Ingrida Šimonytė, the presumptive next prime minister of Lithuania, discusses what's wrong with the current government's approach to the coronavirus pandemic and why the election brought victory to women-led parties.
Šimonytė led the party list of the conservative Homeland Union party which won the parliamentary elections and is now in talks with two liberal parties on forming the government.
On Monday evening, she gave an interview to LRT TV.
Is the coalition agreement with the Freedom Party and the Liberal Movement a done deal or can it break down if you do not agree on the programme?
The negotiation process has only just begun, it is clear that in order for it to be successful, we need to agree on the work to be done, then agree on the people who can do it. There is still time for this, because the elections have just ended.
Moreover, one of our colleagues, Viktorija [Čmilytė-Nielsen, of the Liberal Movement], had to go into self-isolation and cannot participate in the negotiations physically.
Your coalition would benefit from the support of other parties. Are you looking for support and have you already spoken to someone?
One should expect that some members of the Seimas who do not belong to any particular faction, for example, the mixed group of MPs, could support the government. Negotiations will undoubtedly happen. I also believe there will be issues that will require additional support.
You may need support simply for the longevity of the solutions, from the Social Democratic faction or some other. I am the type of person who can talk to everyone, even those who do not always want to talk to me, so consensus can often be reached.
You met with the president today. [President Gitanas Nausėda earlier indicated he would like a government alligned with his vision for a welfare state.] What impression did the meeting make on you?
It was a businesslike conversation. We talked a little about the government programme. The president did not examine us on the welfare state, since we have said many times that it means different things to different people.
There are certain core values that we can agree on. We informed the president about the negotiation process itself – how we imagine it should happen, what results we expect and when. I think the conversation was quite businesslike.
The incumbent ruling party, the Farmers and Greens Union who lost the elections, said before the second round that you [the conservatives] would impose austerity and that the centre-right coalition would legalise cannabis and prostitution. When can we expect that to happen?
I am afraid you'll have to wait for the judgement day for many things to happen that our opponents spoke about during the campaign. I am very sorry that they used it as a scare tactic, something we tried to avoid in every way. During the elections, we tried to focus on ourselves rather than others. Our opponents took a different approach: they spent a lot of time saying how bad the conservatives were, not how good they themselves were. Well, that was their choice.
These rather ironic examples aside, we don't have a goal to come and destroy the old world order. However, the goal is to change those solutions that don't work. But this does not mean that we have to change everything today.
One of the biggest challenges for the new government will be to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The work of the minister of health is very important here. Do you want to see a medical professional in this post?
I don’t think that a medical doctor is a qualification requirement for a minister. The minister does not need to prescribe medications, surgery or treatment. The minister needs to understand well how the system works, and you don't have to be a doctor for that.
Four years ago, I myself had the nerve to run for the shadow ministers of health, because I think I am well aware of the problems facing the healthcare system.
Are there any Covid-19 decisions of the current government that you would like to revisit?
I believe that the biggest problem with the way the government has approached the pandemic is that it isn't clear with whom they consult when making decisions. It is unclear what goals are being pursued, it is unclear in what direction we're going, sometimes these decisions were contradictory and based on dubious logic.
I'd say that the main things that wasn't done last summer, when a decisive victory [against Covid-19] was declared – and this turned out to be a big mistake – was that we did not accumulate administrative resources necessary to manage the effort.
There are not enough people in the National Public Health Centre. As a result, the whole process of communicating, preventing and tracing contacts is severely stalled, and people [public health officials] say: We cannot bear this burden anymore.
It is obvious that the approach to the process of organising control, organising prevention needs a radical revision. And then there are the recommendations of doctors, scientists, which just need to be followed.
How are you going to change the current practice? Not only is the opinion of scientists ignored, but, as you know, the health minister has blocked a number of professionals on Facebook because he does not like their opinion.
This is the choice of the minister. There are people on Facebook whose opinion we don't like, sometimes there may be reasons for this. But it's one thing to argue with someone on Facebook, and another thing when you are at work and discuss, connect people, invite them to meetings, participate in discussions, listen to different sides. For this, there is not only Facebook, there are other formats.
I am very sorry that many people whom I personally consider to be good experts are talking about this and feel unheard. This does not mean that it is necessary to choose one opinion or another, because sometimes opinions contradict each other or it is necessary to choose between conflicting values.
The task of politicians is to decide what is more important, what decision to make. But not to listen to people, as if they have nothing to say, is completely unacceptable for me.
Can we also say that Lithuania's women were not listened to over the last four years? Now, the winning parties are led by women.
We do have a problem with empowering women and all the problems arising from the fact that women's work is worse paid. This leads to lower pensions, higher rates of relative poverty in old age, etc. We know how it works.
I think what led to this [victory of women-led parties] was that there's a little less testosterone in a discussion led by a woman, more listening to and more willingness to recognise one's own limitations. It is certainly not easy for every man to acknowledge that he does not know something or that he made a mistake.