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Published: 28 november 2019 19:25

Why J. Narkevičius is still in office: fears of cutting the thread that binds the ruling coalition

Jaroslavas Narkevičius
Žygimanto Gedvilos / 15min nuotr. / Jaroslavas Narkevičius

Minister of Transport and Communications Jaroslavas Narkevičius, who has landed in the midst of a number of scandals, not only has no experience in the transport and communications domains, he also does not have the political culture to resign on his own, political scientists believe. However, there is a dilemma – the minister’s resignation could lead to the ruling majority collapsing right before the budget is approved. The prime minister’s team hints that a decision will be made, but the focus will be on key state decisions. J. Narkevičius himself is not planning to resign because of supposedly a smear campaign being led against him.

Delegated by the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Union, Minister of Transport and Communications J. Narkevičius has recently been the focus of the news media: asphalting a road for Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, poaching accusations, housing his daughter in the Seimas hotel, luxurious dinner in Abu Dhabi, scandalous dismissal of the Lithuanian Post board, but the minister is uninterested in providing any explanations, with everything being topped off by his phrase, “We do what we want.”

At the same time, the politician is working toward ensuring that Seimas finds budget funds for Trakai churches and schools. The opposition is meanwhile organising impeachment proceedings against him.

Why is the minister still in office? Political scientists have an explanation. The minister entered the post not as a professional, but as a thread that bound together the existing ruling coalition. The fear is that with the minister being removed, the majority could collapse.

L. Bielinis: another would realise himself

Vytautas Magnus University (VDU) professor, political scientist Lauras Bielinis believes that J. Narkevičius continues as Minister of Transport and Communications due to a lack of political culture.

“I see several reasons. First and foremost is probably a lack of political culture. An individual with sufficient political culture would realise that after such accusations and such facts being presented about him, nothing else remains than to resign as soon as possible, thusly making at least some display of responsibility,” L. Bielinis stated.

However, while the politician himself lacks political culture, according to L. Bielinis, he remains in office due to one further reason.

“The cabinet and ruling majority are not reacting to it most likely due to fairly clear calculations of course. They understand well the misdeeds, but do not want to make any sort of changes right now, express complaints against their candidate, their minister because they understand perfectly well that with little time left to the next elections, it will be exceedingly hard for them to find another minister and explain themselves to their coalition partners,” L. Bielinis says.

According to him, both reasons relate to political culture – both that of J. Narkevičius himself and that of the political majority.

“The political majority too demonstrates this way a lack of political culture, it is a display that whoever is in government can do whatever they want. And this is a very bad example to both the public and to political partners,” L. Bielinis stated.

He explains J. Narkevičius‘ ascent to the office of minister through the sharing of posts.

“There was a real need to bring this Seimas group into coalition dependence and this way it became a sort of price for participating in the coalition. The rest depends on the interests, capacities and so on of the minister and the Seimas group he represents.

How could matters develop in the future?

“A sophisticated, politically responsible society would definitely condemn such politicians and such actions. Indeed, there’s nothing good in it to either us or our political system. However, most of society will likely view it with excessive disregard, perhaps won’t even notice it, which is even worse,” L. Bielinis summarises.

V. Nakrošis: majority could collapse

Political scientist, Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science professor Vitalis Nakrošis notes that the current ruling majority in Seimas is unstable and balancing on the edge of collapse.

“The replacement of the minister could effect a potential LLRA-KŠS withdrawal from the ruling coalition. Simply put, it is uncomfortable for the ruling coalition, its politicians to do this because it could have negative results or even contribute to collapsing the ruling coalition,” V. Nakrošis explains.

This is also revealed by LLRA-KŠS leader Waldemar Tomaszewski’s support for J. Narkevičius.

“This is not the first such example. I recall the tenure of the Andrius Kubilius cabinet, when certain ministers delegated by the National Resurrection Party were fairly weak, for example the then minister of the environment, there were many doubts about him. However, given that his resignation would have harmed the ruling coalition and perhaps even the ruling coalition would have fallen apart, such a decision was not made in time despite him causing damage to the cabinet’s work and its results,” V. Nakrošis compared.

But there’s harm no matter what – doubts emerge on the possibility of implementing structural reform and passing decisions, which would adhere to the country’s competitiveness or public welfare needs, the political scientist observed.

“The work on the budget project in Seimas shows that matters are bandied forward and backward in order to satisfy the needs of specific and individual interest groups, rather than looking at what benefits the entire Lithuanian economy and the country’s welfare,” V. Nakrošis says.

What is more, landing in the midst of a number of scandals, the minister is also undercutting trust in the cabinet and Seimas as top government institutions. The political scientist predicts that this will continue to decrease ratings.

“The more such scandals and the longer they are escalated, the less trust and this will harm the ruling coalition, its political parties and politicians. They have ever lower chances to be re-elected because citizens face negative feedback and have respective evaluations of politicians’ behaviour,” V. Nakrošis says.

Political appointment

V. Nakrošis concludes that the ruling coalition has distanced itself from the idea of a technocratic cabinet and the appointment of J. Narkevičius is an illustration of this.

“At the start of the S. Skvernelis cabinet, it was a technocrat cabinet, which based on the definition at the time meant that the ministers were non-partisan and were specialists in their areas. This decision was politically motivated in that the trust of Lithuanian citizens in political parties was and remains low. On the other hand, the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union (LVŽS) did not have many politicians with prior experience in executive government,” V. Nakrošis reminds.

According to him, during the elections and in forming the cabinet, this was a useful choice, however it became clear later on that the choice of a technocratic cabinet was not effective.

“Some of the technocrat ministers did not find contact with the Seimas committees, committee chairs and thus could not implement the government programme or pass significant decisions,” V. Nakrošis states.

He reminds that S. Skvernelis replaced three ministers after the teachers’ strike, at which point the cabinet became “more partisan and less technocratic.” Now the cabinet is becoming increasingly akin to prior ones that were controlled by politicians.

“It is important to note that the LVŽS turned away from the idea of a technocratic cabinet, which both failed to function and did not adhere to new political realities, the ruling coalition’s composition. What happened then – more partisan candidates were appointed. The problem is, however, that the new ministers are not professionals, not based on the LVŽS’ definition, nor by my own standards; they lack good leadership experience. The minister is not just a member of the cabinet, but also the head of a ministry’s administration,” V. Nakrošis says.

The ministry is a large administration and its head should be experienced. They have to also coordinate subordinate institutions and state owned companies.

“Certain partisan ministers are clearly weaker based on other criteria. J.Narkevičius is a good example,” V. Nakrošis says.

S. Malinauskas: decisions first, politics after

The prime minister’s advisor Skirmantas Malinauskas assures that upon returning to work PM S. Skvernelis will state his position on J. Narkevičius.

“It is clear that there are many questions, firstly questions to the minister himself. The prime minister has stated that mistakes were made, which must be fixed. The minister holds such an office for the first time and for a time you have a credit of trust, but it seems that the number of mistakes and scandals is sufficient for questions to arise whether the situation can still be remedied. The head of state has also expressed his position and in any case, decisions will be made,” S. Malinauskas says.

According to him, currently a question emerges, just how capable the ruling coalition is, “whether the replacing of any minister could collapse the coalition.”

“Of course, currently the focus is on the budget. However, after the most important state decisions are made, no doubt the question will arise over other political decisions and political responsibilities,” S. Malinauskas assures.

Not planning to resign

Minister of Transport and Communications J. Narkevičius asserts that an organised slander campaign is being held against him and he currently has no intention of resigning, BNS reports.

“So far I do not intend to [resign]. This is because there is a discreditation campaign being performed against me,” the minister told journalists on Wednesday.

He also stated that he has not spoken lately to PM Skvernelis about his future in the post of minister of transport and communications.

President Gitanas Nausėda stated on Wednesday that he will present a decision and evaluation of J. Narkevičius “in the near future.”

When asked for his take on this statement by the head of state, the minister responded he has no evaluation of it.

As of recently, J. Narkevičius has faced criticism from the opposition for dismissing the Lithuanian Post board, his visit to the United Arab Emirates, the financing of certain road repairs and the circumstances of his tenancy in the Seimas hotel.

Speaking of the financing of road repairs, the minister stated that the ministry allocated funds to municipalities, which were the ones to make “certain decisions.”

The minister of transport and communications also noted he had not spoken to the prime minister about the asphalting of the street S. Skvernelis lives on.

“I cannot confirm, nor claim that the prime minister was aware. I had not spoken,” the minister said.

From education sector to ministership

57 year old J. Narkevičius was born and lives in Trakai, which is where the politician’s career developed.

His biography does not mention a single word about experience in transport and communications.

J. Narkevičius’ career began in the Salkininkai, later Šklėriai main school, which has now been merged into the Trakai Middle School – he worked as a maths teacher. For 15 years since 1987, he was the school’s director.

He entered politics around the year 2000, when he was elected into the Trakai region municipal council, also held the office of Vilnius region municipal administration education department head and later was the administration director’s deputy.

J. Narkevičius has been elected into Seimas with the LLRA for three terms in a row now, working for all three terms in the Seimas Education, Science and Culture Committee.

He has not featured much in public.

In 2014, J. Narkevičius as Seimas vice speaker gained infamy through his claims that the Lithuanian political elite seeks to eradicate the Polish ethnic minority, but the Poles will not yield and will raise chaos across Lithuania, Lietuvos Rytas wrote. In an interview to the Polish publication Nasz Dziennik at the time, J. Narkevičius declared that Lithuanians want to destroy local Poles.

In 2017, there was a story on how J. Narkevičius wished to form in Seimas a “Good Neighbourhood with the Republic of Belarus Interparliamentary Group.” The group was not established, at the time former ambassador to the USA, Žygimantas Pavilionis of the Conservatives described the initiative as “fifth column.”

In this Seimas term, J. Narkevičius was elected through the LLRA-KŠS electoral roll, where he was listed 7th, but rose up to 4th place in the roll with 8821 priority votes.

The MP declared 71 thousand euro in property prior to the elections, as well as 39 thousand euro in savings, albeit also having 72 thousand euro in loans.

Seeking budget funding for Trakai schools

J. Narkevičius, even after taking the post of minister, as a member of Seimas is working on other domains – proposing to include extra funds in the budget for Trakai region municipality institutions.

J. Narkevičius has proposed to allocate 303 thousand euro to the Old Trakai the Blessed Lord's Revelation to the Virgin Mary and St. Benedict’s Church’s repairs. He explains that the church, built in 1405 by Vytautas, is a historic monument of Lithuania, which demands care.

“The church’s interior is worsening in condition every year. Inside the church, the plastering needs replacing (it is old and cracked, peeling off and a threat to visitors), heating needs to be placed and other necessary works must be done in order to retain this historical heritage and its representativeness,” J. Narkevičius explained.

He also proposed to allocate 300 thousand euro for the Lentvaris Versmė and Henrikas Senkevičius schools’ premises repair works and for the purchase of two school busses.

The MP proposes to allocate a further 150 thousand euro to the repairs of Trakai Gymnasium – the repairs of the gymnasium building and adapting it to contemporary education processes.

15min reported earlier about a tradition of members of Seimas to register “wishes” for their own districts, where they were elected.

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