Lithuania’s ruling coalition and opposition quarrel over what must come first: government resignation or snap elections
Lithuanian opposition parties are demanding that the governing coalition resign before they consent to early elections, LRT.lt, the website of Lithuanian public broadcaster LRT, reported on May 24.
The leadership of the ruling conservative Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD), which dominates the governing centre-right coalition, has called for snap elections and, if that fails to garner enough votes, the government will resign.
The move comes in reaction to the so-called municipal expenses scandal. Recently published expense reports have aroused allegations that many municipal council members may have abused expense reimbursement claims, with Kaunas City Council members not even required to supply invoices or receipts.
Education Minister Jurgita Siugzdiniene, who had been on Kaunas Council before joining the government, has resigned over the scandal, while other cabinet members have had to explain their expenses.
The Homeland Union argues that the municipal expenses scandal has affected and potentially will affect governing and opposition politicians alike. Therefore, they see calls for their ministers to resign as unfair and instead they have called for disbanding the entire current parliament, LRT.lt said.
But to call snap elections, the conservatives need at least 85 votes in the 141-seat parliament, more than they or the ruling coalition have. Therefore, some of the opposition MPs would have to go along for the plan to work.
The opposition, meanwhile, fears that the Homeland Union is putting its own party interests first and wants the whole government to resign first.
“Let the ruling coalition form a new government – and if they fail, then we can speak about early elections, we would support it in that case,” commented Saulius Skvernelis, leader of the Democratic Union For Lithuania which, with 16 MPs, has the third-biggest group in the current parliament.
MP Rasa Budbergyte, of the Social Democrats, put it even more bluntly: “We are not going to help them [the conservatives] implement their own strategic agenda that they came up with at their presidium meeting.”
On May 23, Gabrielius Landsbergis, TS-LKD chairman and foreign minister in the TS-LKD-led government, invited opposition groups to meet and discuss the early election plan. The meeting did not happen.
Moreover, even the conservatives’ coalition partners have expressed unhappiness, not least for not being consulted on the plan.
“No wonder the opposition won’t go to [Landsbergis] when he never even invited the ruling parties to discuss it,” said Eugenijus Gentvilas, the elder of the parliamentary group of the Liberal Movement, one of the TS-LKD’s coalition partners.
Still, he said that while the liberals do not support the snap elections call, they are not planning to leave the coalition.
“Formally, the coalition remains intact, but in spirit, does the coalition still exist?” he asked.
After accepting Education Minister Siugzdiniene’s resignation, Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said she would not appoint anyone else to the post. She also insists that she will not submit her cabinet to a confidence vote. If the parliament refuses to call early elections, Simonyte’s cabinet will step down, she says.
In that case, Landsbergis said, it will be up to President Gitanas Nauseda – who has also used the expenses scandal to criticise the government – to find a way to form a new government, LRT.lt reported. Nauseda has called for the resignation of other ministers involved in the scandal.
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