Opinion polls indicate downward trends in the ratings of the party and Butkevičius. Several incidents have demonstrated that not everything is all right in the party.
Analysts said that the process of finding a new interior minister has challenged Butkevičius’ authority as prime minister and as party leader.
After it was agreed that current Environment Minister Saulius Skvernelis had to step down, coalition partner, the Order and Justice party proposed MP Povilas Gylys. Butkevičius initially publicly supported the candidacy, but the Social Democratic Party subsequently said Gylys was not a suitable candidate. Butkevičius was then forced to renege on his initial position.
A more serious hit to the party was the loss of virtually its complete chapter in the resort town of Druskininkai. Two-thirds of its Druskininkai members left the party after the town’s controversial Mayor Ričardas Malinauskas, a deputy chairman, suspended his membership.
“Let’s recall that Druskininkai has always been the showcase municipality of the Social Democrats,” said political scientist Mažvydas Jastramskis of Vilnius University’s Institute of International Relations and Political Science.
“Now, six months before the elections, it is clear something is rotten in that Social Democratic kingdom as the mayor pulled out. I think that the impression this gives is that the control of the party is slipping – it is not helpful to them,” he adds.
Mindaugas Jurkynas of Vytautas Magnus University agrees.
“The Social Democratic Party and the prime minister are not in control of the situation the way that the government leader and the main coalition partner should,” he tells LRT.
“Failure to control the situation within the party, lack of control when dealing with coalition partners, as well as the prime minister changing his positions on Minister Skvernelis and Gylys’ candidacy – all this points to opportunism, to failure to stick to a consistent position, which is evident to the public,” according to Jurkynas.
Malinauskas’ loud exit has also hit the party’s and the prime minister’s image, even though the Druskininkai mayor has been linked to allegedly illegal construction and alleged attempts to influence government decisions.
“It is an exceptional case. At least for the Social Democrats, it is a huge loss,” says political scientist Tomas Janeliūnas of Vilnius University. “They lost an entire town. This will definitely have an effect on their performance in the Seimas elections. Clearly, in Druskininkai, the word of Malinauskas trumps that of Butkevičius,” he adds.