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Thinking, not age, matters in Seimas

  • 2011-12-22
  • Interview by Linas Jegelevicius

Thirty-six-year old Vaidotas Bacevicius is one of the youngest Lithuanian parliamentarians, joining the Seimas, the Lithuanian Parliament, at 33. The Vilnius University (VU) Law and Economics graduate, holding master degrees in Constitutional Law and Business Management and Administration, after leaving his Alma Mater got involved in the preparation of over 100 law drafts, published several scienctific studies and worked on the Parliament’s Law Study Concept. During 2005-2008 he started up several businesses but kept his job as expert of Constitutional Law at Vilnius Mykolas Romeris University. In 2008, Bacevicius, a member of the Homeland Union- Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU-LCD), was elected to Seimas in Pajuris’ single-member electoral district and has been busy with legislative work in Seimas since.

The parliamentary tenure, with less than one year left till the new Seimas elections, is nearly over. Did your perception of what a parliamentarian’s work hold change a lot during the years in Seimas?

Before assuming my job in Seimas, I had worked in its chancellery office as a lawyer. Therefore, I had had a certain perception as to what kind of activities my new job pertains to. To answer your question, 3 years ago no one could foresee such a severe global crisis that would ill-effect the Lithuanian economy so immensely. There were many projects aimed at improving the standards of living, but most of them have been scrapped due to the crisis. Your question makes me give a thought on some other things as well. When I came to Seimas I was only 33, making me one of the youngest legislators of the tenure. In the beginning, quite frankly, I could feel a certain mistrust because of my age from my senior colleagues. I believe, by the end of the tenure, I have proved to them age does not matter in Seimas, and that the way of thinking does.

 

What hinders the legislative work the most?

Undoubtedly, the hectic and crammed schedule we are crippled by. As well as a shortage of personnel due to insufficient funding.

 

To tackle an issue, perhaps certain legislative pieces, especially those concerning municipal activities, should be passed down to local municipalities. Would it not ease an MPs’ schedule?

I do not know. What matters is, because of the schedule crammed with law drafts and amendments, the Seimas cannot carry out its quintessential task –supervising and controlling government and its ministries.

 

Distrust in this Seimas, at a one-digit number, is dumbfounding. Can it get any worse? Are there any ways to increase the population’s trust in the legislative body? You have to agree that the low confidence means mistrust in the state itself.

Indeed, it does. The plight should be changed in two ways. It is necessary to stimulate more effective work of Seimas members, alongside with putting more effort in nurturing a conscious civil state. And, certainly, the role of media here plays a major part. Regrettably, our media often chews and gulps down only what is negative, like depicting a green-eyed blondie a parliamentarian was spotted with. It often seems to me media does not care much for how the MPs vote, and the work of the parliament. However, the blondie’s and the parliamentarian’s tryst receives front-page coverage. It is nothing out of the ordinary that, among 141 MPs, some individuals with their vices and evils turn up. However, one person’s misdeeds cannot be attributed to each parliamentarian. That is wrong.

 

Is it appropriate to rebuke the media for that? Is not the Seimas itself to be blamed for the record-low trust? How can you expect a higher confidence level from the public if Seimas is unwilling to cut down MPs’ fat perks and bonuses?

What perks are you talking about? This Seimas’ tenure has cut MPs’ salaries by 47 percent. No other parliamentarian in the West comprehends this. Some Western legislators I talked to recently call this political suicide. Have the pay cuts been emphasized by Lithuanian media? No, they haven’t. Has the public acknowledged the work? No, it hasn’t. I guess the majority of it would not miss Seimas, if it dissolved.

 

Well, even with the cuts, Lithuanian MPs’ salaries, with the lavish benefits, are on par with those of legislators from more developed Central European countries.

I do not know what kind of calculation methodology you are using.

 

In the wake of national census results, which revealed a shrunken number of the population, it would have made sense for Seimas to adjust the electoral map, expanding the current electoral districts, i.e. relating it to the actual number of inhabitants in them. However, the Seimas is defying the census results. How can you then expect the Seimas to receive wider support from the population?

Until the census, the proposals to reduce the number of Seimas members were no more than a populist stride. Even some EU research showed that the Lithuanian Parliament, in comparison to the EU average or parliamentarians per population, should have 2 extra seats, 143 in total. When the census revealed that the head count went under 3 million in Lithuania, parliamentary deliberations in regards to the enlargement of electoral districts perhaps would have made sense. However, it would not be easy to carry out the reform of the electoral districts’ boundaries. The HU-LCD has not discussed the issue. Personally, I think that, responding to the census results, change of the electoral districts would make sense. However, the best thing would be if we allowed the electorate to express itself on the issue in a referendum. On the other hand, it is worth remembering that, although the census revealed the shrinkage, it does not point to a smaller number of Lithuanian citizens. Many emigrants vote in Lithuanian embassies abroad.

 

Let me correct you: only a small part of the expats vote in Lithuanian embassies, as most simply skip an election. Why do Conservatives resist the idea of allowing an electronic ballot? Perhaps the answer is clear: it would not be in the interests of Conservatives, as this way of voting would gather considerably more youth votes for liberal parties.

The HU-LCD has never clearly and publicly expressed its stance on the possibility of an e-vote. The Central Electoral Commission has not yet prepared itself for implementation of this kind of voting. Obviously, some certain issues, like safety, have not yet been solved in regards to the e-voting system. As far as I know, Estonians, who have introduced e-voting, are not completely satisfied with it. If it were up to me, I would seek an e-voting system that is no less safe than the e-banking system. If we had such safety guarantees, I would support electronic voting.

 

It is not surprising that Conservatives, as traditionalists, fear novelties. However, the HU-LCD often goes to extremes in defending traditions and Christian values. Like with the HU-LCD’s adopted National Family Concept, which was ruled by Lithuania’s Constitutional Court that it doesn’t correspond to the Lithuanian Constitution. Will the Seimas Conservatives, addressing the reality of 40 percent of Lithuanian couples living in partnerships, and the Court’s verdict, support adoption of the Law on Civil Partnerships?

The name of the party implicates Conservatives that are not in a hurry to break traditions. Our party and its Seimas fraction have their values, and I do not think we have to repudiate them.

Sure, values alter, and we take the changes into account. We promote the family as an utmost value, deriving from marriage and the possibility to bear children. All demographic problems arise from free relationships and partnerships which could be broken at any time. In that sense, for example, even such a remote country as Japan deals with extremely severe demographic problems stemming from young people’s fear of assuming marital responsibilities. In terms of constitutionality, every party ought to promulgate such family values as the Seimas Conservatives. Although I perceive well the new realities of life, I am against the proposed Law on Civil Partnerships. If unmarried couples want to live that way, they can do that legalizing their relationships to the Lithuanian Civil Code.

 

You are one of the youngest MPs in Seimas, where a few dozen of various parliamentary groups exist. Did you ever think of establishing a Seimas’ Youth Group, which would rise above the party boundaries and focus on legislation addressing problems of youth?

There were attempts to found such a parliamentary group, but it, though registered, has not been noticeable. I have not been included in it for one grave reason – at 36, I am too old to be enrolled. Most of the people on the list are in their [early] 30s.

 

Lithuanian Prime Minister and chairman of the HU-LCD Andrius Kubilius asserted that the collapse of Snoras Bank would not ill-affect the national finance and next year’s budget. Do you share his opinion? Is the 2012 budget being reviewed, not due to the bank’s fall?

The Snoras fall, compared to how other large resource-requiring things affect finance and the budget, maybe is not a very terrible thing to the budget. Nevertheless, no doubt, it will affect it, and is already impacting the state’s finance and the budget. Though I do not believe the Snoras collapse will trigger a collapse of the Lithuanian macro-economy, it, certainly, will reduce the gross domestic product. The state needs around 4.1 billion litas to pay out secured Snoras deposits. It is a huge amount for our budget. Speaking on the whole, the gloomy European economy outlook exacerbates the situation in Lithuania as well. Even Germany, one of our main export markets, cannot complete its bond emission. That is a serious signal for Lithuania.

Next year, in order to re-finance the state debt, most likely we will have to borrow from international money markets. There are very few options for us – either hike the state expenditure or cut down the state expenses. Therefore, we have to introduce some new taxes.

I truly regret that the HU-LCD’s proposal on a VAT increase by 2 percent, allowing supplementing the state budget with an extra 600 million litas, has been rejected. Other ways of collecting extra budget money through taxes do not seem to me as reliable as a VAT increase.

 

After a VAT increase a couple of years ago, Lithuanians responded by streaming in throngs to Polish stores, over the Lithuanian-Polish border. Would we not see the same scenario with a VAT hike now?

The possibility, of course, should be assessed as well. An arithmetic tax increase does not equal to an automatic budget income increase. I have calculated that a 1 percent VAT increase would hike the price of milk only by 3 cents per liter. That is not a lot. We have to pick up the least bad evil from all possible evils. That is what the Conservatives suggest.

 

Since you were elected in the Kretinga single-member electoral district, which borders the resort of Palanga, and whose ardent supporter you are in Seimas, let me ask you how Palanga looks to you from a wider regional perspective? What has determined its relevant lag behind Druskininkai, the resort in the south? Where could Palanga’s niche possibly be?

Well, I guess I cannot argue that, in the arch rivalry of Lithuania’s two most important resorts – Druskininkai and Palanga – the latter has fallen behind. We all have to admit this has been determined by the Social-Democrat-led government’s favoritism to the Social-Democrat-led Druskininkai mayor. The government has allocated hefty funds to the resort, as the resort mayor’s lobbyism in the corridors of the government has been evident. Indeed, Druskininkai has achieved a lot in offering a wide spectrum of services and, most importantly, solving the problem of seasonality, which still plagues Palanga. Palanga has a good infrastructure of accommodation services; however, it is not enough to attract here often-pampered tourists who also seek leisure activities, fun and entertainment. I sincerely believe the current mayor of Palanga, also my party fellow, has done a lot in less than a year after the municipal elections. However, it is impossible to overcome the lag in such a short period. Indeed, with the launch of the winter sports complex in Druskininkai, Snow Area, Palanga is not able to compete against Druskininkai in winter. However, when it comes to providing health promoting services, Palanga has one big advantage – the Baltic Sea. With the Palanga name still igniting nostalgia for the former Soviet Union’s retirees, many of whom had visited the resort in the past, Palanga ought to make more inroads in the Eastern tourism market. I believe Palanga has big potential in the sector of health promotion services.