Opposition representatives admit it will be difficult to find common ground, while expressing reproach to one another.
The Conservatives, Liberals and Order and Justice members are the three opposition powers and so far they have failed to find common ground regarding the coalition government. Furthermore the Liberals and Conservatives have so far been unable to agree on an opposition leader.
According to Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) docent Virgis Valentinavičius, currently there are two capable opposition powers in Seimas – TS-LKD and LS. That said, the political scientist notes that the question is who to oppose.
“The government has been working for several weeks now and except for a few PR initiatives, it is not very clear what the coalition government seeks to do. Thus the main problem for the opposition is that it has to go boxing with a mountain of gelatine which has nothing defined to it. Opposing is based on the condition of having something to oppose, but that is currently not visible,” Valentinavičius told LRT.lt.
Political scientist from MRU, docent Vytautas Dumbliauskas notes that the oppositions voice could have been louder regarding the VAT exemption for heating costs.
“The “Peasants” will do such things that it will be possible to shout about it. One of them – the abolishment of the VAT exemption for heating. It is a perfect opportunity to speak up. For numerous people who receive a little over the minimum it is a blow. They will not receive compensations for heating, they will pay more. Speaking that the exemption was unfair is just demagoguery in my opinion. Ingrida Šimonytė spoke up about it a little,” stated Dumbliauskas. However he agrees that very little time has passed yet and more notable actions by the “Peasants” will take time.
Proposing to cast off the Christian Democrat identity
How many oppositions will we have in Seimas? V. Dumbliauskas believes that the sort of cooperation found between the Liberal Movement and Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats during the 2008-2012 term will definitely not be appearing in this Seimas term.
“The Liberals are now “hung” on the special witness hook. This party has problems. In the second half of November when work began in the new Seimas, clear friction surfaced between the Liberals and Conservatives. The sort of cooperation as back then will definitely not happen. Perhaps the TS-LKD will be unwilling to approach the LS, if the latter contains more and more people becoming special witnesses. Meanwhile Order and Justice members are a separate opposition group which has its own problems. The main one – change of leadership. They entered Seimas and have 8 members, but I believe they will play as they find convenient,” commented V. Dumbliauskas.
In his words, the opposition is very fragmented, there are three clearly distinct parties. Furthermore there is yet to be any agreement on an opposition leader. “Such a situation benefits the coalition government. They have a fragmented opposition. For us, as supporters of democracy, the hope is that the TS-LKD will perform the role of the opposition. It is currently the most notable opposition power and if the opposition is not critical of the government, it will be unfortunate,” added the political scientist.
It is not just the Liberals and Order and Justice that have trouble, the Conservatives do too. The TS-LKD decided to run its chairman election earlier, organising it in spring 2017. V. Valentinavičius highlights that the Christian Democrats in the party are concerned with their political welfare and having been passive during the campaign and only concerned with their own districts, have become active after the election “by jumping into the spotlight with proposals to rush into government and take initiative.”
“There is nothing new in Homeland Union history – the Christian Democrats have after all remained a closed sect after the merger. I believe that the time has come for the Homeland Union to resolve this question radically – simply remove the letters LKD from its name and purge the Christian Democrat identity from the party because it causes more problems than solutions or helps the creation of some sort of political direction,” stressed V. Valentinavičius.
In his opinion there is no point in forcibly seeking a unified opposition and the Conservatives have to define their ideological identity. “I believe that independent opposition, discovering the conservative voice, some sort of sensitive variant of conservatism and thus separating from liberal ideological values could be very important for the party,” stated V. Valentinavičius.
V. Valentinavičius: the question is, how much will the President participate?
MRU docent V. Valentinavičius also poses the question of how much influence with head of state Dalia Grybauskaitė try to have on the work of the government. According to him it is clear to see that the composition and quality of the majority in parliament is very different from that of the cabinet.
“It is fairly obvious that in the cabinet more than just one or two candidates were proposed by the President and will perhaps have an influence on those people. By my count, there may be up to eight ministers backed by her. This is people such as Minister of Transport and Communications Rokas Masiulis, Minister of Energy Žygimantas Vaičiūnas, Minister of Culture Liana Ruokytė-Jonsson, Minister of Social Security and Labour Linas Kukuraitis, not even to speak of Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius… The majority of these ministers are closer to the President than Saulius Skvernelis due to their technocratic status and the thoughts they have expressed, the distance with Ramūnas Karbauskis and his people in Seimas is even greater.
If the majority of the cabinet base discuss their actions with or work based on the President’s will, how will the opposition’s opposing work if the opposition’s opinions match the President’s? It could be that the cabinet will find more common ground with the opposition than the majority,” Valentinavičius told LRT.lt.
G. Landsbergis sees several oppositions
Conservative leader Gabrielius Landsbergis states he sees several oppositions in Seimas.
“One opposition is led by Petras Gražulis, which is more or less the majority’s satellite because their statements toward the coalition are adulating, we hear expressions of fascination. It is clear that the majority is working with their support. Perhaps Order and Justice hopes for some scarps from the table and that’s their goal? I also have yet to hear any criticism from the Polish Electoral Action in Lithuania – Christian Families Union. They often spoke how social topics are their topics, but they are not expressing any criticism. They are a sort of intermediary variant between the opposition and the majority.
Then there’s the Liberals and us. I believe that our positions more or less match, there is much overlap. Of course I imagine the Liberals are experiencing a tough time due to their crumbling party, continuing investigations. I believe it prevents a constructive view of the opposition’s work. But you have to look at the voting, which is more or less similar,” Landsbergis told LRT.lt.
The TS-LKD leader also stated that the opposition leader question is no longer the most important, stating that “I half-jokingly said that a full stop has been put down. Earlier I said that the full stop could easily become a semicolon, but that is not the most important question. The Liberals will now be resolving their problems, we also have many tasks to work with, the chairman elections are coming up. The question of an opposition leader is not of primary importance.”
According to the politician, time will tell if working in the opposition, the TS-LKD and LS have more differences or similarities. “I definitely want to find points of contact. I believe that Lithuania needs a strong right. We need to separate two things – the formal opposition which is united by an opposition leader and have a look at the voting. If we are voting the same in regarding the most important things – the government programme, the budget, this shows that we are already a unified opposition. Everything else is just static which diverts attention from the important things. I believe that the Liberals need such a racket, it masks their major issues,” G. Landsbergis commented to LRT.lt.
He also assured that the Conservatives will be critical toward all the ministers.
“I understand what V. Valentinavičius is saying and there is truth to it. But, for example, Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius is now predicting that relations with Poland could reach a new level, with him in charge for another four years. Truth be told, I see no premises for it, why strategic change should occur with the same minister in charge once again. What will he do that he didn’t in the past four years? It is the best example with which I could talk about all other ministries.
I can believe in that 100 day or similar marker, that those ministers will bring a breakthrough in their spheres, but so far all the work and talks, all the interviews show that the ministers do not have the strength and political backing, the political energy to accomplish those strategic breakthroughs. Even today L. Linkevičius could say what he will do regarding Poland, already today Minister of Education Jurgita Petrauskienė could talk about what she will do regarding merging universities, but nothing is to be heard. Thus criticism will be about nothing being done, but we have to give time,” spoke G. Landsbergis.
He also commented on V. Valentinavičius’ proposal regarding the Christian Democrats, stating that “Virgis has always been an advocate of radical proposals. I would invite him to a council meeting of ours to propose it there. He is a member of our party. We would see how his opinion would be received.”
E. Gentvilas: We will see what configuration we will have in the spring session
Leader of the Seimas Liberal Movement fraction Eugenijus Gentvilas states that in this term the opposition will be different.
“In the last term it was a Conservative opposition, it had enough votes, had its opposition leader Andrius Kubilius. We, the Liberals, did not join a coalition with them in the last term and were a different Liberal opposition. In this regard things remain the same. Just that now we have the Order and Justice members, who have declared themselves the opposition, though P. Gražulis constantly tries to aid the majority though the other part of the fraction is not like that.
This opposition is becoming more multifaceted, more varied, but that doesn’t mean less effective because in relative terms, the current opposition fractions have more members than in the last term,” counted E. Gentvilas.
According to him, it will be necessary to see what configuration the Seimas will be in the spring session. “I do not deny the possibility that the opposition fraction membership count could change. The Conservatives are interested in drawing someone to their side. Then they would of course be able to have an opposition leader. On the other hand it is not clear whether the majority government will be stable. We can see certain internal disagreements. We are definitely not seeking to escalate, but things can happen over four years. It is likely that the majority will shrink. The Social Democrats look out of place – passive and confused due to internal problems,” the Liberal told LRT.lt.
R. Žemaitaitis: much will depend on the Conservatives
“This opposition is definitely different, there are representatives of different parties,” stated the Chairman of the Order and Justice Party Remigijus Žemaitaitis “We have never worked in the opposition with some, for example with the Conservatives and Liberals. A great deal will depend on the major opposition party, the Conservatives, who currently are very uninterested in a unified opposition. It would be politically inconvenient for them.”
According to R. Žemaitaitis so far no decision has been made regarding the opposition leader “because the Conservatives hold themselves to be above all others and think that the opposition leader can just be chosen by the Conservatives and LS.”
“I believe that this is the most problematic, that we have been unable to come to terms, but through the months of January and February they will realise what it means to have a unified opposition and a single leader,” Žemaitaitis told LRT.lt.
According to him there are certain questions regarding which the opposition will never be unified, for example artificial insemination. “We know that the stance of the Liberals and our view differs in some cases, thus we will not be able to come to terms on it. <…> It is not the opposition that matters here, but how important certain good projects are and how they can serve the country. And if we agree on something, we can go together,” explained the politician.
According to Žemaitaitis, Order and Justice tried to help the majority and advise on the VAT exemption for heating, but they were not listened to.
“They [the majority] believe that the opposition can give bad advice. This is a laughable argument. In regard to some questions our fraction cannot vote against. For example regarding the budget we cannot vote against because it was formed while we were in the majority. But for example there is definite reason to vote against health insurance because the new Minister of Healthcare promised one thing, but did nothing when he arrived and did not even try to review priorities. This is where the opposition can be united.
Regarding alcohol excises, we understand well that raising excises for a specific type of alcoholic beverage is unwise and disproportionate, thus even with such an opposition, I, Antanas Matulas, I. Šimonytė and Mykolas Majauskas proposed a variant of excise policy. This shows that the opposition can be in agreement,” summarised Žemaitaitis.