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Article written by political commentator Kestutis Girnius published in daily Lietuvos zinios on 11 October.

That which occurred during the parliamentary elections in Latvia is simply unimaginable in Lithuania. The Unity, the centre-right bloc of Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis convincingly won the Latvian parliamentary elections, having secured 31.1 per cent of the votes and 33 seats in the Saeima. Coalition partners were pretty successful as well, therefore, Dombrovskis will easily form a new ruling coalition and will remain prime minister. Unlike in Lithuania, the name “prime minister” did not become a buzzword in Latvia, even though the economic crisis in Latvia was more severe than in Lithuania and even though Latvia was forced to tighten its financial belts more, writes Girnius.


Why did the Latvians issue a new mandate to its government to continue its draconian belt-tightening policy, while the Lithuanians definitely will not do that? Trying to explain different positions of the voters, political analysts and journalists say that Dombrovski’s ratings have always been pretty high. He is a man who is able to talk to the voter, to convince him or her that painful drastic decisions are unavoidable. According to Tomas Janeliunas, he does this without arrogance and with “a certain degree of compassion.”

Andrius Kubilius does not possess such qualities. Communication with the voter is his weakest spot. He creates an image of arrogant and indifferent politician, even though Kubilius is a warm person and he did more for the sake of social justice and the most vulnerable residents than any other Lithuanian prime minister. If, however, his public person does not change, two years from now he will not receive a mandate from the voters.

It would be a mistake to overemphasize the personalities of the Latvian and Lithuanian prime ministers, Girnius thinks. There are other factors, too. One of the most important factors is also one of the most ironic. Dombrovskis was helped by the fact that the Latvian economic crisis was deeper and more painful and for a while it was unclear whether the country would be able to dig itself out of the crisis and at what cost. The Latvian Government was forced to ask the IMF for help, to ask help from abroad. The chance of government default and devaluation of the lat was really high. The things were made worse by the fact that the Latvian Parliament at first resisted certain IMF demands, and for a while it was unclear whether the IMF would grant Latvia the necessary loan or whether the country’s economy would hit rock bottom.

Parex Bank, one of the biggest Latvian banks, was on the brink of bankruptcy and had to be nationalized. The bank’s clients panicked and in the course of a few months withdrew 260 million lats (over one billion litas) from Parex Bank. Depositors of other banks were jittery as well. The majority of Latvians understood the extent of the threat their country was facing.

In Lithuania, the crisis was not as apparent. The government decided not to go to the IMF, no banks were facing bankruptcy, and there was no panic among depositors. The government of Kubilius stabilized the situation pretty quickly, or actually announced it had stabilized the situation. Therefore, people were completely unaware of the dangers that Lithuania was facing. It was also important that the government gave priority to orderly payment of pensions and salaries, and quickly borrowed money in foreign financial markets. One government official in private said that instead of desperately trying to pay pensions on time, the government should have paid them late once or twice. Then people would have realized that the situation was really serious and that special measures were needed. In this sense, the relatively effective work of the government even hurt it. If there was no serious crisis, why should we thank those who simply made our lives harder by reducing pensions and salaries?

Often people vote against a political party or a person, not for him. One of the reasons for this is the fact that in Lithuanian politics it is common to belittle the government and the Seimas. Politicians always censure their colleagues’ work and question their honesty, without noticing that they are degrading the place where they themselves are sitting, too. Later, they are angry that people do not appreciate their work.

Presidents get involved in this game by voicing complaints and by criticizing real or imagined shortcomings. It would be hard to remember when was the last time when they sincerely and without any conditions congratulated the executive government.

Businessmen’s part is pretty prominent here, too. They have become the country’s biggest whiners, who attribute all the problems to the government, which did not do something or did something wrong. One gets the impression that the government’s only goal is to fulfil desires of businessmen.

One should not forget the media, too. Even though it often points out real shortcomings of the government, corruption, and abuse of power, it often exaggerates things. “Investigative journalism” shows, which are flourishing on TV, do not even try to pretend they are objective.

Dmobrovskis is more communicative and therefore more effective politician than Kubilius is. If, however, he participated in elections in Lithuania, right now he would be thinking how to rally the opposition, not how to form a ruling coalition, Girnius concluded his article in Lietuvos zinios on 11 October.

Source: lithuaniatribune.com