The situation in the Social Democrat Party is already heated and appears to continue gaining in temperature. On Friday three of its former chairmen – Algirdas Butkevičius, Gediminas Kirkilas and Česlovas Juršėnas published an open letter for party members where they unambiguously support remaining the coalition with the "Farmers". In the branches, however, for now the trend is clear that the coalition should be abandoned, of 12 branches that have expressed their will, nine have supported the Social Democrats withdrawing from the coalition with the "Farmers", while one supports remaining and two – rewriting the coalition agreement.
For party leader Gintautas Paluckas, who initiated the survey of branches and who believes that remaining in the coalition with the "Farmers" has no more meaning or future, the situation in the Social Democrat Seimas group is unfavourable. According to LRT.lt information only a few party members support his position.
"What matters the most right now is to prevent attempts to antagonise the party with the Seimas group. For this we need your support. We have done much together to overcome the distance with two leftist parties joining, so let us not toss away with a light hand that which we have worked on long and hard. Let us show the Lithuanian people that the Social Democrats make rational decisions, thoroughly thought through, not fleeing responsibility or failing to consider all the consequences for country and party," Algirdas Butkevičius, Gediminas Kirkilas and Česlovas Juršėnas write in their appeal to party members.
- How do you view the situation in the party's Seimas group where only a few members support your position to withdraw from the coalition with the "Farmers"? – Lrt.lt inquired G. Paluckas.
There are actually various opinions in the group. A discussion is ongoing. For now there is no point to make any calculations. The final decision will be made by the party council, all 250 of its members, among whom we also have the group members.
- Why is it that you and the party management are not coming to terms with the group?
This not coming to terms is far too exaggerated and a scene is caused through it. What we are actually doing is talking and discussing various questions. We agree on some, while not completely on others. But this does not mean that the group is acting separately from the party or the party – separately from the group. That is very important.
Furthermore the party has its statute. After all the discussions, bigger or smaller, even after acute decisions, everyone has to adhere to them.
- How do you view statements by some political scientists that the Social Democrats are falling apart?
With a smile. A party is as strong as the discussions within it are. All the strongest parties bicker, discuss and do so acutely. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, parties that have few discussions within them are much closer to disappearing.
The Social Democrats are certainly not falling apart, though we must admit a generation shift is happening. I am seeking to bring the party more to the left, toward classical Social Democracy. However there are those who think the party should pursue more centrist, neoliberal policies.
I am personally feeling firm because I have a good team. The party management is meeting constantly. We discuss all the core questions with our deputies, the presidium gathers and makes decisions. I can only be happy that we have many opinions among us. This allows the Lithuanian Social Democracy to progress. Neither I, nor the party need a group of yes-men. That was a different time.
- The cabinet declares it has begun tax reform. This is also linked with the so called children's grant reform. Seimas couloirs whisper that supposedly "Farmer" leader Ramūnas Karbauskis may demand that the funding is doubled. Whose position, his or Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis' will the Social Democrats support?
We will stand by our position and will not agree to the "Farmers" and cabinet antagonising social groups, distributing the money of the middle income group to the impoverished. We will seek solidarity – so that the funding for children are granted to everyone equally, irrelevant of the parents' incomes.
Regarding this question our views are fundamentally different to the "Farmers" and cabinet.
- Nonetheless, how could one find prospects for a Social Democrat – "Farmer" coalition" when they go to the opposition if they fail to obtain support from you?
I have said a number of times that one of the major problems of the coalition is that our partners avoid discussing, seeking joint agreement. Such is the current situation. This is why I am sceptical of the coalition's future.
But our hands are free – we have our programme and we are prepared to fight for it.
- What would you say about A. Butkevičius, G. Kirkilas and Č. Juršėnas' statement to party members released on Friday?
Generational shifts can be very emotional or even dramatic. I respect the opinion of the former party chairmen and understand their concern for the future.
However it is a different chairman at the head of the party now. He consults the branches and tries to form a new party strategy vision. This has to be come to terms with. Including for the former chairmen. Especially given that one of the former party leaders, G. Kirkilas is one of my deputies.
I do not aim to silence my fellow members, but things will not be as before. I value our past experience, but I look to the future based on contemporary arguments of life and politics.
- What is your current agenda for the coalition with the "Farmers"? Perhaps there have been some unannounced consultations? Perhaps you spoke privately with someone?
I am currently on holiday, but prior to the holiday we spoke about the Seimas autumn session, its agenda. I did not participate in any unannounced meetings. But earlier R. Karbauskis announced a number of times that supposedly there will be no negotiations with us. This is why we began discussions on the coalition's future. For us, just like other parties, implementing our programme and its priorities matters. Everything is normal.
I can assure that both in the party's branches and in the management there is no antagonism or flood of emotions, the situation with the coalition partners is viewed adequately. There can be no emotions in this regard. Everything has to be viewed rationally and calmly. By September 20 we will definitely receive the answer from all branches regarding the future of the coalition.
- However PM Skvernelis and the "Farmers" have repeatedly assured they will not wait for your decision up to September 20, that they must receive the answer by September 10, the start of the autumn session.
They will wait.
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