This post first appeared on presidential-power.com on 17 July 2014
After her successful reelected in May 2014, president Dalia Grybauskaite was sworn in for her second term in office this Sunday, 12 July. As I have previously remarked in other posts, the Lithuanian president belongs to the most powerful presidents in Central and Eastern Europe. This powerful position stems not only from the popular mandate and the constitutionally defined leading role in foreign policy, but also finds expression in an interesting stipulation about the government’s mandate after presidential elections which has now allowed Grybauskaite to force changes in a number of government ministries.
Art 92 of the Lithuanian Constitution states that The Government shall return its powers to the President of the Republic after the Seimas elections or after the elections of the President of the Republic. The president then has 15 days to present a (new) candidate for Prime Minister to parliament who has to pass a vote of confidence. Although the president’s potential courses of actions are naturally restricted by parliamentary arithmetic, the stipulation theoretically allows her/him to try and install a government which is closer to her own policy preferences or at least to extract some concessions from an incumbent Prime Minister and their cabinet.
Dalia Grybauskaite had already played a very active role in the appointment of the current centre-left government led by Algirdas Butkevicius in 2012 and had even refused to nominate him before conceding that he was the only candidate capable of mustering a majority in parliament. While she remained critical of the government as a whole as well as individual cabinet members, she has not been successful in effecting any changes to the cabinet composition since – also because there is no alternative to the current government coalition. As her inauguration approached it was thus clear that she would re-appoint Prime Minister Butkevicius. Nevertheless, two week ago Grybauskaite announced that she would not reappointcabinet ministers on the Prime Minster’s request if they failed to sack deputy ministers (MPs with the rank of secretary of state) that appeared on a ‘blacklist’ of people with suspicious financial activities. Representatives of the government protested against the move as the president formally has no authority to influence appointments below cabinet level. However, coalition parties soon agreed to ask all deputy ministers to resign – a call which was eventually followed by all involved.
The resignation of all deputy ministers can be seen as a great success for Grybauskaite, particularly over the Electoral Action of Poles whose only deputy minister refused to resign until last night and was also not fired by the respective cabinet minister from the same party. The fact that she has been able to force changes below cabinet level cannot only be attributed to the stipulations of Art 92. Grybauskaite also certainly benefited from her ‘fresher’ legitimacy and her popular mandate which let her act independently of the government. While her actions are partly a way of fulfilling the promises of her electoral campaign and improving her public image (the topic of corruption remains very salient in Lithuanian politics), her activism can also be explained by the fact that she will not want to become a lame duck towards the end of her term. By referring to the precedent she has just set, it will be easier for her to influence political decision-making even after the parliamentary elections next year have brought a new and freshly legitimised government into office.
Lithuania held presidential elections on 11 and 25 May 2014. In my two latest posts for presidential-power.com, I present the results, give an overview of the candidates and discuss the implications of the elections.
This post first appeared on presidential-power.com on 25 November 2013
Since Lithuania took over the six-month rotating European Union presidency on 1 July, the country and particularly president Dalia Grybauskaitė’s efforts to convince her Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovch to sign an EU association agreement at the Eastern Neighbourhood Summit in Vilnius this week have frequently featured in the European press. While the president’s mission proved to be unsuccessful due to Russian blackmail on Ukraine, Russia also exerted pressure on Lithuania (e.g. by banning the import of Lithuanian dairy products) to derail the negotiations. More recently, the leak of a secret report alleging that Russia would start a smear campaign against the president has dominated the headlines. Nevertheless, commentators have questioned the fact basis of the report and it appears that president Grybauskaitė (who is seeking re-election next year) is actually benefiting from the issue.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė | photo via wikimedia commons
In late October, the Baltic News Service (BNS) reported that according to a confidential report of the Lithuanian secret service Russia was trying to obtain or falsify compromising information about president Grybauskaitė. The secret service subsequently confirmed the existence of the report and the president stated that she had been made aware of the alleged plans. Yet while the chairman of the parliamentary National Security and Defense Committee, Arturas Paulauskas, declared that reports about the possibility of covert Russian attacks were ‘nothing out of the ordinary’ and were received by government members and committee chairmen on a regular basis, the Lithuanian prosecution started a criminal investigation about the source of the leak and obtained a court order to force the BNS journalists to disclose their sources. The move was naturally criticised by journalists who subsequently received support from the main parliamentary parties and cabinet members.
Although a provocation from Russia does not seem unlikely given its record during Lithuania’s EU Council presidency, commentators have questioned whether the leaked report (which has not been made publicly available by BNS) was based on actual facts or mere speculation (the fact that the presidential office only received a hard copy of the report several days after the leak was reported suggests the latter). In any case, Grybauskaitė generally appears to be benefitting from the issue. An opinion poll released shortly after the leak of the secret service report showed that Grybauskaitė is clearly heading for re-election. While still far away from the 69% she won in the first and only round of the 2009 elections, 41.6% of respondents indicated their intention to vote for her while her strongest contenders only polled between 12 and 14%. After speculations about her past as a Communist hardliner and her pro-Soviet stance during Lithuania’s break-away from the Soviet Union in 1990/91 had characterised the last presidential campaign, she has managed to successfully established herself as a leading conservative politician (albeit non-partisan) and defender of Lithuanian independence. Furthermore, similar to the neighbouring Baltic Republics Latvia and Estonia, the relationship with Russia is high on the public and political agenda and anti-Russian rhetoric still has the potential to mobilise a significant part of the electorate. Irrespective of the actual content of the leaked report and its current effect on the president’s approval ratings, it is thus likely to become a key issue in the upcoming presidential campaign.