October was certainly heated for the Lithuanian cabinet, it and Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis had to explain themselves for decisions to not grant Centre of Registers data to the news media, the erased cabinet meeting recording and the lagging changes in teacher wage payments. However, it would appear that all these problems have had no impact on the cabinet’s ratings. Experts talking to Delfi had answers on why this is.
According to a survey commissioned by Delfi from the agency Spinter Tyrimai, positive or rather positive evaluations of the cabinet’s work stemmed from 29.8% of respondents. Negative or rather negative responses were made by 65.4% of respondents and 4.8% did not have an opinion or did not respond to the question. This compares to respective ratings of 24.6%, 68.5% and 6.9% in September.
Prime Minister speaks to his own electorate
Vilnius University Communications Department Digital Media lab head Andrius Šuminas tells Delfi that it is rather unexpected the cabinet’s ratings grew despite a string of scandals. He points out this could be related to a numerous group of people, who are impressed by the prime minister, his personality and style of speaking. This suggests the positive ratings stem from a faithful electorate.
On the other hand, the A. Šuminas points out that a massive wave of protest or discontent may form the appearance of undeserved blame, something that the prime minister and his cabinet has highlighted by focusing on how they are working and typically conde mistakes, reinforcing the image of being attacked for making real decisions and working.
The prime minister’s rhetoric also seek to distinguish between the elite and the people, portraying him as a representative of the Lithuanian people, while the rest are villainous retailers, businessmen, news media or whatever else, antagonists to the public, the common people.
S. Skvernelis’ negative remarks regarding teachers may have negative consequences for him and his cabinet, with teachers often being opinion leaders in the regions and rural areas. A. Šuminas notes, however that A. Skvernelis’ tactic of comparing teachers’ wages to university docents’ may prove to be effective, convincing the lower income rural and regional voters that teachers already receive significant wages, yet still complain.
The prime minister may have been criticised for a number of his statements, their bluntness, however there is also simplicity to it, which appeals to his core audience. His rhetoric was what made him initially popular and thus it is likely it will continue as such.
Political scientist: Lithuanian politicians do not want to talk
Meanwhile, Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) political scientist Rima Urbonaitė states that she has been observing increasing arrogance in the majority’s statements, something they earlier imputed to the opposition. She was, however, unsurprised by the cabinet’s ratings not declining despite controversy. This (the controversies), R. Ubonaitė points out, simply did not reach the common citizen.
“This is not a significant issue for the public. The public reacts to what touches the common person – if we see drama regarding children, education questions, tax questions, we all pay taxes, these are the matters at play.
As for restricted data access, for a regular person, who did not notice the threat to the freedom of speech, accessibility of information, for whom it is, after all, not a daily problem and who probably doesn’t think much of it, it does not touch these people much and thus they could ignore the fact. Perhaps for the news media, for people who take interest in state governance may view it differently, but for a regular person, just doing their work, this did not seem a massive tragedy,” R. Urbonaitė said.
Controversy over teachers’ wages and childcare scandals could loosen the cabinet’s footing, she notes however. For one, several members of the ruling “Farmer” group such as Naglis Puteikis and Mindaugas Puidokas oppose the cabinet’s stance.
At the same time, R. Urbonaitė points out that Minister of Social Security and Labour Linas Kukuraitis was unafraid to appear at a protest against the taking of children from their parents and calmly explained his position. “Other politicians simply are afraid, sit in their offices and never leave them. The minister tried to go out, tried to talk. Perhaps not everything works out, but it was being done,” the political scientist stated. She points out that S. Skvernelis stayed on the side-lines regarding the taking of children, this likely being because the public is split on the question and you cannot please both sides.
In terms of teachers, the situation is different, however, because the teachers aren’t speaking in a united voice, the political scientist notes, allowing the government to take advantage of this.
R. Urbonaitė observes a problem in that Lithuanian politicians are overall loath to talk and explain, instead complaining about questions they dislike. “I do not know if the sort of arrogance, which surfaces in talks, communication is a good thing. I understand that it is difficult being a politician, the pressure is hard to withstand. You can be angry, but must you demonstrate it? I think it is a dangerous path,” she says.
In terms of the prime minister’s rhetoric, the political scientist points out that S. Skvernelis likes to attach labels, even without presenting arguments to support these. “Such talks can impress on one hand, but on the other, if it is abused, the politician could appear lacking in empathy at some point. The cabinet is as if huddled in a castle and now trying to defend itself by any means possible,” the political scientist states.
She points out that this is not restricted to solely the prime minister, with Seimas Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis and other politicians increasingly using such approaches.
“Along the lines of I don’t want to talk, let me work, no comments. But politicians must talk, must explain their decisions because there is no single correct decision in politics. We have a distorted relationship between politicians and the media right now. There is a confrontation, which will always be there, but there should be less of it. Politicians must explain, must speak, while journalists must pose inconvenient questions. (…) On the other hand, Andrius Kubilius was also uninclined to explain often enough so the “Farmers” are not unique in this regard,” the political scientist believes.