Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis calls 2017 a tipping point. According to him we can expect radical and difficult reform this year, with immediate results. S. Skvernelis identified the topics of public sector, state company reform, combatting corruption, education and reducing social stratification as priorities. Skvernelis’ predecessor Algirdas Butkevičius spoke similarly four year ago, promising many changes which were drowned in a myriad workgroups. Will the same fate await Skvernelis’ promises, Alfa.lt asks?
Initial signs promise stagnation
Algirdas Butkevičius promissed widespread reform four years ago, but they were mostly swamped in 43 cabinet work groups. S. Skvernelis is, however, not mentioning the creation of such groups this time.
Unfortunately the government programme is not particularly specific regarding expected plans, while the “Peasants” first acts in government have failed to impress, with extravagant ideas such as gifting ethnic costumes to all Lithuanian children or cosmetic reform such as reducing the number of members in Seimas.
For now the “Peasants” have yet to touch upon economic issues or distanced themselves from them, such as extending the VAT exemption for heating costs for another six months, instead of abolishing it as promised earlier. Many of the rulings made by the Seimas and cabinet has been less structural reform and rather simpler political decisions.
Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political science released a monograph, pointing out a number of factors needed for the breakthrough Skvernelis promises.
Firstly – a clear plan as to what to do in government. The government programme only promises to create it.
Secondly – clear priorities are needed and a limited scope to them to avoid being overwhelmed. So far the Skvernelis government has acted contrarily, promising reform in almost all public policy sectors.
Thirdly reform requires political leadership in state institutions, society and parliament. In this case the majority of the cabinet are professionals of their areas, rather than political leaders, leaving a question of whether they can mobilise the necessary political support for reform.
Finally successful reform requires the participating politicians to sacrifice their personal popularity. For those considering a considering a political career, breakthrough reform could be of little interest.
Scientist – if reform does not materialise this year, it may not do so at all
Political scientist Algis Krupavičius told news portal Alfa.lt that if any peak of activity can be expected from the Skvernelis government, it should happen this year. 2019 will be marked by the presidential and municipal elections, thus key changes cannot be expected in the second half of the term.
Krupavičius notes that it is currently difficult to predict changes due to a lack of a plan of implementation for the government programme. That said the government‘s current actions seem more procedural, rather than fundamental or revolutionary.
Typically governments enact their most important decisions in their first year or two, thus follows that the main decisions are expected to be made by 2018 at the latest, with the latter half of term being more moderated by upcoming elections.
Parliamentarian – reform is ensured by the non-partisan nature of the cabinet
One of the senior members of the Peasant and Greens fraction in Seimas Povilas Urbšys shares S. Skvernelis’ optimism regarding reform, noting that the criteria for the formation of the current cabinet was completely different, with partisan meddling obstructing reform in prior governments, focusing on raising party influence rather than making changes.
Urbšys expects that the non-partisan nature of the cabinet will enure reforms being undertaken. The politician expects that the Skvernelis government will be able to show the specifics needed to proceed because the PM is prepared to cooperate with the Seimas and its committees.
Conservative – we inquired, but to no avail
Opposition representative, senior member of the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats Jurgis Razma was less convinced. He stated that during meetings with members of the new cabinet he did not get to hear what breakthroughs this government expects to accomplish.
“When we met with the PM and the ministers during Seimas deliberations on the government programme and tried asking what specifically will be done in the areas most important to them, we did not get to hear anything specific. Thus I find it hard to expect that the PM will piece those plans together over a few weeks. If such a miracle does happen, it will of course be excellent,” said the member of Seimas.