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Saulius Skvernelis, Dalia Grybauskaitė
© DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis and President Dalia Grybauskaitė have come to blows. Their confrontation is already being described by analysts as a war, where no one can predict the victor. This could be a clash over not only the head of Minister of Agriculture Bronius Markauskas, but also preparation for the presidential elections looming next year.

Tensions are rising between D. Grybauskaitė and S. Skvernelis. The prime minister announced on Tuesday that Minister of Agriculture B. Markauskas would remain in his post. On Wednesday D. Grybauskaitė declared that the prime minister has revealed himself to be dependent, incapable of making independent decisions and unprincipled due to him covering for B. Markauskas.

A sharp retort from the prime minister followed. He declared that he would yield to neither the president, nor anyone else's pressure in deciding the fate of the minister of agriculture.

In response to the president's criticism that he is dependent and unprincipled, S. Skvernelis stated that it is unacceptable when the president's advisors call up ministers and "demand their resignation." According to him, it is unacceptable to him when decisions are made "unilaterally, without consideration and reflection."

The last war of the term?

"Well then – the last great war of the term. The president against the prime minister. Not only ambitions, principles and influence are at stake, but also a position in the 2019 Daukantas Palace," journalist Andrius Tapinas summarised the situation.

Political scientist Kęstutis Girnius believes that the struggle is both regarding B. Markauskas and S. Daukantas Square [the location of the Presidential Palace].

"First of all we must recall that S. Skvernelis is the first prime minister, who dares to consistently oppose the president. This is not the first time and it will not be the last. Earlier the president would scold and disparage prime minister and they would silently accept it. S. Skvernelis refused to do so from the very start.

Another factor – it would appear that in this case the president did not consult the prime minister, in other terms decided that B. Markauskas should be fired without consulting the prime minister. This could also be a breach of indirect protocol – after all the prime minister is the chairman of the cabinet, we are talking about a minister's future, at least some discussion is warranted," Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science (VU TSPMI) lecturer K. Girnius told Delfi.

According to him, the impression is made that there was no discussion between the president and the prime minister and this could have raised S. Skvernelis' ire, intent to react. According to the political scientist, the president is not the sole ruler – she needs a little collegiality.

According to K. Girnius, it will be seen in the longer term that B. Markauskas must resign.

"I believe that S. Skvernelis wants to emphasise there that it is not up to the president to decide here and that we can wait for a week or two, the world won't end, until the final results come out.

It could be that S. Skvernelis is considering becoming president, but I believe that this is far more. There were disagreements from the get go, I believe he had enough of the president's authoritarian style and that she does not consult the prime minister even when the question touches upon the composition of the ministerial cabinet," K. Girnius spoke.

Should not resign

K. Girnius would not hazard a guess, who could win in this situation.

In his opinion, if S. Skvernelis chose to run for president, his current stance would become an advantage. S. Skvernelis could then argue that he is unprepared to back down, has his own position and will not permit others to influence him if they lack arguments and serious reasons.

Or perhaps S. Skvernelis would benefit from raising tensions and then resigning?

"I would think definitely not, it would be truly foolish because then people would think he lacks endurance – comes to blows and then picks up his toys like a little child and withdraws. I believe this would be a tragic mistake and I would be greatly surprised if he backed down like that; it would be a complete victory for the president. It would be a complete miscalculation," K. Girnius dismissed the version that S. Skvernelis could benefit from resigning if he were seeking the post of president.

The expert believes that if he chose to run for head of state, S. Skvernelis could wait and resign with 3-4 months left to the elections. The political scientist believes that this would strengthen his positions, seeing the growth of the Lithuanian economy, which is exactly what is being forecast.

Where does S. Skvernelis get such courage?

"Firstly I think he is quick tempered, if journalists contact him while he is angry, he will respond as such. I do not believe that he is able to overcome that. On the other hand I believe that he is discontent with the system where people present complaints without consulting, as did Graužinienė and the president – without consulting, communicating through the media, not directly with him," K. Girnius stated.

During his time as minister of the interior, S. Skvernelis became embroiled in a conflict with the then Seimas Speaker Loreta Graužinienė. After L. Graužinienė's criticism over apparently an unsuitable attitude to an operation that happened in Vilnius, during which an individual, who stole an officer's firearm was pursued, S. Skvernelis stated that the head of parliament obstructed his work. State leaders and politicians viewed it as poor political manners and some urged S. Skvernelis to apologise to the Seimas speaker.

Allies also urging to resign

Meanwhile Justas Džiugelis of the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union says that the tensions between the president and the prime minister do not benefit the state and B. Markauskas should act manly.

"Unfortunately the situation regarding the minister of agriculture has extended and raises tensions between the president and the prime minister and this is not beneficial to the state.

I agree with those stating that not only legal, but also political accountability applies to the minister. The professional's cabinet minister should not seek to excuse himself through a lack of political experience.

The minister's actions cast a shadow on the entire cabinet, ruling coalition and LVŽS group. Bronius Markauskas, be a man, take personal responsibility and resign without waiting for interpellation because it will not solely be the opposition that supports it," J. Džiugelis wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.