The opposition experienced yet another ill success – the interpellation of the Minister of Energy Arvydas Sekmokas failed. Although the interpellation was intended to weaken the Government and the governing coalition, this unsuccessful attempt actually strengthened them even more, Kestutis Girnius wrote in alfa.lt portal on 14 March.
On the day of the vote, President Dalia Grybauskaitė not only backed Sekmokas, who probably is her favourite minister, but also expressed strong support for Premier Andrius Kubilius and his Government. The President said: “I really trust in the Premier and think that he can and should continue to work. There is a lot to do; the economic situation has not improved to such an extent that we could squander or radically change governments. There are still many things that the Premier needs to do”. Grybauskaitė’s words can be interpreted in various ways, and the President may still change her opinion, but now she seems to think that the Government led by Kubilius should continue working until the end of the Seimas term.
The statement of the Head of State is also interesting because the relations between the President and the Premier have recently been strained due to differing evaluations of the Minister of Economy Dainius Kreivys. When the President expressed her support and Kubilius thanked her for backing up Sekmokas, the disagreements have become somewhat smoothed.
However, the attempts to muddle the relations are not going to cease. On Thursday (10 March), LNK News announced that the President was already looking for a candidate to replace Premier Kubilius and that, based on off-the-record-material, she purportedly offered the chair to Kubilius’ fellow party member Kęstutis Masiulis. President Grybauskaitė denied such information, and Masiulis refused to give any comments. Masiulis is keen on talking, and he is a constant attendee of TV talk shows, yet the President is well aware that the Premier also requires other qualities.
There have also been instigations (not necessarily benevolent) for the Premier to not succumb to the self-willed President, oppose her effort to expand her powers, and refuse to hand her Dainius Kreivys’ resignation. However, as the Chief Official Ethics Commission concluded that Kreivys had confused public and private interests, such a step became impossible.
The unsuccessful interpellation has not only softened the misunderstandings between Grybauskaitė and Kubilius, but it has also consolidated the coalition and exposed the weakness of the opposition. It was only 53 Seimas members who voted for Sekmokas’ resignation; 9 parliamentarians abstained, and 66 actually supported the minister. The opposition was 18 votes short. Even if the abstained Seimas members would have spoken in favour of the minister’s resignation, the number of votes in support of the interpellation would still have been insufficient.
This failed attempt to remove a member of the sitting Government has already been the fourth in a row. The Minister of Transport and Communications Eligijus Masiulis withstood the interpellation in May 2010, and so did the Minister of Education and Science Gintaras Steponavičius in autumn 2009, and in spring – a then Minister of Finance Algirdas Šemeta. The interpellations against Masiulis and Steponavičius were intended to split the governing coalition, which is an understandable political move. It is difficult to perceive what was expected by aiming to eliminate Sekmokas. The policy implemented by the Minister of Energy does not constitute his private project; Kubilius supports it 100 per cent. In deposing Sekmokas, there would be another minister appointed, and he would be implementing the same policy that is supported by the President.
The opposition is going to prepare interpellations for other ministers and announce a motion of no-confidence in the entire Government. Algirdas Butkevičius, the leader of the opposition, stated that interpellations encouraged ministers to gear up and take on a more serious approach in their work, and that they obliged them to answer the questions asked by the opposition in an argumentative and arrogance-free manner. Valentinas Mazuronis, the leader of the faction of the Order and Justice party, spoke in more pugnacious spirits. He said that one should not touch bottom. Professedly, this Government cannot rule over the State of Lithuania and, therefore, one should take all the opportunities offered by the Seimas Statute to overthrow it.
I do not doubt that the opposition perceives itself as incapable to overthrow the Government or even to depose a single minister under the current circumstances. The coalition that was built by the opposition would be varicoloured and inefficient. There can still be some deterioration in the economy, and participating in the elections as a governing party would almost be a guarantee of failure. I suppose that if offered governance, the Social Democrats would renounce, at least.
There will be even more interpellations because they are beneficial for the opposition. Interpellations attract both the media and the voters; they provide possibilities for the opposition to determine the agenda of Seimas and talk about real or alleged drawbacks of the Government and the ministers; they create the simulacrum of activity and reduce the Government to acquiring a defensive position. On the other hand, there is a risk of overstretching the cord or slipping into absurdity. Not everyone was delighted when a group of Seimas members hastened to defend Gazprom against the attack by the “evil” Lithuanian Government.
I assume that the next target for interpellation will be the Minister of Environment Gediminas Kazlauskas. He is the most vulnerable one. His honesty is raising questions, and the President’s hostility towards him is unconcealed. Eliminating Kazlauskas by interpellation would result in a crisis because Arūnas Valinskas and his devoted Seimas members would secede from the governing coalition. That is why the governing majority will act in solidarity.
The abundance of interpellations demonstrates a lack of imagination and an inability to search for more creative means to challenge the governing majority and contribute to governing the country. Then again, we should not be overly rigorous in denouncing interpellations. It is a political show that causes time delays and diverts attention away from the more important issues. As such, however, interpellations are not harmful.
The same cannot be said about the frequent tendency of the opposition to appeal to the Constitutional Court (CC) after it fails to prevent a certain law from being passed. The opposition involves the CC in political battles hoping that the CC will grant victory, which they were able to achieve neither in Seimas nor in the elections. This is a formidable shift, because addressing the CC to protect the Constitution is destroying the constitutional foundations of the country, and it is violating and distorting the principle of power-distribution. In these terms, interpellations constitute less harm.