November 11 was exceptional in the Seimas main hall – the ruling coalition passed an important test by challenging President Gitanas Nausėda, but it also disappointed the Freedom Party, one of the coalition partners, Indrė Naureckaitė and Agnė Liubertaitė wrote in lrytas.lt.
With ten ruling bloc members not supporting the implementation of the Freedom Party’s electoral pledge of decriminalising small quantities of narcotics, Freedom Party member Morgana Danielė explained that there will be a conversation on continued work within the coalition.
However, political experts consulted by the portal lrytas.lt have voiced doubts on whether these declarations will turn into ultimatums or the ruling bloc’s downfall. According to them, there is little room for manoeuvre.
Is a Freedom Party ultimatum forthcoming?
The Seimas rejected abolishing criminal liability for the possession of small quantities of narcotics, but it did reject an entire three presidential vetoes: regarding testing, regarding a parliamentary representative to the EU and regarding environmental conservation.
Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science (VU TSPMI) professor Tomas Janeliūnas believes that by vetoing the amendments, the president had given a favour to the ruling bloc, allowing them to test whether they still have a majority in Seimas.
Furthermore, the rejection of the three presidential vetoes overall strengthened the ruling bloc’s positions on the political scales by showcasing that it is they and not the president who has more political influence.
Meanwhile, the Freedom Party’s failure to secure majority support in the vote on the decriminalisation legislation project, according to T. Janeliūnas, is a truly unpleasant result for the party, but it shouldn’t result in the coalition collapsing.
“This matter is particularly controversial and leads to many divisions even among the liberal parties – the Liberal Movement did not vote unanimously at all. However, I am very doubtful that it could result in the coalition collapsing.
If the Freedom Party is unable to enact its initiatives while in the ruling bloc, it would be even less possible to do it while in the opposition. It would mean that for at least this term, they are fundamentally abandoning the pursuit of accomplishing their electoral pledges.
This is because the opposition realistically doesn’t have any chance of having its initiatives reach even the initial stages for approval,” T. Janeliūnas stated.
Liberals lacking liberalism
Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) lecturer, political scientist Rima Urbonaitė told the portal lrytas.lt that divisions of opinion are a fairly normal occurrence in a ruling coalition.
“I think it’s nothing new – there is a specific segment of questions where it is evident that, for example, there are some 3-5 people in the Liberal Movement who always vote entirely unlike a true liberal would. This is a regular occurrence we could also see in the previous term as far as voting is concerned. It can be observed now as well because there are certain questions, which are rather sensitive such as the partnership law.
We always see such divisions occurring were some among the Liberal Movement group vote more like the “Farmers.” If we look to other aspects related to more neutral questions, things such as the president’s veto being rejected, the discipline and unified voting did happen there. It is thus clear that much hinges on the question at hand. More sensitive questions will always present some of the liberals in an entirely illiberal light,” the political scientist noted.
She highlighted former Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS) member Viktoras Pranckietis who is now with the Liberal Movement. Namely, this member of Seimas abstained in the voting on the partnership law and the decriminalisation of small quantities of narcotics.
“The question that was raised when Viktoras Pranckietis had just joined the Liberal Movement remains even now. Then too we asked in what way is Pranckietis liberal? Well then, we see exactly how.
Votes like this where your liberal leanings are put to the test are an excellent showcase. V. Pranckietis is typically either inclined to not show up or ducks into the bushes and says that he is liberal but slightly illiberal,” the MRU political scientist said.
R. Urbonaitė explained that the Freedom Party might feel grudges right now due to the legislation that is important to them, but she predicts that there will not be any major conflicts in the ruling bloc.
“This is yet another blow to the Freedom Party and, naturally, they are also thinking about their voters. But on the other hand – they cannot force the coalition leaders to convince their group members to vote in unison. It is a difficult situation and I think that there will be grudges and tensions for a time, but I somewhat doubt they could turn into categorical ultimatums. For one, it will not yield anything, it will collapse the coalition and in turn, any hopes regarding other legislation. Furthermore, it will drive the country into chaos, something that would be disastrous right now.
There is very little room for manoeuvre – either you spark a crisis that no one needs and concurrently bury all your ideas or you endure and continue trying to do something because there’s still three years to go. Just that I am unsure if it is possible to change the positions of certain people over those three years. That’s the essential element,” R. Urbonaitė noted.
She conceded that the situation regarding the initiative to decriminalise the possession of small quantities of narcotics did sour the Freedom Party’s moods, but she also reminded that the coalition agreement left this party’s programme questions “almost outside the margins.”
“It is a matter of wanting to state that we are not the ones who can constantly be ignored and whose programme points can be entirely side-lined. On the other hand, the Freedom Party’s programme points practically didn’t make the cut even in the coalition agreement and this should probably not surprise anyone either,” the political scientist said.
The same awaits the partnership law?
T. Janeliūnas does not rule out the possibility that a similar scenario could repeat with the partnership legislative project, which is due to return to the Seimas hall. According to him, even with the coalition’s future at risk, members of Seimas might find it difficult to vote on projects that are viewed controversially in society.
“Matters related to values are a far more sensitive question for members of Seimas because they are aware that such votes could be remembered by voters for a long time. And respectively, it is very difficult to change their position in the name of the coalition’s cohesion, changing value positions they might have declared to voters prior to the elections or are declaring right now.
Nevertheless, the political scientist muses that the current decision was not difficult for the ten ruling bloc members who did not back the Freedom Party project because the Freedom Party group itself had not declared any specific ultimatum.
“The current decision is not difficult. If the Freedom Party really wanted to “raise the price” and began thinking about radical steps, perhaps it would have been a bigger decision for the partners and it could be entirely possible their reactions would be different,” T. Janeliūnas noted.
Meanwhile, according to R. Urbonaitė, the Freedom Party should definitely not be buried just yet – it has been unique ever since the Seimas elections started and often was more courageous in terms of certain questions than the Liberal Movement.
“They founded their campaign on matters that are very sensitive in society and so, hoping that these matters will proceed smoothly while within the coalition is an impossible matter. It’s not a question of water at cafes, which also drew discussions in Seimas. Voters are equally aware that the real odds of the legislation passing that the Freedom Party is fighting for are far lower than they would like,” she mused.
R. Urbonaitė added that the group’s size in Seimas isn’t to the level where it could “jump very high.”
“Unfortunately, certain nuances within the coalition partners also come into play. But the fact that they are somewhat bringing these matters up and it finds itself on the political agenda is already not insignificant. Since there are still three years to go, let’s not bury the Freedom Party prematurely – there could still be opportunities to adjust the political agenda. Of course, we will all be anticipating the question of partnership, which will be another barrier where it’s uncertain how they can clear it. However, naturally, we’re walking on very thin ice here,” the MRU lecturer said.
According to her, it is necessary to recognise that the Conservatives and Liberal Movement’s voters are not the same as those of the Freedom Party.
“This must be recognised and seen; they remain, to an extent, a niche. This is despite the fact that the support garnered by the Freedom Party isn’t all that small,” the political scientist added.
How will the ruling bloc and Presidential Palace’s relationship change?
While some of the opposition members describe the ruling bloc’s decision to reject all three presidential vetoes in one sitting as something akin to “showing him his place,” T. Janeliūnas is convinced that it is a matter of pragmatism, to vote when all the Seimas majority members are gathered.
Meanwhile, he notes that these vetoes will not have any influence on the continuing conflict between the Presidential Palace and the ruling bloc.
“The tensions between the Presidential Palace and the ruling bloc did not form within a single day. It is something of a factual state. The rejection of the vetoes does not shift the tensions in either direction.
Of course, in other cases, it might make the president decide with more caution whether he should veto certain laws. Politically, it is not good if the president’s vetoes are devalued – if they are frequent and rejected in Seimas. In such a case, the instrument of veto doesn’t even have symbolic political meaning. If it deters the president from further vetoes, it could be said that the ruling bloc has strengthened its positions on the political scales in general by showcasing that it has greater political influence right now,” T. Janeliūnas explained.