HORSE-TRADING BEGINS: Leader of the Social Democratic Party Algirdas Butkevicius says he does not dismiss the possibility to invite a fourth party to join the ruling coalition of the Social Democrats, the Labor Party and the Party Order and Justice.
VILNIUS - With Sunday’s second round run-off voting in the parliamentary election having run its course, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite finds herself embroiled in a debate over consultations to determine the formation of a new government.
On Oct. 29 she had her customary meeting with the prime minister, the head of the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD), Andrius Kubilius, reports ELTA. Later in the morning she was off to meet with the chairman of the Social Democrats’ Party, Algirdas Butkevicius.
It initially appeared that the next ruling majority in Lithuania will be formed by 3 parties, while the post of prime minister will go to the leading vote-getter, the Social Democrats.
After a meeting of the leaders of these 3 parties: the Labor Party, the Order and Justice Party and the Social Democratic Party (LSDP), Butkevicius said, “We agreed that we will form the majority out of the three political parties. We also agreed that the prime minister will be someone from the Social Democratic Party. We agreed to begin preparing the government program (..) and next week we will review the state budget draft law.”
Butkevicius, who is considered a potential candidate for the PM’s office, in discussing the most pressing issues, said that the most important tasks of the new government were housing renovation, and reform of the heating sector, shifting to biofuels. He also named an increase in the minimum monthly wage and a review of the tax system.
Not so fast
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite has a different opinion on who can be in the next government. She said that the new government will be formed by the Social Democrats; however, she underlined that a party which is suspected of conducting the majority of election irregularities and whose leaders are on trial, i.e. the Labor Party, cannot take part in the formation of a government.
She explained this position after Monday morning’s meeting with Butkevicius.
“The Social Democrats came first in the election with the majority of votes in favor of them. Therefore, I will most probably suggest for them to form the new government, once the final election results are confirmed by the Central Electoral Commission. However, to my mind, a party suspected of having committed the majority of gross election violations, also being tried for a non-transparent way of accountancy and whose leaders are defendants in a criminal case, cannot be in the government. I will support only the political force that will be capable of forming the ruling majority without the Labor Party in it,” the president said on Oct. 29.
Butkevicius said that Grybauskaite’s position came as “a surprise” to him.
He stressed that his party was not going to get involved in conflicts with the president. However, he could not say if the new government will really be established without the Labor Party. The SocDems’ leader did not rule out a possibility of staying in the opposition, yet, he said he does not see a minority government.
The LSDP leader said that so far he would not approve of cooperating with the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Social Democrats and reiterated that their relations with the Conservatives have always been strained.
However, Butkevicius said that it was possible for the Liberals to join the coalition of the LSDP, the party Order and Justice and a Polish ethnic minority-based political party, even though the Liberals’ Movement had categorically rejected cooperation with Order and Justice.
Butkevicius now says he does not dismiss this possibility to invite a fourth party to join the ruling coalition of the Social Democrats, the Labor Party and the Party Order and Justice. “We will cooperate not only with the Labor Party but also with Order and Justice and maybe even invite some of the other parties to join the ruling majority. We will also discuss requirements identified by the president. I understand that politicians facing allegations and suspicions cannot be in the government or the Seimas governing body,” Butkevicius said on Tuesday.
Looking for partners
Grybauskaite is blocking the plan by the country’s election-winning opposition alliance to form a governing coalition, which may open the way for the current ruling party to remain in government, writes Bloomberg. The Social Democrats, who won the most seats in parliamentary elections, can’t include the Labor Party in the next Cabinet because of alleged voting fraud and accounting irregularities, according to the president.
“I’ll support only a political force that can form a majority without the Labor Party,” Grybauskaite said. The president must name a new prime minister and present any new cabinet for parliament’s approval. She has fifteen days to convene the new parliament and two weeks after that to name a prime minister.
With the exclusion of Russian-born entrepreneur Viktor Uspaskich’s Labor Party, the Social Democrats will probably need the support of Kubilius’ Homeland Union or its coalition partner Liberal Movement to ensure a parliamentary majority.
The Social Democrats won 38 seats in the 141-seat parliament, while Homeland Union gained 33 mandates, according to results on the election commission’s Web site. The Labor Party, which had won the first round of voting on Oct. 14, garnered 29 seats, with Order and Justice getting 11 seats, the Liberal Movement ten and the Lithuanian Polish Election Action eight.
The parties in the current Cabinet agreed that they are ready to negotiate an “alternative coalition” with the Social Democrats, should it fail to form a government with its allies, Eligijus Masiulis, the head of the Liberal Movement, said.
Besides a criminal case in which Uspaskich and other Labor leaders are accused of fraud, police are investigating 10 cases of voter bribing involving Labor, among 27 total investigations started regarding foul play in the current election, the president’s office said.
Election officials have ordered a rerun in one district, saying a Labor candidate made illegal payments to voters and altered the outcome. The Constitutional Court upheld the decision in a ruling published Oct. 26 on its Web site, saying parliament needs to amend laws and give the election commission more powers to prevent or punish such offenses.
Driven by politics
The charges are politically motivated, Uspaskich said at a press conference on Oct. 29. The three opposition parties should stand up to Grybauskaite and defend their planned coalition, Uspaskich and impeached ex-President Rolandas Paksas, the leader of Order and Justice, said, according to BNS.
Kubilius’ government, the first to serve a full term since Lithuania regained independence from the Soviet Union 22 years ago, has been trying to avoid the fate of European leaders who lost power in a wave of anti-austerity protests. The policies, designed to shield nations from the euro area’s debt crisis, instead contributed to recessions in economies from Romania to Spain.
The Cabinet cut wages and raised taxes equivalent to 12 percent of gross domestic product in 2009 and 2010 as output plunged by almost a quarter. Plans to narrow this year’s budget deficit to the European Union cap of 3 percent of GDP from 9.4 percent in 2009 have helped push borrowing costs to record lows.
While Lithuania’s GDP will advance 2.5 percent this year and 3 percent in 2013, according to the Finance Ministry, the recession fueled joblessness and sparked an exodus of workers.
The Social Democrats, the Labor Party and Order and Justice are reviewing the 2013 draft budget and preparing a policy plan, including raising the minimum wage to 1,000 litas (290 euros) a month from 850 litas, Butkevicius said at a news conference on Oct. 29.
Adopting the euro in “2015 would be appropriate and realistic for Lithuania considering the macroeconomic situation and forecasts,” Butkevicius said, adding that the Social Democrats also support keeping the budget deficit at 2.5 percent of GDP.
The Labor Party leader, MEP Viktor Uspaskich, expects that the president might change her position towards his party’s participation in forming a new ruling coalition, writes ELTA.
“I will stick to the same opinion that a projected coalition exists. But it is hard to say what will follow next. We have to take the president’s opinion into account, politics is an art of compromises,” he said Monday in a news conference.
Uspaskich expressed his wish that the president will listen to what the coalition wants to do and change her opinion.
Professor at Mykolas Romeris University Vytautas Dumbliauskas says that it is hard to predict what will be the fate of the coalition of the three political forces after Grybauskaite’s statement that the Labor Party cannot participate in the formation of the government.
“The fate of the coalition is hard to predict. But it seems that the president gives a hint that she would like to see a rainbow coalition of the Social Democrats and the Conservatives (..). I understand that the president somewhat pushes Algirdas Butkevicius to form a rainbow coalition, though, I think that Butkevicius does not want it, and now it is difficult to say how it will be,” says Dumbliauskas.
Dumbliauskas noted that the candidacy of the prime minister is the Seimas’ right to decide; therefore, Parliament may ignore her.
“She cannot suggest someone whom the parliamentary majority will not accept. The president’s decision is unexpected. It is hard to tell, we should look further to see how the parties will behave because it is also unexpected for them,” said the professor.
Political scientist Alvidas Lukosaitis is skeptical about a possible rainbow coalition consisting of the Social Democratic Party and the Conservatives. Lukosaitis says that since the restoration of independence, these two parties were the main alternatives; therefore their common work would be harmful to Lithuania’s political system.
“Today, we know that the structure of our party system is based on two stable, major poles - the Conservatives and the Social Democrats. We see that everything spins around these poles, starting with voters’ decision-making, finishing with post-election coalition configurations. If we want to destroy those poles by creating one pole, then the question is very simple: please answer how a voter will make up his mind and what will he choose in the 2016 parliamentary election?” asked Lukosaitis.
The political scientist says that the president’s claim that the Labor Party cannot participate in the formation of the government is “very sharp.” However, the greatest interest lies in how the main party leaders are going to react. Lukosaitis says that Uspaskich’s reasoning that the president may change her mind is not well grounded. The political scientist says that a coalition with the center-left and a strong right opposition is a good result because such a Seimas can then work “effectively.”
Sunday’s run-off voting was to complete the formation of a new Seimas.
The run-off parliamentary voting was held in 67 single-member constituencies. The second round involved the two candidates who received the most votes in the first round, on Oct. 14. The candidate who receives the majority of votes in the runoff is considered to be elected regardless of the number of voters who cast their ballots.
The final results of the parliamentary election will be confirmed and announced by the Central Electoral Commission by Nov. 4.