The end of the political season. Who obtained what?

Next to the Seimas
DELFI / Domantas Pipas

While the cities were drowning from rain, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis and the Farmer Greens were trying to save their drowning positions from the political river. He succeeded, though he was forced to stand upside down, reported.

This allowed the Prime Minister to hold himself as not having lost to the Conservatives – to demonstrate that without them the head of cabinet cannot survive and to show common citizens that it is to them, not the Social Democrats, for whom the slogan “people first” applies. And only the SocDems were left, according to their leader Gintautas Paluckas, “at the bed which will fit three.” And while Gintautas Paluckas strictly assured that the SocDems find this unacceptable, the party cooled his moods and now it will only be decided in autumn, whether the bed will be shared as the Farmer Greens want and whether the SocDems will make do or if they will seek a new bed. Truth be told we mustn’t forget another important detail – in the midst of this political marketplace, the Conservatives forsook their principal stance declared after the elections – they would only negotiate with the Farmer Greens once they have no dealings with the Social Democrats.

At S. Skvernelis cabinet’s proposal the 9% VAT heating exemption was terminated from June. The PM strongly argued that it is necessary to end the exemption because it is apparently socially unjust because it is used by everyone, not just the poor, furthermore it is only applied to central heating. The Ministry of Finance presented and the minister himself presented a supposedly fair compensation regime, based on which the number of those receiving the benefit would have had to expand by at least two hundred thousand citizens.

Suddenly becoming socially responsible after the elections, the Social Democrats and their new leader G. Paluckas offered to set a permanent tax exemption for heating. S. Skvernelis described this as an affront. However just after a month and a half of the new exemption being put in place, S. Skvernelis even signed a written accord with the opposition Conservatives, in return for support for forestry reform. Public relations expert Arijus Katauskas says that the change of heart was due to both the Farmer Greens and especially S. Skvernelis being unable to afford yet another loss.

“If he had also lost the forestry reform, he would be viewed as an incapable Prime Minister. With ambition to present himself as a leader and Lithuanians vote for leaders to the post of president, not weak individuals, not victims, another loss could have been very painful for him,” the public relations consultant said.

Publicist, analyst and Social Democrat member Arkadijus Vinokuras says that such political exchanges are possible when the parties have no ideology. The citizen is left a pushover on the political checkers board, something demonstrated by the Prime Minister’s behaviour this time.

“He completely forgot that he forced a mass of people into a corner, which made them calculate every cent and buy potentially cheapened validol. Suddenly a proposal appeared and those common people became just another piece on the checkers board. What happened is, I repeat, an amoral game with common people, their fears, their security,” Vinokuras claimed.

The Farmer Greens – Conservative agreement has no mention of the returning exemption’s size. Currently unlike Gabrielius Landsbergis, the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Seimas Speaker say that it will not be as before – 9%, while the heating of an average flat could become cheaper by just two and a half euro. But due to the heating exemption it may be necessary to cut other exemptions, for example that on books. The question is raised, will S. Skvernelis not cheat the Conservatives? While such a possibility exists, looking forward it does not appear realistic.

“On the one hand there is a major risk for the Conservatives that they could be tricked, but the Conservatives also know that there are still many pending reforms, many things not even begun and the Social Democrats are now odd, a weird coalition partner – not fish and not meat. If they step back, finally deciding to leave the “Farmers” to play a minority government, then the Conservatives gain much more power,” A. Katauskas mused.

A. Vinokuras does not support the Social Democrat – Farmer Greens coalition. Even now he states that after this deal with the Conservatives, the Social Democrats should withdraw from the majority.

“This suffering has to end as soon as possible. What the Farmer Greens showed is that they have potential partners. If you don’t want us, no need, we will go to others. And one of the largest Lithuanian parties suddenly becomes a pushover,” the publicist noted.

The new Social Democrat leader G. Paluckas stated that he sees three paths for the coalition government – things remain as they are, the coalition agreement is rewritten and the Social Democrats depart it. He stated he personally would support withdrawal. Political scientist dr. Mindaugas Jurkynas reminds that the Social Democrats are the junior coalition partners, they do not dictate the conditions.

“No-one will review the agreement, no-one will do as the Social Democrats wish, but the Social Democrats can always leave the coalition, but for this, they need impeccable timing. It can be done, but definitely not now,” said VDU Department of Political Science and Diplomacy professor M. Jurkynas

A. Katauskas also says that from a public relations perspective, neither the Social Democrats, nor their leader have any point to withdrawing from the coalition at this moment. The Social Democrats could withdraw if their disagreements with the Farmer Greens were linked with an issue that matters more to the public than forestries. Gintautas Paluckas would be left as if a king without a crown upon the party leaving the coalition.

“If they withdraw, G. Paluckas is simply left the vice mayor of Vilnius. Currently, whether he likes it or not, G. Paluckas is the leader of a coalition party. Thus if they consider leaving so that things would be easier, it should no longer be done now, but for example during another battle, when it impacts far more people,” A. Katauskas said.

After the Social Democrat party presidium, G. Paluckas changed his earlier position and stated that the party will not withdraw from the coalition just yet, it will listen to the branches’ opinions and will deliberate in autumn. By the way, G. Paluckas is often forced to soften his stance regarding the coalition, as if he were not the party leader, but the public relations representative regulated by the Seimas group because namely its opinion often clashes with the party leader’s. A party member has said that G. Paluckas’ political weight in the party is currently minute.

“Alone on the field one is no warrior. We can only see G. Paluckas, but we do not see his team. And his team is, to my understanding, ideologically insignificant and intellectually incapable,” A. Vinokuras stated.

“If the split between the Social Democrat group in Seimas and party leader G. Paluckas continues, I doubt these disputes will increase party internal order and cohesion, while preventing G. Paluckas from becoming a real leader of the party,” M. Jurkynas said.

The conclusion presents itself after the spring session and particularly after recent meetings that the Conservatives seek to show that they are influential – the Prime Minister and Farmer Greens will not be able to do without them in the future, the Social Democrats – that their coalition partners have to respect them and that in some situations they can make the Farmer Greens play according to their rules. The Prime Minister, participating in this political market, by relinquishing his position clearly understands that his cabinet is sometimes operating under minority government conditions and the main battle awaits in terms of the budget, thus it is unlikely he will make do without the opposition Conservatives. On the other hand he must realise that friendship with the Conservatives can cost him a great deal more than that with the weakened Social Democrats. This price is calculated in both political influence and posts.

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