The scandal regarding member of Seimas Greta Kildišienė’s car rent and Ramūnas Karbauskis’ company has ended with the member of Seimas relinquishing her mandate. Elections are to be held again in Anykščiai, costing the state half a million euro. What has this story revealed about the most influential political party? What influence will this scandal have on future decisions by the political power? This was discussed with Lietuvos Rytas analyst Vytautas Bruveris, LRT.lt Chief Editor Vladimiras Laučius and public relations expert Mykolas Katkus in the talkshow Dėmesio Centre, LRT.lt reported.
- Why were the details withheld so long? What point was there to keep the details covered for a week?
V. Laučius: It may not have been done consciously, it could have been due to lack of preparation. It is odd that R. Karbauskis, so well prepared for the elections, is now making such mistakes that could cost dearly. I believe it was a mistake, not a deliberate attempt to drag things on.
M. Katkus: These days when you have a crisis and know that the facts will surface eventually, you gather all the facts you have, put them on the table, think up a version how to explain them and try to end the scandal as soon as possible. Even better if you can chop someone’s head off right away. Now all of Lithuania delved into relations for a whole week and finally the decapitation came on Friday, when there was already too much material and even R. Karbauskis’ seemingly inexhaustible loyalty to his party members shook. Crisis management nowadays is simple – to reach the bottom as soon as possible, tell everything yourself as soon as possible and then dig your way out. And yes, someone has to take the blame.
- Mr. Bruveris, based on what did R. Karbauskis not reveal any information for a week? Perhaps just self-fulfilling confidence?
V. Bruveris: I believe that his earnest conviction is and remains after this scandal. I doubt he has learnt from it. Now he, likely, is simply painfully living through a loss, realising that it was necessary to sacrifice a valued comrade. He tried to childishly escape the situation for the whole week. Constantly hoping that the news media will not step forward, but the media kept pushing.
- But why think so? After all looking at the public sphere, it was visible that everyone is searching. And when they search, many will find.
V. Bruveris: You demand too much know-how and intellectual potential from this political power. I suspect that you are making the assumption that if it obtained such authority, it definitely has to be aware of at least some sort of public relations ABC. But no, that is not the case. This is no news for us. The level, the mentality, what collective farm chairman mentality politicians the nation has put on such a pedestal of government with such great faith.
V. Laučius: It is worth paying attention to how the details about G. Kildišienė’s past surfaced not during the electoral campaign when all political powers were interested in seeking and finding something, but now. The assumption can be made that those things were found or presented by other comrades. Then we can only guess at who it was.
- Who do you suspect? S. Skvernelis?
V. Laučius: No, not necessarily. However the person could be close to law enforcement or could be a former law enforcement officer.
M. Katkus: During this honeymoon, with the “Peasants” taking victory, everything went exceedingly well. They tossed out a number of initiatives which received not with the thought that they are nonsense, as they should have been, but received as “what cunning idea from the “Peasants”. It is obvious that every new political power, even the Conservatives, retained public support during crisis. People are exhausted from the previous government and are now looking hopefully toward the things that should be. That “Peasant”, public and news media honeymoon has ended. Now all of the “Peasant” initiatives will be viewed as those of the government, not those of an opposition power.
- How will this impact R. Karbauskis as a politician in the future?
V. Laučius: This story may have little influence on R. Karbauskis, however there is a single “but”. This is a party fond of moralising, preaching, speaking of the harmonious family, public, of spiritual values. They want transparency, sacrality in politics, they demand it from their opponents, from the public and from themselves. But suddenly it turns up that no. If it was a different party, one that does not highlight that bar of spirituality, justice and truth, things would be different. But now we see that they do not reach the bar themselves.
V. Bruveris: Firstly I see a crystallisation of the “Peasant” group of supporters. This story has mobilised them even more and has once more revealed how righteous and excellent this power is because enemies and various background mafia are attacking it. At least in the short term such lethal powers should not have an impact on the overall party ratings. However, R. Karbauskis’ image as the sacred father of the nation, the Naisiai patriarch, has been significantly deteriorated in the eyes of his supporters. Another two factors of structural political regard. Firstly in at least the short term future the positions of S. Skvernelis will weaken significantly. Be it instinctively or out of experience, he took up the correct position. He did not take up blind defence or tail wagging politics. But he was not the only. Similar rumblings could be heard in the party fraction itself. Thus I see perhaps not a division, but an appearance of a destabilising element after this story.
- Mr. Katkus, would you agree that now the true “alpha male” in Seimas after this story is only S. Skvernelis?
M. Katkus: He remains the “alpha male” in the country. Whether he is the “alpha male” in the Seimas, that is hard to say because there appear to be more supporters of R. Karbauskis in Seimas. This story should definitely not harm S. Skvernelis’ influence or ratings. I believe that as much as the “Peasant” party is identified through S. Skvernelis, that much it will remain uninfluenced by this.
- In the beginning it appeared that Skvernelis had fewer supporters in the fraction. Does it not appear to you that after this story a large part of the fraction had to realise that if they are considering a long term political career, it would be safer to adhere to Skvernelis?
V. Laučius: When we spoke of the “alpha male”, even an injured “alpha male” is still an “alpha male”. He can take revenge. I do not believe that R. Karbauskis is the sort of leader who does not have some interesting things stashed away about his comrades, things he could use if the need arises. The paradox is in the fact that if we evaluate only starting from what happened this and last month, it would look like one mistake after another. If we look at the whole electoral campaign and the direction taken after the elections, it is an excellent example of political communication.
- How would you describe moods in the “Peasant” fraction, what is going on there?
V. Bruveris: There seems to be a certain panic there. I was pleasantly surprised by the beginings of political thinking in the fraction, arising through specifically this story. A part of the fraction demanded to stop drowning the party.
- The most visible members of Seimas from the “Peasant” side held most certainly not a “pro-Karbauskis-like” position. P. Urbšys, V. Pranckietis and R. Baškienė viewed the situation rather critically and demanded quick disclosure of information
V. Bruveris: I doubt some sort of fundamental political choices or big conclusions are brewing in the fraction. That said I believe that there will be a number of such stories and they will accumulate up to a critical mass which will not serve the unity of the fraction well in the long run.
- But the leader for a more secure political future for younger politicians would be S. Skvernelis, no?
M. Katkus: We have no elections now for two years. During such a time much will happen and it has to be said that R. Karbauskis is in a far safer position when he is not talking about grand pianos, song festivals and is not defending G. Kildišienė. People have associated their hopes and dreams with S. Skvernelis. If things don’t go as expected and significantly improve over the enxt two years, the government will be faced with changes, some reform will fail or someone will get into conflict, much can happen. We have a long game yet to go, we shouldn’t write off R. Karbauskis. Yes, he as a leader has weakened and no longer has an aura of invulnerability demonstrated since the elections, but it is too early to bet everything on S. Skvernelis’ side. Usually people start to look at events in the government after a year. Lithuania has an odd trend – the main three leaders are never popular at the same time here. We will see how things develop, I would not bet that in a year S. Skvernelis will remain in the same positions as today.
V. Laučius: The Prime Minister’s position is seemingly insecure, but if we look at earlier terms, we will see that both Conservative and Social Democrat PMs lasted the whole term. It is likely that S. Skvernelis could do so as well, especially given the President’s support. Also there will be elections in 2019 where he could choose to participate without waiting for the end of his term. Thus his position is strong unless his comrades harm him.
V. Bruveris: Much will depend on the depth of the social, economic and political problems they all will encounter after it becomes clear that their great projects have failed and when they have to start distributing responsibility for those problems. Who does so first and who is more convincing, he will avoid the major responsibility.