.

– Last year based on an article in Deutsche Welle the portal wrote that the European right is fracturing into those who support German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s migration policy and those who do not support it. G. Landsbergis expressed solidarity with A. Merkel. Would you also support her or would you rather be an opponent?

I would likely be an opponent. I do not believe that we should widely open our doors for who knows who. We can see that the project has caused a certain confusion and has become uncontrollable in all of Europe, we see hurtful incidents which do not happen in isolation of this process. We can silently be glad that Lithuania is perhaps not the appealing country to attract everyone, but if we were somewhat stronger economical, the weather was warmer, we would face the same problems as other European states.

– If G. Landsbergis wins these elections and becomes chairman for another four years, he would lead the party to the 2020 elections. Do you think the party would obtain better results than last year or worse?

We have to make some sort of fundamental change to perform better. We have a floor and a ceiling – whatever is done, some electorate will still turn up because it was inherited from the Sąjūdis. But it is gradually deteriorating and if we turn away from traditional values, it could completely decompose. Whether we manage to gather voters of a different sort will depend not on us, but on how the Liberals perform.

Seeking to expand the traditional electoral base, to attract middle aged people and those living in the regions we have to make cardinal changes. I am afraid that if we change nothing in terms of leadership, we may not have the opportunity to show ourselves differently. Because if nothing fundamentally new happens – we’ve already seen these elections. Yes, the undecided youth electorate was attracted which voted for us in the first round, but as we can see such fortune may end up not repeating due to objective reasons.

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