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2019.07.16 09:00

Game of Posts – Lithuanian government reshuffle to test Nausėda's leadership

LRT.lt2019.07.16 09:00

Lithuania's prime minister and his cabinet handed in their “courtesy resignations” last Friday to the newly inaugurated President Gitanas Nausėda. While a purely symbolic gesture mandated by the constitution, a cabinet reshuffle is in sight, in line with a new four-party coalition agreement and the new president's activist ambitions.

Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, who himself ran for the presidency in May's election and was visibly upset by worse-than-anticipated results, initially claimed he would not continue as PM. Come July, however, and Skvernelis has dismissed his earlier statements as “emotion”, confirming his resolve to form his new government.

“Do you have any doubts?” he has told LRT TV. “It was always so in this government [...] that the process [of government formation] involves the prime minister and the president. It is how it has been and, I hope, will be.”

However, even though constitutionally the make-up of the cabinet is the prime minister's prerogative, Skvernelis will have to deal with a number of pressures.

First, there is Ramūnas Karbauskis, the leader of the biggest ruling party, Farmers and Greens Union, with whom Skvernelis does not always seem to be looking eye to eye.

The current “professional government” includes many non-party appointees by Karbauskis' party who, he hints, should not feel secure about their jobs.

“I will, personally, be as active as need be [in government formation]. We will all be discussing it together within the party and its political group,” Karbauskis tells LRT TV, commenting on his role in appointing the cabinet. He concedes, however, that his party's candidates will need to be endorsed by first Skvernelis.

“We will first see if all the ministers [of the Farmers and Greens Union] are acceptable to the prime minister,” he tells LRT TV.

Another important factor is the new coalition that Karbauskis has recently negotiated with three other parties. The agreement includes a division of ministerial posts.

The Order and Justice party snapped up the Ministry of National Defence, while the Electoral Action of Poles is looking for candidates to fill the Ministry of Communication and the Ministry of the Interior.

The Social Democratic Labour Party has already proposed its candidate for the minister of agriculture, Andrius Palionis, who was previously rejected by former president Dalia Grybauskaitė for the same post.

Skvernelis has said, however, that he is not bound by the the agreed distribution of ministries – as it is set out in a supplement rather than in the main document of the coalition agreement – and he himself will decide which candidates are acceptable to him and the president.

President Nausėda has, too, indicated he will show muscle in appointing the cabinet. He has already hinted that he would like to see the current Minister of Defence Raimundas Karoblis and Minister of Communication Romas Masiulis continue in their posts.

The former position, given to the Order and Justice party, may be particularly controversial and has already saw a prominent Farmers and Greens MP leave the party's group in parliament in protest.

“The Ministry of National Defence, with its strong intelligence department, a billion-euro budget of public money, classified procurement contracts – we are giving this ministry to a party under trial,” MP Vytautas Bakas said, referring to corruption allegations against the Order and Justice party.

The Lithuanian president has also traditionally been given a stronger say in who gets to head the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Nausėda has indicated he would like the incumbent Linas Linkevičius to stay on, despite not being a member of the Social Democratic Labour Party which got the post under the coalition agreement.

This all puts the prime minister in a complicated situation, according to political scientists Rima Urbonaitė of Mykolas Romeris University in Vilnius. She believes Skvernelis is in a strong position vis-a-vis Karbauskis, but the president may give him a hard time.

“It seems that the president's position has so far been to get actively involved in candidate selection, he will not stay in the shadow,” Urbonaitė tells LRT TV. “Clearly, it is important for him not to stay on the sidelines, since he will be judged by this action – whether he has a spine and a strong hand.”

Due to all these many factors involved, cabinet formation may drag on, according to Urbonaitė.