Social Democrats to step into elections with clear-cut program

  • 2012-03-21
  • Interview by Linas Jegelevicius

Sixty-year-old Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis is one of the most seasoned politicians in the Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas), and one of the Lithuanian Social Democrat Party’s cornerstones. Born in Sacha, in the Far East of Russia, into a family of Lithuanian exiles, it was only in 1958, during the  political thaw under the rule of the USSR leader Nikita Khrushchev, that his mother ventured to return to Lithuania, while his father was allowed to come back a year later. At secondary school Andriukaitis appeared to be a talented and keen pupil and athlete. He then entered Kaunas Medicine Institute in 1969, a big achievement for a child of exiles. In the Institute and thereafter, he got involved in anti-Soviet system activities. Detained by the KGB as a doctor, he was “exiled” again – this time 200 kilometers east, to a remote district of Ignalina. With Sajudis, the national movement for change building up, he joined the renewed party of Social Democrats and was elected its chairman during 1999-2001. Andriukaitis is a signatory of Lithuania’s Independence Act, a multi-term Seimas member and a candidate in the 1997 and 2002 presidential elections, and a vocal member of the Seimas’ Social Democrat fraction. Andriukaitis agreed to answer The Baltic Times questions.

You are one of the most active parliamentarians. In fact, the statistics show you have taken the floor most often during the Parliament’s autumn session, 220 times in total. Does that make you proud? Some of your critics call you a big time prattler
With my four tenures in Seimas, one in the Supreme Council and with the extensive participation in preparation of numerous law drafts and strategies, I believe I’ve got enough experience to express my views and support them with grounded arguments. When it comes to the parliamentary work, debating is a crucial thing in it, as well as the content, motives and emotions leading the debates. Frankly, I cannot imagine a silent MP. However, if you were to look around in the sitting hall, you’d notice quite a few always quiet MPs. Is there any way to gauge the effectiveness of a parliamentarian’s work? I’d say the only way to do this is to count initiated and passed amendments of law, authored drafts, won debates, interpellations, and Constitutional Court resolutions. I don’t think anyone could come up with a better way of evaluation.

You have three parliamentary tenures behind you, so you’re in the position of comparing. How is this tenure?
It is hard to draw any conclusions in that regard, just because of one reason: the processes we are through do not usually repeat themselves. To speak of this tenure, I’d say it is particular due to the so-called overnight coup of taxation the ruling coalition has carried out, as well as many other decisions, which raise many doubts in terms of their constitutionality. Fragmented and an ever-changing mosaic of the political forces as well as weak competence of the MPs is also characteristic to this parliament.

Signatories of the Independence Act of the restorative Supreme Council are often extolled as true statesmen and intellectuals. Do you see many of that type of legislator in Parliament today? Is it good that today it becomes a spawning ground of Lithuanian millionaires?
Indeed, the makeup of the Supreme Council was very unique. Today the situation has changed a lot. Nevertheless, I consider 60-70 MPs out of the 141 to be real statesmen. As for businessmen, they should stay in business, where they have the best opportunities to reveal their abilities and capabilities. It is really bad when some of the entrepreneurs out there believe they can successfully ramp up their business by being involved in legislation or governance.

Do you often see these kinds of legislators going lobbying?
As a matter of fact, it happens often, particularly dealing with tax privileges and tax exemptions.
Lobbying itself probably is not a bad thing if called by their real names. Do you believe Lithuania has got enough legal and legislative levers to detach the parliamentarians’ political activities from their business interests?
Lithuania employs quite an extensive legal basis aimed at separating ties of politics and business. I could probably mention a dozen laws and sub-laws meant to separate the two. However, a growing together of the two is not a rarity, and it is something that is not always easy to feel. To detach the ties, employing only legislative measures is not enough as transparency and the publicity of media is extremely important in tackling the issue. However, this is not simple, as business and certain links of separate interest groups do often prevail in the media.

Bearing in mind the low popularity of the incumbent Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, it would make sense to expect the popularity of the main opposition political force, the Social Democratic Party, to be much higher than 18 percent currently in the polls. Why aren’t the ratings considerably higher?
That is something that bothers me quite a lot. However, we have to note that, in the entire European Union, there are developing clearer trends of the public’s political passiveness. It has not been determined only by people’s disappointment in politics. A majority of sociologists and public surveyors state that a social layer of the public, disinterested in politics, is on a constant growth path. This is because an increasing part of the public solves many important issues on their own, not necessarily relating the expected results with political change. On the other hand, there is the so-called protest-electorate, which often votes against all. As well as there is a part of voters who constantly look for new saviors. These kinds of voters do not take glimpses at the ruling or former political parties. The consistency of our pretty high ratings shows that we have a considerable part of a stable electorate. Next to it stands what I call an electorate sympathetic to us.

The Kubilius-led government has fought off two interpellations. How do you explain that, every time, you fell short of votes necessary to remove the Kubilius government? Despite the fact that the ruling coalition lacked unity, which is so obvious these days (this interview was conducted before an outcome of the stand-off between the Conservatives and Liberal Centrists was known-TBT)?
It is both complicated and simple to answer this question. I could say the opposition has not been able to stand up as a single powerful force, as there are always a number of opposition votes succumbing to “luring” of the ruling coalition. It doesn’t surprise me, as it is not very complicated for those in power to promise an opposition parliamentarian, selected in a single-member election district, to renovate a kindergarten or a school with state money in his district. At the end of the tenure, the ruling coalition is well aware of the weight and use of their portfolios. The ruling coalition is overwhelmingly concerned only with one thing now: how to retain power. Especially when the Seimas opposition is not unified and jostles for leadership.

Has the Social Democratic Party already completed its 2012 Seimas election program? What does it focus on? Can you reveal any of its emphasis?
Indeed, we have nearly completed the final wording of the 2012 election program. Its main emphases are on establishing new job openings, a more stable investment environment, new investments, introduction of a progressive taxation system, a green economy and energy, as well as encouragement of innovation. In fact, the program supports the main provisions that have already been declared in the joint program of the three opposition fractions of the alternative government. However, going into the elections, the program will not be tuned in with the other opposition parties’ programs, as we want to maintain a very clear profile of the left party.
Some political analysts affirm that the Social Democratic Party focuses more on interests of large capital than working people. Do you agree on this?
I don’t, as the evaluation depends on political views, ideology and the engagement of political analysts that claim so. The Party has foreseen in its program an immediate wage increase to 1,050 litas, reinstatement of the insurance principle when it comes to unemployment, pensions and sick-leave, as well as creation of new jobs, a more stable and long-term family policies and many other Social Democratic measures.

Let’s say the Social Democrats win a landslide victory in the elections. If there were a need to look for coalition partners, who would they be?
It is a lot easier to tell who they wouldn’t be. Obviously, we would not consider any coalition with the main party in the current ruling coalition, the Conservatives. Sure, the coalition partners would largely depend on the number of votes each party will receive. In any scenario, the current opposition parties are the most potential partners in the would-be coalition. However, we cannot rule out a possibility of making up a minority government, or continue being in the opposition. With quite some time till the elections, it is pretty hard to tell many things yet.

Many political analysts cannot imagine Algirdas Butkevicius and Viktoras Uspaskichas, the leaders of the Social Democratic and Labor Parties, the main opposition forces, agreeing on which of them should head the government.
I think the candidacy for the appointment will be a lot clearer after the elections. Naturally, the leader of the party which gathers more votes should head the to-be government.

What kind of questions will prevail in the electoral campaign?
It is obvious that the issues of new jobs, pensions and salaries, as well as family policies will prevail in the debates.

In your personal Web site you claim not to be afraid to think “unpopularly.” What do you mean? Can you mention any recent disagreements with your party over some issues?
Well, I didn’t back up the party’s decisions on some provisions of the Alcohol and Tobacco Advertising Law, as well as on its stance on some geostrategic things, like the energy problems. I am intending to expose the differences in my book, that is to be put out.

The Motherland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats have initiated amendments to the Lithuanian Constitution, linking family with marriage. Being seemingly married happily for many years, you should be supporting the Conservatives’ bid, but you don’t. Why? What does family mean to you?
Yes, indeed, I am a man of the traditional family, locked in wedlock with my wife for many years. No doubt, family is a very complicated thing. However, quarrelling over the definition of family in the modern world seems to be quite a futile thing to me. The constitutional regulation of family relations we have is in complete accordance with the European Human Rights and the Convention of Freedoms. The Conservatives’ proposals to relate family to marriage contradict an array of the provisions of the Lithuanian Constitution. Therefore, I cannot grasp why they are so eagerly pursuing the constitutional amendments. I have no doubt they are driven by their ideology.

Would the Social Democrats make any correction to the Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant project if they were at the wheel of the post-election government? What would they be? And what about the liquefied natural gas terminal to be built soon?
I would rather express my views on the issue, as they are quite different from the trending ones. I personally believe it would be much better for Lithuania not to have any nuclear power plant in its territory. What we need is energy connections with both Scandinavian and EU energy markets. Even without them, Lithuania possesses sufficient energy capabilities. However, we need a competitive energy environment. This is a question of a very broad discussion. I want to emphasize just this point: instead of engaging in the very costly Visaginas power project, it would have been much smarter to garner political support and involve major EU and Russian energy consortiums in building a single nuclear power project than three separate ones within a radius of less than 500 kilometers. Lithuania could have contributed to it with its engineering capabilities, but not with money. As for the liquefied gas terminal, I’ve always stood for having a single one for the three Baltic States. Maybe in Latvia, as it has seemingly the best infrastructure for it. It’s not rationale that has taken over, but other things. I really cannot understand the slogan of energy independence the EU is preaching. How can there be energy independence when the European Union and Russia are so dependent on each other? There is a lot to be brought out for reconsideration, and the Social Democrats are ready to do so.