Tag Archives: Dalia Grybauskaite

Lithuania – A surprise victory of the Union of Peasants and Greens

This is a guest post by Dr Raimondas Ibenskas, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton. raimondas-isbenskas

The second round of the Lithuanian general election on the 23rd of October resulted in a surprise victory of the Lithuanian Peasant and Greens Union. Having received only one seat in the previous election in 2012, this party scored 56 seats (40% of the total) in the Lithuanian parliament Seimas. Its victory notwithstanding, the party faces a challenge of forming a majority government. Neither the Social Democrats, the leading party in the outgoing centre-left government, nor the main opposition party, the conservative Homeland Union, seem to be keen on joining the coalition government with the Peasants and Greens.

outcome-of-the-lithuanian-parliamentary-election-2016_

 

Another major surprise of the election was the poor performance of the incumbent parties. The Social Democrats, despite leading in opinion polls throughout their term, came only distant third in the election after the Peasants and Greens and the Homeland Union, while the Labour Party was diminished from 29 seats in 2012 to 2 in 2016. The electoral decline of the Order and Justice party was more modest, although the party came perilously close to not reaching the 5 percent electoral threshold required for obtaining representation through the PR tier of the electoral system. The electoral losses of government parties could at least partially be attributed to multiple corruption scandals related to some of their politicians. They have also likely been hurt by the major welfare reform implemented shortly before the election. The liberalization of labour relations in the new labour code adopted as part of the reform was negatively perceived by the electorate and openly opposed by trade unions.

The Union of Peasants and Greens was the main beneficiary of this dissatisfaction. The party existed as a minor political force since the early 1990s and was a government coalition partner in 2004-2008. In the 2008 and 2012 parliamentary elections it did not cross the 5 percent electoral threshold, but some of its candidates were elected in single member districts. Despite its name, and somewhat similarly to the coalition between agrarian and green parties in Latvia, the party is socially conservative. On the economic dimension, it can be placed to the left of the centre, thus providing an attractive alternative for the supporters of centre-left government parties. Somewhat ironically, the party is led by one of the wealthiest people in Lithuania Ramūnas Karbauskis, an owner of the Agrokoncernas Group, which was worth an estimated 55 million Euros in 2016. Although elected as an MP, Karbauskis ruled out the possibility of becoming Prime Minister by arguing that his knowledge of foreign languages was insufficient for this position.

Two factors played a crucial role in propelling the Peasants and Greens to the position of the strongest party in Lithuania.  First, they managed to attract popular independent Saulius Skvernelis, a Police Commissioner General in 2011-2014 and Minister of Interior in 2014-2016. Although delegated by the Order and Justice Party, he kept his distance from this party and declared in March 2016 that he would be running in the parliamentary election with the Peasants and Greens. Although he did not formally join the party, he was its most visible leader during the election campaign, obtained the highest share of individual preference votes in the PR tier and also won a seat in a single member district in the capital city of Vilnius. While the addition of Skvernelis and several other prominent politicians or personalities provided the party with the image of newness, it may also lead to internal divisions and conflicts. A sign of the things to come was the indication from Karbauskis after the election that his party’s nominee for Prime Minister’s position may not necessarily be Skvernelis, as generally stated during the election campaign; an MEP and long-term insider of the party Bronis Ropė was put forward as an equally likely candidate.

Second, the Peasants and Greens also benefited from the mixed electoral system of Lithuania. Although they gained only 19 seats in the PR tier, thus coming only close second to the Homeland Union, 37 out of 42 of their single member district candidates won seats in the second round of the election (including 2 candidates that ran as independents in their single member districts but were on the party’s list). Being perceived as an attractive second choice for the supporters of most other parties, the Peasant and Green candidates had an advantage over the two major parties – the Homeland Union and the Social Democrats – that did well in the majoritarian tier of the electoral system in most previous elections.

In the aftermath of the election the latter two parties were indicated as potential coalition partners by the Greens and Peasants. Although a coalition with either of them would be a majority one, the Social Democrats may prefer to stay in opposition following their defeat while the Homeland Union insists that any coalition should also include their long-term partner Liberal Movement. The latter, being both economically and socially liberal, and having recently experienced a major corruption scandal involving its former leader, has been ruled out as a coalition partner by Karbauskis. Karbauskis also repeatedly excluded the possibility of the cooperation with the ideologically quite similar Order and Justice party by considering the latter as tainted by corruption allegations. A coalition with the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance would be more feasible, but it would not provide the Peasants and Greens with parliamentary majority. Finally, a single-party minority government of the Peasants and Greens is another possibility, although it was considered as unlikely by some observers.

The strategic situation in parliament therefore suggests that government formation will be an arduous process with an uncertain outcome. Additionally, the Peasants and Greens will have to deal with President Dalia Grybauskaitė, who in 2012 did not shy away from an (unsuccessful) attempt to prevent the inclusion of the Labour Party in the coalition government. Grybauskaitė, although formally independent, is also quite close to centre-right parties, especially the Homeland Union. Although after her first post-election meeting with Karbauskis and Skvernelis she declared that the responsibility for forming a majority coalition government falls on the Peasants and Greens and that she will not initiate “artificial” coalitions, she also indicated that she will actively shape the selection of ministers. The Peasants and Greens only need to look at the experience of the Labour Party, whose multiple ministerial candidates were rejected by President after the 2012 election, to know that this may prove as an important challenge to putting together a new government.

Raimondas Ibenskas is a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton. His research interests lie in the field of comparative politics with a specific focus on political parties and party systems. The main strand of his research examines key, yet under-studied aspects of instability of political parties, such as party splits, mergers, and electoral coalitions, in both Western and Eastern Europe.

Lithuania – Reshuffle of deputy ministers as President Grybauskaite is sworn in for second term in office

After her successful reelected in May 2014, president Dalia Grybauskaite was sworn in for her second term in office this Sunday, 12 July. As I have previously remarked in other posts, the Lithuanian president belongs to the most powerful presidents in Central and Eastern Europe. This powerful position stems not only from the popular mandate and the constitutionally defined leading role in foreign policy, but also finds expression in an interesting stipulation about the government’s mandate after presidential elections which has now allowed Grybauskaite to force changes in a number of government ministries.

President Dalia Grybauskaite during her inaugural speech for her second term, 12 July 2014 | image via president.lt

Art 92 of the Lithuanian Constitution states that The Government shall return its powers to the President of the Republic after the Seimas elections or after the elections of the President of the Republic. The president then has 15 days to present a (new) candidate for Prime Minister to parliament who has to pass a vote of confidence. Although the president’s potential courses of actions are naturally restricted by parliamentary arithmetic, the stipulation theoretically  allows her/him to try and install a government which is closer to her own policy preferences or at least to extract some concessions from an incumbent Prime Minister and their cabinet.

Dalia Grybauskaite had already played a very active role in the appointment of the current centre-left government led by Algirdas Butkevicius in 2012 and had even refused to nominate him before conceding that he was the only candidate capable of mustering a majority in parliament. While she remained critical of the government as a whole as well as individual cabinet members, she has not been successful in effecting any changes to the cabinet composition since – also because there is no alternative to the current government coalition. As her inauguration approached it was thus clear that she would re-appoint Prime Minister Butkevicius. Nevertheless, two week ago Grybauskaite announced that she would not reappoint cabinet ministers on the Prime Minster’s request if they failed to sack deputy ministers (MPs with the rank of secretary of state) that appeared on a ‘blacklist’ of people with suspicious financial activities. Representatives of the government protested against the move as the president formally has no authority to influence appointments below cabinet level. However, coalition parties soon agreed to ask all deputy ministers to resign – a call which was eventually followed by all involved.

The resignation of all deputy ministers can be seen as a great success for Grybauskaite, particularly over the Electoral Action of Poles whose only deputy minister refused to resign until last night and was also not fired by the respective cabinet minister from the same party. The fact that she has been able to force changes below cabinet level cannot only be attributed to the stipulations of Art 92. Grybauskaite also certainly benefited from her ‘fresher’ legitimacy and her popular mandate which let her act independently of the government. While her actions are partly a way of fulfilling the promises of her electoral campaign and improving her public image (the topic of corruption remains very salient in Lithuanian politics), her activism can also be explained by the fact that she will not want to become a lame duck towards the end of her term. By referring to the precedent she has just set, it will be easier for her to influence political decision-making even after the parliamentary elections next year have brought a new and freshly legitimised government into office.

Europe as a springboard for the presidency? The experience of presidents and presidential candidates in EU institutions

On 25 May 2014, former EU Commissioner Dalia Grybauskaitė won the election for her second term as president of Lithuania. The fact that candidates with experience in EU institutions run for president is not uncommon and a position in the EU institutions should bring a number of advantages for candidates. As a number of former MEPs and Commissioners have been elected president, this raises the question to what extent the European institutions present a ‘springboard’ for the presidency. To answer this question, this post looks at the ‘EU experience’ of presidential candidates and presidents in the EU member states. While (former) MEPs and Commissioners have run for president in 20 out of 27 countries, only few are able to gather a significant number of votes. Also, despite the fact that some European presidents once held a European office, this was rarely the reason for their electoral success. Nevertheless, EU experience does also not hinder success in presidential elections. Rather, candidates with EU experience are often those who would have little chances of success in any case.

Lithuanian President and former EU Commissioner Dalia Grybauskaitė in the European Parliament| photo via eu2013.lt

A political position in the European institutions should have a number of advantages for prospective presidential candidates in both parliamentary and semi-presidential systems. The ‘European experience’ helps candidates to stress their ability to represent their country abroad. They are also less likely to be drawn into fights within their national parties and can thus stay relatively uncontroversial and develop a suprapartisan image that is untainted by national scandals. As they are rarely at the centre of media attention, European candidates might thus be able to maintain a certain ‘outsider’ bonus even if they are part of their party’s leadership.

When Dalia Grybauskaitė was first elected president of Lithuania in 2009, her work as Commissioner for Financial Programming and Budget, particularly her efforts to reduce spending on various agricultural programmes brought her much praise (she was even named ‘Commissioner of the Year 2005’). By openly criticising the Lithuanian government’s failure to respond to the financial crisis she made sure that she became a household name on the political scene of her home country and paved the way for her first-round victory (winning 68%) in the 2009 presidential elections. Her European experience mattered for her initial election. Nevertheless, this story of Europe as a ‘springboard’ for the presidency appears to be rather unique and not the norm in the EU member states.

Already in 2014, Grybauskaitė’s European background – just as the fact that her main opponent Zigmantas Balčytis served as an MEP since 2009 – played no significant role. The table below summarises the number of presidential elections and presidents (total & those with EU experience) as well as the average number of candidates (total & those with EU experience) for presidential elections held in EU member states since 1979. Out of the 484 candidates that ran for presidents in 69 different elections, only 38 (7.8%) could boast with experience in the European institutions. Nevertheless, 6 out of 52 presidents during this period had a European background, i.e. 11.5% and thus a slightly higher proportion. Nevertheless, EU experience only played a role for Lithuanian president and former EU commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite.

In case of the other presidents other factors were more important than their experience in EU institutions. In Estonia, president Toomas Hendrik Ilves had served as Foreign Minister for several years and had been a member of the Social Democratic Party’s leadership before being elected to the European parliament in 2004. At his election in 2006, Ilves’ international experience and recognition gained while in government generally played a greater role for his election than his two years as a MEP. In Hungary, president Pal Schmitt had been a MEP and vice-president of the European Parliament since 2004 before he was elected president in 2010. However, Schmitt’s loyalty to Prime Minister and party leader Viktor Orban and promise not to obstruct the government’s controversial reform agenda was more important for his election. Furthermore, the international experience that Schmitt gained as an ambassador and functionary of the Olympic Committee would have been more salient qualifications than his four years in Strasbourg and Brussels. Slovene president Borut Pahor served as MEP between 2004 and 2008. Nevertheless, Pahor’s following term as Prime Minister during 2008-2012 and previous role as speaker of the Slovene parliament (2000-2004) certainly trumped any influence of his EU experience. Last, French presidents Chirac (1005-2007) and Sarkozy (2007-2012) can claim some,  yet for the course of their further political career and presidency relatively insignificant EU experience. In 1979 Chirac was elected to the newly created European Parliament but gave up his mandate in 1980 in favour of his seat in the French National Assembly. Nicolas Sarkozy was elected as an MEP in 1999 but also resigned to keep his seat in the National Assembly.

Country Number of presidential elections Average number of candidates/
average number of candidates with EU experience
Total number of presidents/
presidents with EU experience
Austria 3 3.3 / n/a 2 / 0
Bulgaria 2 12.5 / 1 2 / 0
Cyprus 2 10 / 1 2 / 0
Czech Republic 2 5.5 / 1 2 / 0
Estonia 2 2.5 / 1.5 1 / 1
Finland 3 7.67 / 1.67 2 / 0
France 6 10 / 4.5 4 / 2
Germany 8 3 / n/a 6 / n/a
Greece 6 ? / n/a 4 / n/a
Hungary 3 1.67 / 0.3 3 / 1
Ireland 5 4.4 / 0.6 4 / 0
Italy 5 18 / 0.2 4 / 0
Latvia 2 3.5 / n/a 2 / n/a
Lithuania 3 6.33 / 1 2 / 1
Malta 2 1 / n/a 2 / n/a
Poland 2 11 / n/a 2 / n/a
Portugal 6 5 / 0.17 3 / 0
Romania 2 12 / 0.5 1 / 0
Slovakia 3 11 / n/a 2 / n/a
Slovenia 2 5 / 1.5 2 / 1
Total 69 7.02 / 0.55 52 / 6
Note: All calculations begin with the first presidential election since the country’s EU accession or  the first presidential election after 1979 (marking the first direct election of the European Parliament).

Regardless of how brief their European experience is, former or current MEPs run far more often for presidential office than (former) members of the Commission – the latter group only consists of three candidates: Meglena Kuneva (Bulgaria; 2011: 14%), Raymond Barre (France; 1988; 17%) and Dalia Grybauskaite (Lithuania; 2009: 68%; 2014: 46% / 58%). Hereby, MEPs running for president are typically leaders of smaller parties that do not generally have any chance at winning the presidential election (or even proceed into the second round of voting). An example of the former is Valdemar Tomaševski, chairman of the Polish Electoral Alliance in Lithuania who won only 4.7% of the vote in 2009 and 8.36% in 2014.

Europe does thus not generally represent a springboard for the presidency although the case of Dalia Grybauskaite shows that it can be beneficial.  Yet even in her case national political experience (Grybauskaite served as minister of finance 2001-2004) played at least a minor role and is thus overall more important than time served as the representative of European institutions.

 

Lithuania – Incumbent president Dalia Grybauskaite elected for second term in office

On 25 May 2014 Lithuania held the second round of presidential elections. After incumbent president Dalia Grybauskaite had already dominated the first round of voting, she also won the second round as expected. Nevertheless, she was not able to significantly increase the total number of votes and her opponent Balčytis finished with more than just a succès d’estime. lithuania presidential elections 2 In the first round of voting, Grybauskaite won 45.9 % of the vote, compared to only 13.6% won by runner-up Zigmantas Balčytis, leading many analysts to predict a victory close to the 69% that earned her the presidency in 2009. Given these prospects both candidates hardly engaged in any further campaigning during the last two weeks. In their last TV debate President Grybauskaite continued her rather aggressive rhetoric with regard to Lithuania’s security interests and criticised the government for not setting a higher defence budget. Balčytis tried to defend the government and overall presented himself as the more conciliatory candidate. The eventual result is in so far surprising as Grybauskaite was only able to increase the number of votes by 88,009 (a 14% increase), while Balčytis was able to attract an additional 304,276 (167% increase). Nevertheless, it also reflects the fact that Grybauskaite was the only credible candidate from the beginning. Not only because of Grybauskaite’s certain victory, Balčytis motivation to actively engage in the campaign was somewhat limited. Already two days after the first round of elections, the Prime Minister Butkevicius sparked speculations about Balčytis becoming Lithuania’s candidate for EU commissioner. Although the approval of parliament and president is needed before Balčytis can be nominated as an official candidate, given his background as former minister of finance and MEP (as well as the good election result) his nomination seems very likely.

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Detailed election results can be found on the website of the Lithuanian Electoral Commission http://www.2013.vrk.lt/2014_prezidento_rinkimai/output_en/rezultatai_vienmand_apygardose2/rezultatai_vienmand_apygardose2turas.html

Lithuania – Incumbent Dalia Grybauskaite wins first round of presidential elections but has to enter run-off

On 11 May 2014 Lithuania held the first round of presidential elections. After incumbent Dalie Grybauskaite had won her first term with 69% of the vote, she now also entered the race for re-election as the clear favourite out of seven candidates. Despite more than twice the amount of votes than the runner-up, she failed to repeat the first-round victory from five years and will enter a run-off against Zigmantas Balčytis on 25 May.

lithuania presidential elections

Commentators criticised the campaign as ‘boring’ and superficial as all candidates were aware that they were unlikely to win against Grybauskaite or even enter the second round. The latter was particularly true for Naglis Puteikis (independent MP), Valdemar Tomaševski (MEP, candidate of the Polish Electoral Alliance), Bronis Ropė (Lithuanian Peasants and Green Union) and Artūras Zuokas (Homeland Revival and Perspective Party). The question was rather whether MEP and former minister of finance Zigmantas Balčytis or former speaker of parliament and one-time acting president Artūras Paulauskas would enter the second round. While Grybauskaite, who runs as an independent (yet her candidacy is supported by the conservative Homeland Union), was not able to win a second term in the first round of election, her result is better than could have been expected only half a year ago. She now benefitted from the fact that parties generally did not propose their most popular candidates. Grybauskaite was also able to capitalise on the Ukraine crisis in the context of which she was able to represent herself as the defender Lithuania’s security interests against hypothetical Russian aggression.

Grybauskaite is set to win the second round of the elections and another term in office. While there is hardly anything that would be able to ruin her chances, Balčytis might still be able to reduce the distance between the two.

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Detailed election results can be found on the website of the Lithuanian Electoral Commission:
http://www.2013.vrk.lt/2014_prezidento_rinkimai/output_en/rezultatai_vienmand_apygardose/rezultatai_vienmand_apygardose1turas.html

Lithuania – President Grybauskaite’s veto activity

On Thursday last week, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė vetoed amendments to the ‘Law on Fisheries’ enumerating several legal problems with the regulations on how to assign and transfer fishing quotas. A strong involvement of the presidents in legislation as well as executive decisions is nothing in semi-presidential Lithuania. Nevertheless, as Dalia Grybauskaitė’s first term in office is coming to an end in May this year, this post will use it as an opportunity to give a brief overview of her veto activity and explain the regulations on presidential vetoes in Lithuania.

President Dalia Grybauskaitė's signature under her most recent veto | source: www.e-tar.lt

President Dalia Grybauskaitė’s signature under her most recent veto | source: www.e-tar.lt

Articles 71 of the Lithuanian constitution gives the president the right to send any bill back to parliament for reconsideration. The president returns the bill with ‘relevant reasons for considerations’ – a term likely introduced to avoid vetoes for other purely partisan reasons – within ten days of receiving it (which gives the president relatively little time compared to other Central and East European counterparts, most of whom are allowed at least 15 days). Parliament can override any presidential veto with an absolute majority (i.e. 71 of its 141 members). However, parliament also has the possibility to adopt or incorporate any changes proposed by the president. This – as Tsebelis and Rizova (2007) have noted – gives the president an advantage over parliament as it is easier to adopt the president’s so-called ‘amendatory observations’ than to override the veto as a whole.

For most of her presidency Grybauskaitė served alongside the government of Andrius Kubilius whose Homeland Union had supported her candidacy in the 2009 presidential elections despite her running as an independent. As there were no major policy differences between the government and the president, intra-executive relations can be described as neutral, even friendly. However, the relationship with the Butkevicius government has been far from free of problems. Already in the formation phase, Grybauskaitė actively intervened and showed her dislike for the inclusion of the Labour Party into the government, highlighting the beginning of a period of cohabitation. Interestingly, this change in government appears not to have affected the president’s veto activity. While cohabitation is usually associated with a more frequent use of presidential powers, Grybauskaitė vetoed  1.8% of legislation (28 vetoes) under Kubilius and only 0.2% (10 vetoes) more under Butkevicius.

Even though several key predictors of presidential veto use (such as parliamentary fragmentation or the size of the government majority) did not vary during Dalia Grybauskaitė’s presidency, it is a look at the abovementioned ‘amendatory observations’ that reveals an interesting characteristic of presidential vetoes in interplay with legislation in Lithuania. Not only in the case of the ‘Law on Fisheries’, has president Grybauskaitė made use of amendatory observations to constructively influence legislation (that is, apart from her right to introduce legislative initiatives). All of her vetoes were also accompanied by suggestions for further amendments. Furthermore, in all cases were these suggestions were (at least partially) incorporated despite the fact that the governments disposed of an absolute majority in the assembly. This veto success shows that rather than for partisan/ideological reasons, Grybauskaitė returned bills to ensure their quality. This becomes even clearer when looking at the justifications for vetoes which almost exclusively list concrete legal problems such as incompatibility issues (rather than alleged non-compliance with relatively vague principles).