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Aušrinė Armonaitė
© DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

The crisis-struck Liberal Movement will elect a new leader and party management in an extraordinary party congress in early December. Political couloirs identify MP Aušrinė Armonaitė as a potential new party leader.

Deputy chairman for the Liberal Movement (LS) and deputy prefect for the Liberal Movement Seimas group, A. Armonaitė stresses in an exclusive interview with Lietuvos Žinios that the Liberals today most need to maintain their political content and explains why the LS does not intend to support the state budget project prepared by the ruling coalition. "It is very important that the difficulties our party faces do not overwhelm our political work – the decisions people trust us for," MP Aušrinė Armonaitė stated.

Women's rights forgotten in Seimas

The member of Seimas emphasised that the party is working to accomplish its programme, including softening punishments for possession and distribution of light narcotics and setting a Sodra payment cap. She laments that while the party presented its agenda in Seimas on Thursday and presented a number of projects, including one related to artificial insemination which was prepared while consulting both patients and medical personnel, the ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union did not allow the party's representative Viktorija Čmilytė to take stage.

"It is very saddening and frightening, what Povilas Urbšys (and after all he is a representative of the ruling party and key ruling coalition figure!): supposedly it would be better if a pregnant woman didn't present such a project.

We are on the verge of the centenary of the recreation of our statehood. Back then our forefathers, the creators of that state, had no doubts that women should have the right to vote and run for office. Lithuania was one of the first countries in the world to establish universal suffrage. Women participated in politics from the very first Seimas and we surpassed most Western states in this regard. Thus now, in late 2017, such words by a ruling party representative are terrible, much worse than sexism," A. Armonaitė stated.

Liberals not to face the fate of the Social Democrats

With the party congress nearing, the politician emphasises that what the party needs first and foremost is to unite and come to terms, the newly elected leader has to be a uniting figure following the string of resignations.

A. Armonaitė stresses that the difficulties the capital's Mayor Remigijus Šimašius, the former party chairman, faces are part of a new political genre, with mayors being directly elected for the first time and other political powers in the municipalities having no interest in the mayor succeeding. "This is a new political genre. In some other municipalities the situation is even more complicated than in Vilnius. However at a state level we do not see this. The Vilnius council is under a magnifying glass, we watch goings on in it with far more attention," she stated, adding that despite the clashing identities with their new Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance, they will find political compromise on everyday tasks, while regarding key questions, the mayor will remain firm regarding the liberal agenda.

In terms of comparison with the Lithuanian Social Democrat Party, which recently parted ways with a number of its veteran members, A. Armonaitė denies the likelihood of a similar split, noting no such signs are evident in the LS, with the party council frequently meeting and everyone in them feeling a desire for unity. "I do not predict facture neither in the party, nor the Seimas group. There are people who have been with the LS for 20 years now and it is difficult to even imagine it could be otherwise," she said.

Electoral campaign not yet started

"The candidacies will be proposed by party branches. I have not been nominated yet, but if the nomination appears, I will consider it. I honestly say that I have not answered the question for myself so far. After all we also did not plan a congress and party chairman elections in December. These are unexpectedly rapid processes," A. Armonaitė stated when asked if she will run for the post of chairperson.

She points out that she wishes to dedicate more attention to work in Seimas and while she has been a prominent liberal politician in it, which promotes talks of her as a potential candidate, A. Armonaitė explains that campaigning would require far more than just prominence and media appearances, instead requiring travel around Lithuania and campaigning. Overall the politician emphasises that the party may perhaps simply focus on one candidate, who would best serve in representing the LS, rather than splitting between different candidates.

Diplomats must talk before the cannons firing

A. Armonaitė states that she sees no way of supporting the budget project for next year, such as it is currently, if the Liberal Movement's proposals are not considered, which includes a project on a cap on Sodra payments.

Overall the politician notes that the budget project puts too much tax strain on the middle class, doctors and parents, while other groups, such as farmers contributing too little, with agriculture being third or fourth in state assignations. While she finds increases in defence spending to be a good step, A. Armonaitė points to inadequate funding being dedicated for the diplomatic service.

"I believe that national defence and diplomacy must walk together because diplomats' wisdom and competence is needed before the cannons start firing.

When planning the budget for three years, preliminary numbers are modelled, but I do not see ambition here to invest into the competences, invest into such spheres that Lithuania would become more significant on the international arena," she stated.

The politician was not convinced by the prime minister and finance minister's pledges that next year will be intended to reduce poverty and segregation, while next the middle class will be cared for. She finds that it is currently very popular to discuss poverty, but there is little effort to understand why people become impoverished and the current programmes to reduce poverty are exceedingly primitive, with funding simply being handed out for whatever reason. Instead she believes it may be better to strengthen the middle class and ensure that increasingly many people reach such a level of welfare.

"We were told that the majority perhaps would expect our support for the budget. We care about state matters, thus we support meaningful decisions. There have also been paradoxical situations. For example the minister presented Seimas education reform, which was opposed by the party that delegated her, while we supported it.

Another thing is an atmosphere of cooperation, it is currently poisoned. In the Seimas we are faced with the ruling party's arrogance, particularly toward the Liberals. I understand that our and their views radically differ, however I believe that we should act like colleagues, not witch hunters," A. Armonaitė concluded.