The calm before the storm: a revolt brewing in the “Farmer” ranks

Ramūnas Karbauskis
DELFI / Andrius Ufartas

The threat of breaking up is looming over the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS) Seimas group: some ten members may withdraw from it. Povilas Urbšys, who left the “Farmers” last week and could have been acting together with them, has hinted at plans to create a new group.

The head of the mixed Seimas group of unaffiliated MPs, Bronislovas Matelis described current events in the Seimas as “political Gariūnai” [a large open-air market near Vilnius].

“I would be none surprised if soon from other groups, as well as part of the LVŽS, another two new groups would form. I would not be surprised if P. Urbšys founded his own group. Perhaps with Petras Gražulis (removed from the Order and Justice Party (TTP) group last week) and perhaps someone else from this side. I would not be surprised if a new breakaway group from the LVŽS would also form,” B. Matelis said.

Passions were stirred up in Seimas last week. Non-partisan P. Urbšys announced his departure from the LVŽS group on May 15. He stated that this decision was made when through “Farmer” votes in the Seimas, an investigation on agricultural land ownership was not passed – the investigation could also have impacted LVŽS leader Ramūnas KarbauskisAgrokoncernas group’s interests. Prior to this several months ago, R. Karbauskis spoke on how P. Urbšys would be removed from the LVŽS group.

Soon after talks spread that the “Farmer” ranks may be reinforced by several TTP group members, who would depart alongside Petras Gražulis, who disagrees with current TTP chairman Remigijus Žemaitaitis. A week ago, P. Gražulis also created a civic movement Calling on the Nation together with Rolandas Paksas. However, the Order and Justice members did not end up moving to the LVŽS group and P. Gražulis himself was removed from the TTP group.

There’s rumblings to be heard in the LVŽS group as well. These are linked with the discontent of certain members over the failed vote on the investigation of agricultural land ownership because this casts a shadow of opacity on the entire group, as well as being linked to the group prefect R. Karbauskis’ “leadership style.”

“Handbreak” for Karbauskis

A potential breaking of the LVŽS group is currently linked to its member, non-partisan Justas Džiugelis, who has apparently gathered some 10 backers in the group, who may depart. Among the backers of the withdrawal, we can find the head of the National Security and Defence Committee head Vytautas Bakas, Seimas Budget and Finance Committee chairman Stasys Jakeliūnas, MPs Naglis Puteikis, Raimundas Martinėlis and Darius Kaminskas, as well as several other politicians.

J. Džiugelis, who is seen as the initiator of the potential decision was unavailable for contact throughout Monday. However, B. Matelis, who left the LVŽS group over a year ago and currently leads the mixed Seimas group, did not deny he received an invitation to join this group.

“I do not know, who will lead. But yes, there are such discussions. These matters do not come as a surprise because R. Karbauskis is not changing at all, hence even very rational people may leave the “Farmers”,” the politician said, when asked if J. Džiugelis may lead the MPs planning to break away from the LVŽS.

B. Matelis mentioned he does not see “it being a group, which supports, for example Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis or that an antagonistic relationship would be established with R. Karbauskis.” It has been mentioned in the media a number of times before that there are two wings of the LVŽS now, one backing the non-partisan S. Skvernelis and another, more numerous – R. Karbauskis.

“Some may simply tire of R. Karbauskis dictate and a part may withdraw. If another two groups form, R. Karbauskis will have few MPs. And every one of those groups, If opinions do not match, can act as a handbrake to R. Karbauskis,” B. Matelis said.

The LVŽS group, which had 58 members after the Seimas elections, has currently declined to 55 members.

When asked by Delfi, whether there is basis for talks that J. Džiugelis is trying to break apart the group, “Farmer” leader R. Karbauskis stated, “If anyone is trying, it is done hopelessly.”

“I can neither confirm, nor deny it. As for what J. Džiugelis is doing, I do not know. That he is acting somewhat odd, I have noticed. But this does not yield any results, even if he is seeking to do something. I believe that many are talking and for a long time about attempts (to break up the group),” he said.

However, R. Karbauskis did not deny that certain TTP group members might join the LVŽS group. “There were no talks about a part of the TTP joining the LVŽS. I only know that president R. Paksas expressed his opinion that they should support us, but this does not mean that we are talking about a merger or such,” the LVŽS leader said.

Vision of a “Free Mandate” group

P. Urbšys has indirectly confirmed to Delfi that he had plans to act together with J. Džiugelis’ backers and is no longer concealing his intent to gather backers.

“But what I have noticed. In the Seimas couloirs, there is talk of another Seimas group, but it appears more to me like an effort to break apart the ruling group. B. Matelis is active there, not hiding his cooperation with the Conservatives in Panevėžys. He, with the aid of J. Džiugelis, is seeking to grasp the weaknesses of the LVŽS. When I felt that as if a new entity was formed in the couloirs, where other than J. Džiugelis, B. Matelis was also a founder, I told J. Džiugelis that if B. Matelis is present in this, I have no plans to participate in the Conservatives’ project,” P. Urbšys told Delfi.

He explained that, “I likely can break apart the construction of this house of cards that B. Matelis is doing. My idea could become an alternative.”

This alternative is P. Urbšys’ idea to form a “Free Mandate” group. This is apparently being done because of a belief that in certain party-based groups, “MPs hands are being twisted” in an effort to force them to support the majority’s decisions despite the Constitution establishing the principle of a free mandate, which outlines that MPs are representatives of the nation, not the party or group.

“Such an idea is necessary as a signal to the leadership of the party-based groups as well: do not force MPs, let them retain a free mandate. If you do such a thing, a format may appear, where people can choose, where the principle of a free mandate is respected,” P. Urbšys said.

According to him, the new group could be formed from MPs, who are withdrawing from their groups for various reasons and “wish to safeguard their promises to voters.”

“Such a group would certainly not be in the opposition, it could back the majority over issues, which match the specific MP’s political commitments to voters, but at the same time, the principle of the majority would not apply to group members. The majority could not enforce its stance on the group members, who would be in the minority, that is to say there would be respect for everyone’s political decisions,” the politician explained.

Gražulis speaks of scouting

P. Urbšys mentions that “perhaps four people” are discussing joining the new group. He does not dismiss the possibility for some of the mixed Seimas group representatives joining as well, primarily – Valentinas Bukauskas of the Labour Party, who recently left the Lithuanian Social Democratic Labour Group, certain “Farmers” and P. Gražulis, who was removed from the TTP group.

When asked, whether the group’s founders won’t be hindered by P. Gražulis’ controversial reputation, P. Urbšys stated that the group is no political organisation.

“For example, if a question arose over a group member breaching ethical conduct or even being impeached, every group member will act based on the freedom of decision. The group will definitely not be one of co-conspirators, who seek to cover one another at any cost,” he explained.

Meanwhile, P. Gražulis stated he is currently neither creating his own group, nor joining anyone.

“Of course, various groups are inviting me, both existing ones and another that is forming. Currently they are scouting, now that I’m free everyone is testing the waters. If my rights in the TTP group are not returned, I will see. To my knowledge, P. Urbšys is also organising a group. And one of the variants is that we are talking to him,” the MP said.

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