With a large group of influential party veterans departing, he stated that this does not mean drama, but the end of a certain epoch. According to him, “beautiful things are born in disputes and birthing pains. Today we are born anew.” Then he rushed to add that he is no autocrat, but a democrat.
It is unclear how things will end, whether the reformed and cleansed party will grow stronger or weaker, whether it will regain lost positions in the next elections or if it will become a party of ten mandates. Whatever the end result, the responsibility for fiasco or the honours for victory will go to Paluckas. He created the current crisis with his ambition and wish to restructure the party so that it would conform to his vision and would be subordinate to him.
Few thought that Paluckas would win the party chairman elections. His profile and CV were modest. He was a member of the Vilnius municipality, not Seimas.
Furthermore courts convicted Paluckas for abuse of authority when he worked as the Vilnius city municipality administration director. The Supreme Court confirmed this ruling in 2012.
His critics stated that a convicted political leader discredits the party, but these arguments did not convince the majority of party members. From the day he was elected, Paluckas did not conceal his desire to be rid of party veterans, to break their influence.
Not a week passed and Paluckas challenged the Seimas group. He stated that A. Butkevičius would not be his deputy because supposedly the party cannot have two chairmen.
He also stated that he intends to discuss all the important reform questions with the group, however the most important ones would be deliberated on in a wider format – the party council or congress.
Outlining that the council or congress would vote one way or another, akin to the Seimas group, he did not openly threatening. If they do not conform, “a question will arise regarding their position in the candidate roster prior to the 2020 Seimas elections.”
On those first days he also challenged the coalition and Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis. Apparently the cabinet is not socially sensitive, so perhaps support will be need to be pursued among the Conservatives. I suspect this criticism was intended to isolate the members of Seimas.
In this regard, Paluckas’ actions are fairly paradoxical. During the chairman elections, or furthermore by planning to appeal to local branches for support in withdrawing from the coalition, he displayed exceptional political skills.
Lacking the right political instincts he would have been unable to gain a grasp over the byzantine internal intrigues of the Social Democrats and rise to the top of the hierarchy. After some five months the party was his, the old guard was left with the role of extras.
But Paluckas overextended, did not seriously intend to come to terms with the veterans. Having played well so far, he likely failed to realise that they will also creatively met out their vengeance and would not be content with humiliation, with the place intended for them under Paluckas’ skies, but would rebel and eventually leave the party.
Some of Paluckas’ complaints to the “Farmers” were justified. The coalition agreement was unfavourable to the Social Democrats.
Traditionally the junior party is able to negotiate a proportionate amount of ministries because it is not possible to form a coalition without it. The Social Democrats received only four and an entire two ministers – foreign affairs and national defence – were proposed by the president.
The harvest of influential posts in Seimas was modest. There was basis to review and amend the coalition agreement. But accusations to the “Farmers” that they are inadequately behaving toward the Social Democrat group, disregard its opinion, do not listen to its proposals, were not convincing.
There is friction in most coalitions, the Social Democrats constantly bickered with their partners in the Labour Party and Order and Justice in the previous cabinet, but no disaster struck. Furthermore the Seimas group members likely knew what the coalition’s internal relations were and they did not complain, at least not as much as Paluckas.
The impression was made that the coalition was being torn down with the intention for party veterans, two former prime ministers among them, to be put in their place in the new order, namely in the basement.
The consequences of Paluckas’ revolution will become clear after the next Seimas elections. The party will be able to take pride in its internal democracy.
By emphasising the important of local branches through actions, not only words, the Social Democrats will be able to attract new members. Not only Vilnius, but also the province will direct the party’s activities. By removing the veterans, local figures will have greater opportunities to candidate in their districts and appear higher up on the roster.
There will be fewer “paratroopers from Vilnius”, high party officials who were handed electoral districts though they do not live there and lack closer links with the local people.
The restriction on such “paratroopers” will positively influence Lithuanian democracy, will reduce the segregation between the countryside and the cities. Such changes should improve the Social Democrats’ chances to regain a portion of their traditional electorate.
There will also be problems. It will not be easy to create the image of a renewed and contemporary party when the chairman has been convicted.
It isn’t even a norm in Lithuania or at least not a very desirable norm. There is little talk of Paluckas past now, but during the electoral campaign the situation will be different. A number of notable Social Democrat figures will no longer be candidates, they will be replaced with lesser known people, as such the party’s experience in governance can no longer be emphasised. Committees will continue to be led by the veterans, Paluckas supporters will likely not take their places. With the Social Democrats moving to the opposition, media attention will decline, that is to say free advertising as well. The threat arises that in an effort to attract attention, the Paluckists will constantly criticise the government, will form an image of grumpy critics. The question of finance arises. The old party (if you can call it that) had good links with business, received its support. It is unclear whether Paluckas will be able to maintain those links, particularly when the party programme emphasises traditional social democrat values.
It will only be after the next Seimas elections, whenever they happen, that we will see whether Paluckas and his revolution buried the party, renewed it or whether all the noise was simply a Lithuanian tempest in a teapot.