The breakaway party will harm the Social Democrats

Gintautas Paluckas
DELFI / Andrius Ufartas

The influential politicians who have left the Social Democrat ranks are gathering a new party and promise to propose that which they call the real social democracy. Such a slight by former colleagues is a bad sign for the Lithuanian Social Democrat Party (LSDP) which is already experiencing difficulties.

The politicians working in Seimas expect to establish the Lithuanian Social Democrat Labour Party (LSDDP) by the end of the year. The aims of the new political power’s founders are broad – there are plans to form branches in the regions and begin preparing for the elections which are several years away. Social Democrat Mindaugas Sinkevičius has been offered to become the new party’s leader. With him refusing, according to Lietuvos Žinios, talks have been started with Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Darius Skusevičius who left with the “rebels”.

A group of comrades departing

To form the new party it is necessary to gather no less than 2 thousand founders. According to one of the new party’s initiators Gediminas Kirkilas, the LSDDP is doing well in gathering signatures, albeit he does not reveal how many have agreed to become founders so far. It is also not announced so far when the party’s founding congress could be called. However plans are to arrange it before the New Year.

According to G. Kirkilas the gathering LSDDP is being joined by “normal Lithuanian people”. He did not reveal whether many among them are current members of the LSDP. “I do not know, we do not control that. We do not ask about former party affiliation and such. You will see everything during the congress,” the politician explained, adding that they are talking to various people, but are not directly trying to draw in former comrades.

Yesterday it was announced that 40 members of the LSDP Vilnius branch were leaving the party. Auksė Kontrimienė, the chairwoman of the LSDP Vilnius branch states that the party was left by people who work as assistants for the Seimas LSDDP group. “I know that there is a movement, invitations are being made for a new party, even members of Seimas are making calls. I believe that there will be movement, there are already statements, there are already those [in the party] who are removing themselves through the Ministry of Justice – there are some 40 of them. The list was formed perhaps over some two months. But I certainly have not observed some sort of mass migration from the party,” she assured.

Algirdas Markevičius, one of the politicians leaving the LSDP, told the BNS news agency that around another 150 social democrats may follow those who handed their party tickets back. “The value stances have diverged, we see that publically there are efforts to present a new political face, new ideas, but in reality nothing has changed and this is concerning,” he explained.

Hoping to return

According to G. Kirkilas, an alternative to the LSDP is crucial in the Lithuanian political left wing. “I believe that we are the real social democrats, unlike those who are declaring half-communist leftist manifestos. It is unfortunate that my former party has veered off in that direction,” he said. The politician was critical of LSDP chairman Gintautas Paluckas. He believes that the Social Democrat leader was unable to coordinate the various opinions in the party despite this being the most important role of a leader. “It was not us who thought it up and we did not plan ahead to form some new political power. We were forced to do it,” the former LSDP chairman assured.

G. Kirkilas agrees that the LSDDP will divide leftist supporters. “Of course this will not be good. However it is not our fault. It was not us who took the party on such a path that is now being attempted,” he stressed.

The politician believes that the LSDDP will not be a pseudo-formation, it will act as a normal political power. Nevertheless he does not deny that after changes happen in the LSDP, the so-called rebels may return to the ranks of the Social Democrats. “I believe the LSDP will relinquish the leftist direction that is being attempted to impose right now. This will lead to a basis to merge. Life will show, it is currently early to talk of it,” G. Kirkilas said.

Broad aims

G. Kirkilas explains that the LSDDP’s initiators are already thinking about party branches in the regions. “Of course there will also be branches. This is not a party of just Vilnius, but all of Lithuania. Perhaps we will not have branches in all the regions immediately, but they will exist in at least half the regions,” he stated.

The LSDDP’s creators are intensely discussing who could become the new party’s chairman. G. Kirkilas says that talks were held with M. Sinkevičius regarding this. “I do not know how realistic it is for him to come. However I believe that he can see the real situation developing in the party, that his proposals are ignored. He had spoe to a number of party members who clearly stated that it is necessary to leave the coalition with parties in court, but for some reason double standards are being applied. I believe that he can see it. As for how he will decide, I do not know,” the politician stated.

Hasn’t considered the proposal

LSDP vice chairman M. Sinkevičius assures he has refused the former party members’ proposal to become the new party chairman. “I never seriously considered such a proposal, did not spare it a thought because it is unacceptable for me,” he stressed.

The prospects of the new party will be seen when it is founded, M. Sinkevičius believes. However he does not currently see room for new political formations and has doubts whether his former comrades will succeed. At the same time one of the LSDP leaders mentioned that moods in the party aren’t the best. Fellow members are saddened by the newest party ratings, which are the worst in a decade. It would appear that not everyone is positive about the management’s statements about the beginning of a new era. Many also have doubts regarding certain statements in the manifesto.

Nonetheless M. Sinkevičius does not believe that this could encourage mass migration from the LSDP to the new party made by former comrades. “I believe that party colleagues are watching the situation with concern, but for now it is not so critical or tragic that there would be any intent to cardinally change it. For people who gave a single party decades to rush and join another, a critical situation would be needed,” M. Sinkevičius believes.

Dividing does not add appeal

Vytautas Magnus University professor Algis Krupavičius accents that every main ideological direction is best off with one party, not several or more. However in the contemporary world the party system is becoming increasingly fragmented. A number of countries are home to several political powers of similar ideological orientation.

The political scientist reminds that neighbouring Poland had a strong social democrat party, but circa 2000 it became fractured and today isn’t even represented in parliament anymore. Could a similar situation repeat in Lithuania? According to A. Krupavičius, various outcomes are possible. “The likelihood for two social democrat parties to peacefully coexist, share electorates and both be in parliament is not large. It could happen as did once for the Liberals, when both Artūras Zuokas’ liberals and the Liberal Movement were in Seimas. However other scenarios are possible. The current divisions in the social democrat ranks could lead to a situation where parliament only has a single one social democrat party. For now the LSDP has greater chances. It could nevertheless happen that neither social democrat party enters parliament because usually party fragmentation aids neither side to become appealing in the eyes of voters. Especially when in the 2016 Seimas elections it was clearly visible that a part of the LSDP voters voted for the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union, which contained many centre left clauses in its programme. The “Farmers” are a serious competition for the Social Democrats even if they hadn’t split into two. When they fracture, the likelihood that the “Farmers” will draw even more of the electorate increases,” he explained.

A. Krupavičius is also not convinced by the motives of the LSDP renegades, which are the basis for the creation of the new social democrat party. According to the political scientist, the “rebels” had all the chances to defend their positions within the LSDP. “The Social Democrats organised direct election of the party chairman for the first time. Sometimes it appeared that the established party elite was more in favour of M. Sinkevičius’ candidacy, but they, in essence, made no serious efforts to gather support for him. On the contrary G. Paluckas interacted with the branches, the regular members and the result is what it is. I believe that the vanguard of the veteran Social Democrats made no key efforts and now they have what they do. Even when the question of remaining in the coalition arose in the party, there was a lack of active actions from prominent Social Democrat leaders, that they would have at least tried to convince the party branches that the coalition with the “Farmers” is more beneficial than detrimental. It didn’t happen,” he emphasised.

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