The conflict with President Dalia Grybauskaitė may cost Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis his bid for the post of head of state, Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science docent dr. Kęstutis Girnius says. On Monday’s Žinių Radijas show Įvykiai ir Komentarai [Events and Comments] K. Girnius concluded that such a struggle – angry and childish as we see between S. Skvernelis and D. Grybauskaitė, is a rare event.
“Foreign diplomats are probably sitting scratching their heads, trying to figure out, what is going on here. Both are acting like little children, who can’t control themselves,” the political scientist concluded.
However, in his opinion, what S. Skvernelis is doing is beneficial in the long term.
“Finally a challenge has been cast against the president’s authoritarian style of governance and her whims. The final provocation was when after all the disputes, he announced on Friday that today, Monday, he would discuss foreign policy, which the president holds to be her private domain,” K. Girnius said, highlighting the discussion held by the PM regarding relations with Lithuania’s Eastern neighbours.
According to the political scientist, other prime ministers should have done this a long time ago.
“I am sometimes surprised that such a resolute, firm and good prime minister as Andrius Kubilius also stood down before her whims. I believe that a positive precedent could be created now. If another such president appeared, who intended to make everyone dance to their tune, this would be an example of how it can be opposed,” K. Girnius said.
M. Romeris University docent dr. Virgis Valentinavičius opposed his colleague, stating that getting embroiled in such a struggle could be meaningful if it were at least the start of D. Grybauskaitė’s second term. But now her term is coming to an end.
In his opinion, the president’s behaviour toward S. Skvernelis is not atypical. She has been a harsh critic of the previous two cabinets as well.
“I do not see S. Skvernelis being more disliked than Algirdas Butkevičius. <…> D. Grybauskaitė cannot be faulted for a lack of strong character, but I would want to believe that most of her hot-headedness and temperament is due to the content of politics – what the cabinet is doing and how,” V. Valentinavičius said.
According to the political scientist, S. Skvernelis’ cabinet is better than A. Butkevičius’ in a number of areas, but there are numerous areas, where there is real grounds for discontent. Among such areas the expert highlighted agricultural policy.
Disputing, but not working?
VU TSPMI political scientist K. Girnius refuted the criticism, stating that we must be open – the president has been disputing with everyone, not a single prime minister suited her.
“A. Kubilius may be ideologically closer, but he too did not suit her, in absolute terms. What is worse – she stands up, criticises and does not do anything. S. Skvernelis pointed it out very accurately that those who do nothing make no mistakes,” K. Girnius stated.
He found the president’s attention lacking in cases where important legislation was being passed. The political scientist does not believe that in such cases she would call upon members of Seimas, political group leaders, would talk to the prime minister.
“Three prime ministers, three cabinets, nine years and not a single one suited her. In such a case, if there is no one suitable in nine years, then it is also a problem of character. Among other things,” K. Girnius said.
Standing by electoral promises
The M. Romeris University political scientist responded that the president is simply standing by the promise given during the elections – to be firm.
“Her whole image has been one of firmness, strictness. It is not a pleasant sight, but it is a pledge and it is the basis of why she is the most popular politician in Lithuania,” V. Valentinavičius said.
He highlighted that D. Grybauskaitė is not the only president, who clashed with cabinets and majorities.
“Valdas Adamkus also clashed with Gediminas Vagnorius and the Seimas. Even Algirdas Brazauskas fought against Adolfas Šleževičius toward the end of his term. But up to now we did not have the experience where a truly strong character arrives in this position and takes as much authority as they want,” V. Valentinavičius said.
His colleague in the VU TSPMI highlighted that the president stated from the very start that she would have only as much power as she is permitted to have, however her first legislative veto came only after two years.
“I do not see this strong character. She is like Donald Trump – irate, firm, somewhat angry, but not doing those things, which she should in order to communicate more effectively,” K. Girnius said.
He was uninclined to give significance to the president’s ratings, pointing out that all presidents are popular because they do not have to make sensitive decisions such as regarding taxation.
“There are two usual matters: ratings – the president’s are high, the prime minister’s – low, bar Butkevičius’ miracle. When dealing with the most sensitive domestic policy questions, the president can step back whenever she wills or the opposite,” K. Girnius said.
The political scientist observed a positive facet in the president’s behaviour – she interacts with media very little.
“Everyone else interacts with the media so much that they end up misspeaking, the media catches on to it and highlights it. The president hardly ever speaks, only does so through her press representative, through her advisors and when she does her annual speech. This is a positive matter because Lithuanian politicians are overly talkative,” K. Girnius stated.
More favourable to the right?
The political scientists’ opinions did not match on whether the president was more favourable to right wing politicians.
K. Girnius believes that is the case, while V. Valentinavičius believes that it is simply a myth that the president is favourable to the Conservatives.
“Just ask Dainius Kreivys or Vitas Matuzas, how much favour she demonstrated to them. The president was an independent candidate in her programme and always strove to remain above the parties. A. Kubilius, if something did not suit her, would suffer equally,” V. Valentinavičius said.
K. Girnius believes that this is namely the problem – “everyone suffers.”
“Why does she not support someone?” the political scientist wondered.
V. Valentinavičius believes that if not for the president, there would have been no changes in Lietuvos Geležinkeliai. He also positively received her stance regarding Minister of Agriculture Bronius Markauskas.
Meanwhile his colleague believes that the president could have coordinated this matter with the prime minister.
“B. Markauskas will have to resign in two-four weeks, I do not believe it is necessary for him to do so immediately. There is some sort of myth that in the West individuals resign at the first sight of scandal. There’s no such thing,” K. Girnius said.
Does not believe Skvernelis can win in the eyes of the people
The VU TSPMI political scientist does not believe that S. Skvernelis’ struggle against the president is part of his efforts toward becoming president.
“After all he is clashing with the queen of Lithuania and the possibility that he will dethrone the queen is very slight. I believe in the people’s eyes it will factually harm his image,” K. Girnius said.
The political scientist would not be surprised If S. Skvernelis’ popularity could decline due to the conflict with the president to the point that he would choose not to run for president.
“If he consciously chose to clash with the president while thinking it will aid his presidential bid, I believe he was mistaken,” K. Girnius said.