Seimas term at its midpoint: chaos only increasing

A Seimas term marked by scandals, disputes, intrigue and dubious decisions has reached its halfway point. The majority boasts of its achievements and pledge to continue levelling mountains. Meanwhile, the opposition assures they have never seen such chaos before, writes.

Much hope was associated with the Seimas elected in October 2016. With the majority and opposition viewing the road taken differently, political scientists put the dots on the i’s. According to them, based on its abilities to act, this parliament is of a poor level.

The Seimas plenary meeting hall turned into a sort of circus arena once again yesterday. With the opposition rising to another battle against Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, he did not even deem to appear in front of parliament, while the majority unceremoniously “extinguished” their opponents’ fervour.

Only opposition raising noise

One of the “Farmer” leaders Agnė Širinskienė believes that the current term’s unique point is structural reforms that it has enacted, such as higher education, forestry and such. The majority claims they have done much to ensure people’s safety in the country, a reporter protection law has been passed, which allows individuals to confidentially inform about criminal activities, special prosecutors have been established.

According to the MP, changes have also reached the pharmacy sector, medicine prices have decreased. “Last year’s budget was the first to be surplus. This is also a unique point of this term. No doubt, greater state financial powers allowed redistributing funding. We saw unprecedented rises in doctors’ wages. Respectively, the wages of scientific personnel also rose. Currently doctorate candidates await increases in their stipends with much expectation. We saw increases in pensions, which are also significant. It is especially laudable that they will rise almost 10 euro more than the government predicted initially,” she explains.

The ad hoc investigative commissions launched at the “Farmers'” initiative have, according to A. Širinskienė proven themselves and granted the public much information about how the state was governed for decades, what interest groups could have influenced politicians’ decisions. The ad hoc commission on the LRT’s activities, according to the “Farmer”, uncovered a number of unsatisfactory situations, such as over budgeting, some public procurements were halted. “I would believe that in this case, there will be chances to amend the LRT law, as well as internal regulation to make the activities of the LRT more transparent and public,” she said.

Regarding the majority and opposition’s relations, A. Širinskienė stated that she was disappointed with the opposition’s behaviour. “Perhaps seeing the improving situation in Lithuania, they can simply find no other way to conceal it than to raise noise and various misunderstandings. Today I would have far preferred to sit and discuss next year’s budget with the opposition. Unfortunately, we were forced to gather for an extraordinary sitting and discuss resolutions, which contribute nothing to the state. However, such is the style of communication chosen by the opposition,” she stated.

According to A. Širinskienė, the majority remains stable. She lauded that the majority’s programme was supported by Seimas groups and MPs, who were not part of the coalition. “I would believe that we will certainly see more cooperation in Seimas, efforts to draw a many members as possible, encouraging them to support the cabinet’s programme and inviting to work together. We are always in favour of dialogue, it is just unfortunate that some opposition groups are really unwilling,” the “Farmer” MP noted.

Accomplishing commitments

Seimas Vice Speaker Gediminas Kirkilas of the Social Democratic Labour Party says that this term’s parliament is not particularly different from previous ones. “What we elected is what we have. Perhaps a unique point is that unlike prior terms, the current opposition still has not come to terms with losing. Even with two years having passed. This is clear to see. Thus, they keep attempting various things because they hope they can somehow unravel the majority, which has only grown stronger over time,” he said.

Among the most important works of this year, G. Kirkilas pointed out continuing reforms, the signing of an agreement on defence financing. “This cabinet and majority have courageously started various reforms, ranging from Lietuvos Geležinkeliai, to the forestries and higher education, which is especially difficult. I partially agree with Vygaudas Ušackas that the political parties should come to agreement on it because as you see, not all the universities being reformed agree, they seek various backers in parliament.

However, the main matter is that the Lithuanian economy is growing, even more than forecast. This is exactly why we had to adjust the budget last week because we had to provide extra funding to national defence in order to reach 2% GDP funding, given that it is a relative metric. Next year’s budget, at least based on the current project, will be even more socially oriented. Thus, thus centre-left majority is accomplishing its commitments,” the Social Democratic Labour leader stated.

Among the works that have not been progressing smoothly, G. Kirkilas highlighted education reform, which needs a stronger push. Apparently, if the reform continues to lag behind, it will not be accomplished. “This reform is crucial and very important to other areas ranging from training the workforce to many others. As you see, the economy and industry are rapidly changing. New technologies and smart specialization are of importance to us. The sooner we finish education reform, the faster we will have results even if the reform is not perfect,” the MP said.

In terms of various parliamentary investigation commissions, G. Kirkilas pointed out these had happened in prior terms. “If you recall the 2004-08 Seimas, all sorts of things were there as well, reviewing and uncovering, for example how the Conservative party has indications of terrorism. Thus, back then things were heated as well. This Seimas is unique in that a fairly large opposition, primarily the Conservatives and Liberals, is not coming to terms with the election results. I believe this is bad. In Western countries, political parties compete fiercely during elections, but when these end, they come to terms and prepare for the next elections. Our Seimas is different, the confrontation has been much more acute than in prior terms,” the Seimas vice speaker stated, also noting that no pause in the political clashes can be expected, with elections nearing.

Majority will not listen

The head of the largest opposition party and Seimas group, the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats, Gabrielius Landsbergis states that the Seimas is forced to work under conditions where the majority dedicates far more attention to bickering than to presenting its activities, communication and seeking compromises that could ensure the continuity of the decisions they make. “The majority wants neither sustainability, not public support for the decisions they make. They simply call themselves reformers and reform certain areas based on who knows what sort of principles,” the politician told Lietuvos Žinios. In his opinion, work will continue in this vein for at least the coming half year prior to the elections. Increasingly populist decisions are expected in order to remain in power as long as possible. The TS-LKD chairman reminded that the Conservatives have invited the “Farmers” for discussions and cooperation a number of times before, especially regarding reforms.

“Take the implementation of the changes in teachers’ wage payments. It is clear that these regulations cannot remain, people are not accepting it because everything is proceeding unlike planned. In other words, the reform must be cancelled, everything must be fundamentally changed. All this could have been avoided if our arguments were heeded before the reform was imposed. However, the “Farmers” rushed through their projects. Their other reforms are done in a similar manner,” G. Landsbergis said.

He expressed regret that the majority’s “war tactics” are ruining the Seimas’ prestige. “Perhaps they will come to their senses because this sort of tactic harms their ratings as well,” the Conservative MP stated. He lauded the TS-LKD’s unity throughout the past two years as a counterbalance to “the “Farmer” bulldozer” and also finding common ground with other opposition parties – the Liberal Movement and Social Democratic Party.

Worried about hints of totalitarianism

Liberal Movement chairman and Seimas group prefect Eugenijus Gentvilas finds the current Seimas term to be “catastrophic”. According to him, Lithuania has travelled down the path of liberal democracy sufficiently far, thus “having come with intentions of totalitarian rule, the “Farmers” have much work to do.”

“They are reducing press rights and freedoms, ignore the opposition, do not grasp elementary norms of democracy. Public opposition is constant, totalitarian government traits appear – supposedly we know better than the people, thus we will decide, what to eat, what medicines to buy, how to teach,” E. Gentvilas stated. In his opinion, the majority’s reforms are only being done so that they can call themselves reformers. “There is no predictive view of the future, expert conclusions from scientists are ignored,” the Liberal leader said, adding that this government is buoyed by a growing economy, however upon stagnation starting, reserves will not last.

According to E. Gentvilas, the opposition has been “beaten” for the past two years. “The opposition’s voice would be heeded a little in prior terms, but now there’s none of it,” he said. As for the opposition’s work, the politician found it to be lacking, joint action often being hindered by ideological differences. “We are too colourful,” E. Gentvilas described it, noting that he does not expect positive changes in the Seimas’ activities in the future either. “If there is no fundamental break in the “Farmer” ranks, manifestations of a totalitarian society, restrictions on people’s rights and freedoms could only increase,” the Liberal Movement leader warned. In his opinion, the LVŽS is possessed of a leader cult.

Actions going nowhere

Vytautas Magnus University (VDU) professor Lauras Bielinis states that the Seimas’ term so far has revealed that the majority has still not managed to find clear strategic goals. There is much movement to realise short term and narrow interest based or noticeable by the public, not key matters.

“There’s no sight of strategic topics, which would be linked to discussions along the lines of how a step will influence the coming decades. There are small actions linked with corrections that the majority imagines. This way they are demonstrating activities, which are headed nowhere,” the political scientist stated.

While the majority boasts about its reforms, L. Bielinis points out that the Seimas’ term has been a time of talking about reforms, rather than passing them. Reforms encompass not only legislation. It is first and foremost changes in the society’s view of itself, within the confines of the state. In this regard, no fundamental changes can be seen. “No one changed anything. There have been many talks and tempers, but little real strategic thinking,” he emphasised.

Concerning parliamentary investigation commissions, L. Bielinis was also sceptical. There is an element of transparency that is demanded by the public and there is a lack of a deeper view of certain social or economic problems. However, the majority has consigned this need to solely the search of scapegoats, rather than resolutions. “You can always find scapegoats and punish them, but will that change anything? After all, the situation can only be resolved by fixing the problems, but there is far less talk about it,” the VDU professor stated.

The Seimas opposition has also had a poor showing. Its purpose, according to L. Bielinis, is to criticize, which it does. However, the issue is that the opposition is split and not acting in unison. “The Conservatives say one thing, the Liberals another and other political powers say something else, those that remain somewhere in the centre and are not included in the majority’s orbit. Thus, it is hard to talk about a united voice from the opposition. That’s an issue,” he concluded.

L. Bielinis predicts the next year of the Seimas term to be the same as so far. “It will continue as before. Let us wish for wisdom and calm for the majority. This will grant much more benefit than efforts to punish scapegoats or make accusations against those, who do not belong to the majority. Wisdom and calm. Calming and slowing down the fervent search for changes, much more can be done,” the political scientist stated.

Universal war

Klaipėda University professor Antanas Bučinskas believes that much hope was associated with this Seimas, people expected positive changes. “But what happened? Due to the proportional electoral system, many unqualified, uneducated and of dubious morals individuals entered Seimas. Thus, all the ideas and reforms, which are being sought to implement, due to the low intellectual potential are brought inside out. Thus, in terms of actions, this Seimas is of a poor level,” the political scientist said. According to him, instead of mending flaws that have surfaced over the past several years, the Seimas has chosen a peculiar tactic – to divert the public’s attention from state level problems with small intrigues.

“Now, in the Seimas everyone is at war with everyone. Thus, there is a practical and serious danger to our democratic political system. Just what is being done regarding news media, trying to restrict its freedom, implement control, is a sign of a totalitarian state. I hope we will not reach excesses where people’s thinking is attempted to be controlled,” A. Bučinskas said. A danger signal is, according to him, the government’s attacks against institutions, which did not comply, the Chief Official Ethics Commission (VTEK) for example. “As a result, the political system has reached prohibition politics, people are left with increasingly little choice,” the expert noted.

If nothing changes over the coming year, public discontent will rise, the political scientist stated. “However, our public is becoming increasingly passive because a million of the most active people are already working abroad. Only the less active remain, those who are unable to organise protest of a sufficient intellectual level. As for the most active returning, I do not think it will happen yet. When everyone wars against everyone, European funds are also not made use of,” A. Bučinskas stated. He also believes that the government, failing to react to European warnings about the threat of a new economic crisis, is acting mistakenly – instead of “dealing with today’s intrigues”, it should think about the future.

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