No other parliamentary race in the Oct. 14 Seimas elections was such a nail-biter as the one in the nearly 40,000-voters-on-the-ballot Pajuris election district, where the popular Labor Party candidate Genoveita Krasauskiene threw down the gauntlet against the Conservative party’s stalwart Pranas Zeimys. In a rollercoaster scenario, the latter has come out on top. The ballot recount, urged by the Labor party candidate expecting to see an unprecedented turnaround, has added a few more votes to Zeimys, sealing his improbable win by a mere 48 votes. It gave Zeimys, a former Palanga resort mayor, a second consecutive term in the Lithuanian Parliament. Despite the dim pre-election poll predictions, the Motherland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (MU-LCD) grabbed 33 parliamentary mandates, just five shy of the winner Social Democrats’ tally. Zeimys sat down with The Baltic Times for this interview.
Did you have a sound sleep after the election night was over?
I hardly slept at all. I crashed into my bed just before 5 a.m. and was back on my feet in two hours.
Were you swamped with congratulations in the morning?
Indeed, I was. Frankly I couldn’t drive undisturbed by the phone calls, so what I did, I turned my cell phone off for a while. Among the first callers were some other candidates in the race, a former Klaipeda mayor and, importantly, the chairman of the MU-LCD and the incumbent prime minister, Andrius Kubilius. He sounded really exhilarated by my victory, which, in fact, embodied the party’s neck-and-neck contest in many electoral districts.
Let’s be honest and admit that not so many believed in your victory, as well as the relative success of the party, which garnered 33 parliamentary mandates, five shy of the winner, the Social Democrats.
When it comes to me, I’m really very grateful to all those Neringa-Klaipeda-Palanga district voters who supported me in the cliff-hanger race. I am extremely indebted for the victory to Palanga’s mayor, whose outstanding performance and colossal popularity have been crucial in securing the win. In the large picture, I owe the Conservative-led government that has showered Palanga with attention and funding in recent years. Sure, due to the exuberance and perseverance of the mayor. And the 33 mandates won by the party, sure, is a pretty good result, particularly taking into account the heavy criticism we had been showered with until the very elections.
But for many, the huge and often undeserved criticism had a sobering effect, as a lot of people were fed up with other parties’ election promises, mostly evidently unrealistic, and decided to stick with our party and its realistic program which underlines this: the downturn has been curbed and the time for growth and a better life has come. To look at the election results, we were carried by the largest cities, Vilnius and Kaunas, which, especially the latter, are traditionally our strongholds. And that is very heartening, considering the voters’ variety in the cities.
As of the date of the interview, there is still much in the air in regards to the building of a new government. Particularly after the Lithuanian president’s bombshell announcement that she doesn’t want to see the Labor Party in the new government because of the criminal case against it. What do you make of this statement?
Frankly speaking, I support our president in this matter. From what we all saw, there has been a lot of swindling in the elections, like vote buying, dragging of the criminal case and other murky things. No doubt, all this is not acceptable to most Lithuanians. I would be very glad if the Social Democrats sought a coalition with our party and the only liberal parliamentary party, Liberalu Sajudis. That would guarantee that such a coalition would last for the whole tenure, not until a first major squabble in the Parliament.
But Uspaskich, the Labor Party leaders, says that the party cannot be barred from forming a government while the court wrangling is underway and just because the president wants so.
Maybe. But if you were to take a close look at the incriminated law breaches, they are significant, involving serious charges of money embezzlement and black bookkeeping. Besides, the Labor Party dragged out the litigation inexcusably long, as the procrastination is in its core interests. With Uspaskich having secured a Parliament seat, his legal impunity question rises again. And with the coalition involving the party, who can expect that he will ever be stripped of it? Does it not stipulate that all that is being done deliberately to squash the criminal case? The longer it drags on, the higher such likelihood of its end is. Furthermore, the legal prosecution limitation will set in soon.
How do you explain that the average Lithuanian Joe tends to like or even admire those who, in politics, are being punched by law enforcement? Like in the case of the Labor Party, which, despite the charges, notched up 28 mandates in the Parliament?
Well, indeed, the adage is right and fits Lithuanian politics. On different levels. For example, in Kretinga, which is adjacent to Palanga, the former municipality administration director, sacked for being incompetent and inactive, has made a startling comeback to politics by gaining a parliamentary seat in the elections. Not even in a nail-biting thriller like mine, but in a landslide victory. Maybe the propensity to “feel for” the castigated ones is in our Lithuanian character.
Drasios Kelias, politics’ newcomer, based on the double-homicide-pedophilia-saga in Garliava, has been swept away in the second round of the parliamentary elections. Does it mean the nation has finally sobered up?
Perhaps it is not about that in this case. Those party’s candidates who reached the second round had no political experience whatsoever. Some with poor education and weak convictions, apart from those on the quasi-pedophilia case. It is no surprise that Kaunas, known as the Conservatives’ stronghold, has not bowed to the wannabes. I am happy that Kaunas residents voted for the Motherland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats so profusely. I am sure that it is a question of time when the Drasos Kelias Party will eventually dissolve.
Taking into account the party’s ascension, don’t you think it would make sense to tighten the laws regulating establishment of a new party? Specifically, raising the mandatory party member number from 2,000 members to, maybe, 20,000 members at least? Or demanding to have a party structure build-up in municipalities first?
Personally, I am in favor of such proposals. Obviously, it is too simple to have a party registered. If we looked at the party register, we would perhaps find over three dozen parties and movements, but only less than one-third of them are politically active. But I doubt very much whether the proposals like yours could some day end up in the legislation. For the only reason that no major party wants that. I really believe that an annual party member inventory is needed. That would allow a clean-up of the member list and get rid of “dead souls,” but again, the major parties today are against it.
The Social Democrat Party leader has lately again reiterated his resolve to scrap the Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant project, emphasizing though his support for atomic power on the whole. Meanwhile, the president, Grybauskaite, believes the Hitachi-led Visaginas project is in Lithuania’s core interest. How to reconcile the two’s approaches? Does it not lead to a previous conflict?
Sure, it does. However, it is too early to predict which side will tone down its rhetoric. Logically, it should be the new prime minister. But let’s wait and see.
In the wake of the election’s second round vote count, Butkevicius said that renovation of apartment blocks will be among priority works of his government. According to him, that would also spur job creation efforts. How do you comment on that?
I really wonder what he is intending to do differently from our party? The state is not capable today to carry out the process itself, or to make up the costs for the residents. So perhaps the ratio of renovation financing may change a bit, but that’s it. And most importantly, the renovation is under way, though it could be faster. There are some 500-600 apartment blocks under renovation currently. But I think the HU-LCD should have done a lot more in showing the renovation examples. And in general, the party should have put more effort into better presenting its work to the public.
Will the towns governed by the Conservative-led coalitions, like Palanga, be able to count on the support and benevolence of the likely left government? You have to admit, most of the time party affiliation is the crucial factor in dolling out budget money.
Well, that is how, sometimes, it unfortunately is. Speaking of the municipalities, like Palanga, with right-wing parties in power, coming off a likely new left government, may create certain impediments. But that is the new reality the municipalities have to deal with. On the other hand, I have no doubt a government is interested in having functional, effective and achieving municipalities, so it is in its interest to spur the local governments. Speaking of Palanga, its mayor will have his probably first chance to “try out” the new government and its ministers, lobbying for money for the second stage of the restoration of kurhauzas [a cultural heritage complex comprising a town hall-like building that is currently under reconstruction]. Palanga needs some 2 million litas for the second-stage work. Taking into account that the presumable prime minister, Butkevicius, has already hinted that the budget for 2013 might be overhauled, this can be quite a challenge. The mayor will have to exert twice the time and effort he has put in to obtain something.
With the Conservatives likely taking opposition stands, how much of a discussion on the party’s new leader is likely? Particularly being aware of Kubilius’ unpopularity and the Seimas chairwoman Degutiene’s affinity?
I have not heard any budding discussions yet in that regard. I believe there is no reason to make changes at the party’s top. Kubilius has done a great job in managing the crisis and steering the country through it.