What mistakes are Nausėda and Šimonytė making? Grybauskaitė’s ambitions and what was happening

Ingrida Šimonytė, Gitanas Nausėda
Ingrida Šimonytė and Gitanas Nausėda @DELFI

The President and the Prime Minister are at odds. This was evident from the very first day of their work. It is true that the public spats, the reluctance to meet, or the competition between the institutions headed by these politicians have made even experts who have seen it all wonder more and more. According to the experts interviewed by tv3.lt, the dislike of the country’s top leaders for each other is due to personal ambitions, grievances and the idea that they may have to face each other again in the elections, Jūratė Važgauskaitė is writing at the tv3.lt news portal.

This is not the first time that President Gitanas Nausėda and Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė have taken a break in communication. This is not the first year they have worked together, and there have been times in the past when they have not met for a couple of months or more.

But the situation is a little different now: war is raging beyond the country’s borders, unfriendly neighbours are not letting us forget about each other on a daily basis, and Lithuania will be hosting dignitaries from the entire NATO alliance in just a few weeks. It would seem that if not, now is the time to talk, to communicate and to solve all kinds of problems. But communication is sluggish, and neither side is hiding this.

It is true that Prime Minister Šimonytė is going to present a candidate for Minister of Education, Science and Sport to President Nausėda on June 23. The politicians are meeting face-to-face but do not plan to comment after the meeting.

Personalities cause frost between top politicians

According to sources of the portal tv3.lt, the President and the Prime Minister sometimes talk on the phone, but there are no regular weekly meetings, and the exchange of words in the media is rampant.

According to the experts interviewed by the portal, such coldness between the top politicians is caused by personalities, past grievances or the desire to interfere in matters that are not their own. In any case, it is the state, the speed and quality of decision-making and the overall image that suffers the most.

Without talking and without unanimity on certain issues, Lithuania’s top officials are also marching towards the NATO summit. According to the sources of the portal tv3.lt, the positions on the political nuances of the NATO summit, which are certainly there, are not actively coordinated among themselves, at least for the time being. Some institutions do not fully know what the others will do or what the final position or opinion will be.

When the President read out his annual report a few days ago, the Prime Minister reacted by saying that he was already preparing for elections.

A similar reaction has been seen before, last year after the President’s annual report, Šimonytė said that “In domestic politics – perhaps for ideological reasons, perhaps for political reasons – the President has chosen to be more of a critic of the Government. However, the Government works according to the programme approved by the Seimas and tries to evaluate and accept all constructive criticism, regardless of where it comes from.”

In fact, the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman at the time was quick to point out that, “In those areas that the Constitution requires the Government and the President to act together – in the areas of security, and also in the areas of foreign policy – they do so while pursuing the same geo-political goals. And this is the most important message and commentary on the speculation that there are any disagreements”.

However, time passes, and the disagreements between the country’s leaders remain the same.

Is the President in the position of a “political drone”?

Political commentator Virgis Valentinavičius, referring to the “no-talking” between the Prime Minister and the President, spared no criticism of the President. According to the commentator, G. Nausėda, who has no real powers, wants not only to lead the country but also to give orders to the Prime Minister, in other words, to be a super-prime minister.

This is why, according to the political commentator, Šimonyte does not like this kind of thing and does not bother to talk to the President.

“The President’s annual speech made it very clear that the President envisages his job as a war with this coalition. Mr Nausėda is very clearly avoiding the role of the President as a neutral arbiter. He is getting involved in internal political battles on the side of the opposition, and not even the opposition as a whole, but primarily in the corner of the Peasant Greens. This means a constant political battle with the Prime Minister and Gabriel Landsberg. The speech demonstrated this perfectly,” said Mr Valentinavičius.

According to him, the President occupies the position of a “political drone” and lives off the work of others. By fighting political battles, Valentinavičius believes, the President is in the position of a super-premier, which means that “the executive is headed by Šimonytė, and she will head me”.

“Mr Nausėda is making it clear that the Government must carry out all his instructions on all issues that lead to the mythical welfare state, and if it doesn’t, the President will be unhappy. <…> For all the good that has been done in the social field, in the field of education or elsewhere, the President has decided to take the credit for himself. Recalling that, he proposed both. <…> Even though the Government is responsible for those areas through its work, its decisions and, ultimately, its ratings.

The President picks the raisins, saying that this is his job. <…> This position cannot please the Government and the Prime Minister because the President always interferes or tries to interfere (in domestic processes). Under such conditions, when the President is not neutral but takes a specific position in relation to the political forces in the Seimas, how can there be any cooperation?”, Valentinavičius asked, assuring that he does not think that the Prime Minister has “any particular desire to call the President and console him”.

The political commentator is convinced that the President has taken a stance of criticism towards the ruling party since the beginning of his term. Therefore, the Government needs to shut up and get on with its work.

“In theory, the President should extend an olive branch and invite cooperation, but all his rhetoric is confrontational,” Valentinavičius said, stressing that the situation where the heads of the two main institutions are not very willing to talk to each other has been going on for three years.

She sees a competitor, not a prime minister

The political commentator believes that the President does not see the Prime Minister as the head of the Government but as a political rival.

“For the President, the cheque scandal is another stick with which to beat the Government. But it has to be used in such a way that it does not collapse because the President was annoyed when Šimonytė tried to quit. Well, Šimonytė took the responsibility on her own head, realising that there would be no one to work for if she did not. But such a “hung” government is the best option for the President”, he said.

The reviewer admitted that other prime ministers had disagreements with one or the other President, but a lot of it came down to the personalities who occupied the posts.

“Algirdas Butkevičius is now making his relationship with President Dalia Grybauskaitė much better. In the last year before the election, which he lost, Butkevičius had a similar relationship with the President as Šimonytė has now with Nausėda. In fact, Butkevičius had a really normal relationship with the President for the three years before that.

Andrius Kubilius used to get on with Grybauskaitė, although she was often critical. <…> A lot of patience was needed because Grybauskaitė is an ambitious person with an angular character but also very bossy. But Kubilius found ways to listen and to intervene with his opinion. And that is difficult. And G. Nausėda, as a president, is far from Valdas Adamkus and the same D. Grybauskaitė, but close to Rolandas Paksas,” V. Valentinavičius reflected.

Everyone would be better off if they communicated

Commenting on the relations between the President and the Prime Minister, Matas Baltrukevičius, an associate analyst at the Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis, said that the disagreements between the two politicians are not just a problem between them but have happened between other politicians too.

“Now, former Prime Minister Butkevičius has become a regular on popular TV shows, telling everyone how meetings between him and President Grybauskaitė broke down for two months. So it is not the first time that information has been circulated that meetings between Mrs Šimonytė and Mr Nausėda have also been broken up.

They resume, and then they do not take place again. <…> It cannot be said that some work is now hopelessly stalled, or that officials have not been appointed, or anything else. <…> But, of course, things like the NATO summit, it is during the summit itself that you will feel the most how prepared Lithuania is and how things are going. You have to be involved from the inside to know how much coordination is going on. Is everything sufficient? Is everything clear?

Of course, the foreign diplomats residing in Lithuania also see how the process is going. However, it would be more useful for everyone if the President and the Prime Minister were in contact with each other, without wasting time on media speeches against each other”, said the political analyst.

Emotions and personalities get in the way

According to Baltrukevičius, the President and the Prime Minister are both sensitive as politicians and as people.

Both have contested elections, competed against each other, have been subjected to loud speeches against each other and may have some personal grievances.

“Especially from the President’s side, it is felt that he deeply accepts what is being said about him and then reacts. And all these emotions, the human side, hinders a better relationship. And, of course, with the presidential elections coming up, both sides become even more sensitive to criticism.

We have seen this in the President’s annual statement, which was not unexpected on the rhetorical side. Well, Mrs Šimonytė is not ruling out the possibility of running. So, the likelihood that they will be rivals again in the elections is quite high, and this is the backdrop that determines the current state of relations”, he said.

According to the political analyst, the now-rumoured format of Monday’s 8 a.m. meetings between the President and the Prime Minister is not a necessity for the country, but it is better for everyone when there is more communication.

“Emotions are emotions, but there are national interests and common issues that require goodwill. Lithuania will win or lose this. That is the attitude that is most lacking in this situation. I would not like to see ambition and emotions overshadow national interests. <…> Yes, we are inflating Lithuania’s role in the context of the NATO meeting, but if we are the hosts, it does not mean that Lithuania’s voice will be disproportionately different from previous meetings. But there is a completely non-political side of the preparations, which is no less important. Inter-institutional cooperation is also needed there”, Baltrukevičius believes.

As for the misunderstandings between the Prime Minister and the President and individual ministers, the political expert said that “it is the responsibility of the Prime Minister to make sure that the ensemble plays the same tune as coherently as possible”. If there are disagreements, then it is up to the Prime Minister to take the lead.

“Disagreements are elementary, you can’t avoid them, but lately, it seems that the clarification of relations is taking place through the media. Under normal circumstances, everything should be settled behind closed doors, even if it is through gritted teeth. We should not go into the public sphere with different messages”, said the political expert.

No political culture

Political analyst Bernard Ivanov says that the President and the Prime Minister do not even pretend to get along.

“There is a problem of political self-aggrandisement in Lithuania when politicians do not understand who they are. They do not feel that they are servants of the citizens but rather autonomous entities who act not for the citizens but for their own personal and party interests.

The main reason for this is that politicians do not have a public ‘steward’. <…> In this situation, personal relationships and personalities play a key role. This becomes a personal challenge for politicians, both ministers and the Prime Minister. They are being dragged into sandbox fights because there is no one to put them in their place. There is no civil society to act as a nanny. On the other hand, there is a lack of understanding of who they are working for. Apparently, they have forgotten that they have been in power for so many years,” political analyst B. Ivanov said.

According to political scientists, citizens remain bystanders in this case, and there are no levers for the public to discipline politicians.

“I’m not talking about demonstrations, although they are sometimes meaningful. But just institutionally, some citizens and community organisations would come and say, ‘you know, this is not good for us, give us mandates’.

But that doesn’t happen, so politicians feel like adventurers, playing political games and scheming. In the absence of formal institutional work, decisions are taken somewhere else, on a love-hate basis. It is uncultured to do so,” said the political scientist, who stressed that the level of political culture in our country is really low.

In this case, he said, the public is more cultured than politicians, whose behaviour does not show respect not only for themselves and the electorate but also for the institution they represent.

He recalled that in the past, there used to be all sorts of scuffles between politicians in high positions. For example, according to Mr Ivanov, President Algirdas Brazauskas, because of his communist past, “sat quietly and calmly”. However, when he became Prime Minister, he behaved quite differently.

“Well, when Grybauskaitė was president, because of her “weight”, everyone was shaking their knuckles against her. Well, V. Adamkus is an extremely cultured person, and he did not get involved in such nonsense. It is true that he has given a couple of interviews since the end of his term of office, where he poured his heart out and revealed that relations with, say, the conservatives when they were in power during his presidency were not simple. My understanding is that the President was humiliated by those in power at the time, even though he did not engage in confrontation. Well, Mr Nausėda is the flower of our political field, so he is not silent. Well, in the end, the voters will judge such behaviour of politicians”, political analyst B. Ivanovas believes.

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