The nation’s love for the president fading: where Grybauskaitė made a mistake

Dalia Grybauskaitė
DELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

Political scandals have been reducing President Dalia Grybauskaitė‘s ratings for three months in a row now. Political scientists state that this was caused by both the corruption scandal, which drew the president in, as well as the nearing presidential elections.

According to a market and public opinion research company Baltijos Tyrimai survey released on June 16, performed on May 28 – June 5 on commission from the ELTA news agency, favourable evaluations of the head of state declined by 9%. D. Grybauskaitė is now viewed favourably by 60% of respondents.

Over the past three months, favourable evaluations declined by 13% in total, down from 73%. Last time the president had similar ratings was three years ago.

Currently the most favourable evaluations are of former President Valdas Adamkus (75% positive), economist Gitanas Nausėda (64%) and Kaunas Mayor Visvaldas Matijošaitis (61%).

According to Baltijos Tyrimai head Rasa Ališauskienė‘s comment for Delfi, the decline in the head of state’s ratings could have been influenced by information released into the public sphere: the news released in April about her correspondence in 2014-2016 with the then Liberal Movement leader, now accused Eligijus Masiulis via the email, the recent disputes with Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis and the entire background of the political corruption scandal.

“Up to now, political scandals seemingly bypassed the president. Now we see the first time where the head of state is placed in a negative light for an extended period. It is hard to say if this will continue, not knowing what information will appear in the public sphere because much depends on context,” the sociologist spoke.

Ratings falling, but still vastly popular

Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science (VU TSPMI) lecturer Mažvydas Jastramskis says that D. Grybauskaitė’s decline in ratings has obvious causes.

“It is the publication of the correspondence with E. Masiulis, regardless of the authenticity of the emails, they have influence nevertheless. And of course, the president’s involvement in such a war with the majority. Of course, we can look at it differently: if the president, an active player in the political arena, having spent so much time in this post retains her popularity nonetheless, it is a good indicator,” the political scientist mused.

He noted that the current situation is comparable to the 2012 Seimas elections, when D. Grybauskaitė clashed with the then developing ruling coalition over the Labour Party‘s participation in it.

At the time, the head of state said that in forming the cabinet she will only support the political power, which will manage to form a majority without the Labour Party, which was suspected of severe breaches of electoral law and was enveloped in its “black bookkeeping” lawsuit. However, the Social Democrats, holding the most seats in Seimas, did not back down and formed a coalition with the Labourites.

“The president’s ratings dipped a little after these events, but recovered. Thus, even now we could have a similar situation: since D. Grybauskaitė nourished the image of the president as an individual above partisan politics and interinstitutional conflicts for a long time, perhaps her ratings are influenced by episodes, where she is forced to dive into the clashes between political groups,” M. Jastramskis spoke.

Allowed herself to be drawn into political conflict

He also points out that political scandals are notable for their impact on ratings not being immediate: everything depends on how widely they are discussed in public.

“The discussions are currently continuing, they cannot really be ignored,” the political scientist spoke.

Delfi reminds that recently tensions were sparked by an extended conflict between D. Grybauskaitė and the ruling coalition leader, Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS) chairman Ramūnas Karbauskis. The latter has spoken of how the recently concluded parliamentary investigation on illegal links between politicians and businesses should be extended and an object of inquiry could be certain decisions by the head of state.

Meanwhile, D. Grybauskaitė declared that R. Karbauskis’ mere presence in Seimas raises questions regarding adherence to the Constitution. “Because constitutional articles outline that MPs cannot own a business or benefit from other income,” the head of state said a few weeks ago, implying R. Karbauskis’ Agrokoncernas.

When asked due to what reasons the president allowed herself to be drawn into conflict, M. Jarstramskis mused this situation the participants of the political corruption case, seemingly to defend themselves, are beginning to release correspondence with the head of state.

“On the other hand, the majority itself has gone on the counterattack over the past half year on the front where to their understanding is D. Grybauskaitė, the Conservatives and such. When you are being drawn into involvement like this, it is difficult to avoid it, how long could you stand aside?” the political scientist said.

Spurga: love for the departing is fading

Mykolas Romeris University docent, political analyst Saulius Spurga also spoke on how the president’s ratings decline was influenced by the so-called “tulip mail” (tulpė – tulip in Lithuanian).

“A part of the public realised that the president is also a politician, in some regards similar to other politicians. And then the selection was poor: from correspondence with a politician (E. Masiulis), who appeared at the core of a corruption scandal, somewhat intriguing matters surfaced that the party he represented (the Liberal Movement) was the president’s trustee, the head of state interacted with its representatives, asked much and this was all done to the last moment, when R. Masiulis was caught,” the political scientist spoke.

The analyst believes that another reason is the beginning competition for the post of president, given that the presidential elections are due in next May.

“Candidates are surfacing, some have already declared their participation, others are being discussed. Meanwhile D. Grybauskaitė is seen as a “departing” politician. Hence, respectively fewer hopes are associated with her,” S. Spurga stated.

Meanwhile he downplayed the tensions between the ruling coalition and the president.

“Political conflicts are a fact of daily life. There have been more and less acute ones. I do not believe that the president’s rating fluctuated based on them,” he mused.

Not the first decline in two terms

Over President D. Grybauskaitė’s two terms, three notable periods can be noted where her ratings declined noticeably.

The first noticeable decline in D. Grybauskaitė’s ratings was in early 2012, when confidence in her dropped from 84% to 70%. At the time it was linked with the ongoing Financial Crime Investigation Service (FNTT) scandal, when the head of state stood behind the then Minister of the Interior Raimundas Palaitis.

At the minister’s initiative, the then heads of the FNTT Vitalijus Gailius and Vytautas Giržadas were dismissed from service, stripping their permits for work with classified information. Courts would deny the accusations levied against the two later on.

The second decline in the head of state’s ratings was observed in December of the same year. In December 2012, the president was positively evaluated by only 59% of respondents, while 34% gave negative evaluations. This was linked to the conflict between D. Grybauskaitė and the Labour Party.

Another decline in the president’s ratings was observed in September 2015, after a tragedy where border guards chasing smuggler vehicles shot an eighteen year old from Alytus when firing at the vehicles. D. Grybauskaitė stated immediately after this that the use of a firearm was excessive and this case displays “a low quality of our border control functioning.”

While the head of state soon stated that “upon such unfortunate accidents occurring, which leave casualties and both sides suffer, we must not stand on only the one side,” her ratings nevertheless dropped from 63% to 58%.

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