The president’s honeymoon has ended

Gitanas Nausėda
Gitanas Nausėda DELFI / Valdas Kopūstas

September 1 has arrived and the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports’ negotiations with teachers’ unions have once more entered the heated phase Vytautas Bruveris wrote in lrytas.lt

Already a few weeks ago, it turned out that a part of the problems that unseated minister J. Petrauskienė last year have yet to be resolved. The head of the trade union that successfully organised a sit-in at the ministry A. Navickas has announced that negotiations have been ongoing with the country’s education strategists since May, but without any notable results.

The main questions remain the same: the teacher wage payment system rushed in last summer that caused chaos, teachers’ demands to increase wages faster and more than the government wants and also the school network reform.

Minister Monkevičius and Trade Unions

Minister A. Monkevičius took to work immediately. Reports abound about extra tens of millions of euro that will be earmarked for teachers’ wages, about frequent meetings with the trade unions and also about smooth negotiations.

That said, the trade union front is breaking apart. With the ministry announcing that it will soon sign an agreement with the Lithuanian Education and Science Trade Union, its leaders declared that A. Navickas is holding empty negotiations, only continuing in order to pressure the government.

At the same time, the minister himself hinted that he believes the teachers decided to push the government once more, making use of the start of the school year.

But is such a situation a bolt from the blue? By no means. With Prime Minister S. Skvernelis dismissing J. Petrauskienė, the handling of education issues was temporarily handed to Minister of Transport and Communications R. Masiulis, who convinced teachers that they would leave the ministry to sit in after all.

But it soon turned out that they didn’t agree on much else and the mess was left for A. Monkevičius to sort out.

Return to politics

Having constantly declared that his main goal is to calm everyone down, A. Monkevičius indeed did settle passions for a time, but not for long. Natural. Professional J. Petrauskienė could not contain the situation in the education system, lacked weight and backing in Seimas, thus fundamentally she could not resolve the core issues.

And A. Monkevičius, who had left major league politics for a time now, while not in his first minister appointment, is essentially also a technical, without great political support figure, bar the support of the PM.

Of course, we will probably not see the sort of teachers’ protests we saw last Christmas, but the government, whose fear thresholds are lower prior to the elections, should be more pliable.

Nevertheless, there remain many questions regarding key changes. Firstly, it’s due to the age-old reason – the elections are nigh.

While the “Farmer” positions in Seimas remain immovable, there are ample internal disputes as well.

The main axis of this erosion is the confrontation of “Farmer” leader R. Karbauskis and PM S. Skvernelis, which continues to shower with sparks.

Sparks between Karbauskis and Skvernelis

This week, news emerged that apparently, figures from the prime minister’s circle registered the name of a new party, which is the exact same as S. Skvernelis’ presidential campaign slogan – For the Homeland! This particularly irked R. Karbauskis, who described this news as not just rumours, but an attack on the foundations of the state, no more, no less.

According to the “Farmer” leader, his relations with the PM are excellent and there is no basis for divorce. Let’s wait and see.

Meanwhile, having returned from trips abroad, opposition Conservatives leader G. Landsbergis looked around and declared that powers in the country that could halt R. Karbauskis’ rampage have weakened greatly. Supposedly, during the post-election government reshuffle, the “Farmer” leader appeared stronger than even newly elected President G. Nausėda.

There is truth to such declarations, made not only by G. Landsbergis. After all, G. Nausėda was unable to retain R. Karbauskis seemingly greatest enemy in the cabinet – Minister of Transport and Communications R. Masiulis. Furthermore, the president was unable to unseat both “Farmer” favourite Minister of Healthcare A. Veryga, nor Minister of Social Security and Labour L. Kukuratis, who is important to the majority.

Keeping in mind the president’s sky-high ratings, many expected more resolute actions. G. Nausėda himself explained he did not want to push too hard so as to not push the country into a political crisis.

President flexing his muscles

Meanwhile, the president’s main advisor for domestic policy P. Mačiulis began to flex his muscles.

According to him, the head of state presented A. Veryga and L. Kukuraitis with specific tasks, failing to perform which, the cabinet ministers will have to bid farewell to their offices.

But both ministers, supposedly on watch by the Presidential Palace, seemingly were completely unintimidated and even counterattacked.

A. Veryga countered with the statement that the president’s advisor neither understands the limits of a minister’s responsibilities, nor the situation in the country, while L. Kukuraitis stated that not only he, but also the president is responsible for the situation in the especially sensitive area of social security.

Looking at such verbal sparring and recalling the recent slap in the face from the Seimas in rejecting G. Nausėda’s veto on the forest law, we can guess that not even a hundred days into the presidency, the head of state’s honeymoon is ending. Not just the majority, but also the opposition are unflinching.

Judges Council

Even the Judges Council is making decisions, which were unimaginable in the time of D. Grybauskaitė.

Take how the Judges Council did not approve the president’s proposal to dismiss Vilnius District Administrative Court judge A. Kaminskas, who is a suspect in a potential corruption case, for staining the name of judge.

Earlier, the Judges Council backed two more colleagues, who according to G. Nausėda had done the same. It would appear that the president will find it tough to enact his promise that in the all-encompassing chaos and free for all warfare, which will further be incited by the elections, he will be the main guarantee of stability. The only hope is that the president will replace all the law enforcement chiefs, who diligently served D. Grybauskaitė and await her return during the next Seimas elections in autumn 2020.

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