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Eugenijus Gentvilas, Petras Auštrevičius
© DELFI / Orestas Gurevičius

On the eve of the political corruption court proceedings, the Liberal Movement's leaders are deliberating on how the party should survive the coming especially difficult period, as well as which of their colleagues would dare carry the Liberal's flag in the upcoming electoral period. However, it would appear that there is no unity in planning the party's future. The current party leader Eugenijus Gentvilas urges his young colleagues to take charge of the party, while the Liberal Movement's presidential candidate Petras Auštrevičius wants a revolution – the creation of a new party. Political scientists commenting for lrt.lt are convinced that these disagreements are becoming yet another dilemma for the Liberal Movement, the news portal writes.

Elected as party chairman at the end of last year, E. Gentvilas told lrt.lt that if not for former party leader Eligijus Masiulis being charged with potential corruption and bribe taking in relation to representatives of MG Baltic and the accelerating political corruption investigation, he would not have had to take party leadership. However, according to the liberal, after E. Masiulis withdrew from the party following the scandal and later Remigijus Šimašius resigning from the post of party chairman, having taken up leadership after the elections, he realised that work will proceed during a crisis.

E. Gentvilas' term as Liberal Movement chairperson will conclude in 2019. The politician did not conceal that he is urging the party's youth to resolutely take leadership in the party.

"Speaking of 2019, it is natural that I do not have any decisions, however I nevertheless imagine that the young individuals' decision to lead the party has to gain momentum. I am not saying that I am all elderly – I don't think so. During this difficult period we managed to rein in legal and financial issues, but following the most difficult period, I believe the youth should prepare. I do not hide it, I tell my young colleagues: "Think, in 2020 it will be necessary to take the party into the Seimas elections, it does not have to be E. Gentvilas, who does it," E. Gentvilas told lrt.lt.

The Liberal Movement head pointed out Liberal Movement Seimas group members Aušrinė Armonaitė, his own son Simonas Gentvilas, Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, Kaunas vice-mayor Simonas Kairys and Vilnius mayor, former party chairman, R. Šimašius as potential future leaders for the Liberal Movement. E. Gentvilas did not mention the name of Vitalijus Gailius, who he defeated by just one vote in the party chairman elections, however when queried about this colleague, the Liberal Movement's head stated that V. Gailius also has potential.

E. Gentvilas did not conceal he has a plan of how the Liberal Movement should act once public proceedings begin in the political corruption court case, however he was in no rush to reveal his ideas – the politician intends to present his strategy to the party in May.

After reading the accusatory statement for the political corruption case, E. Gentvilas assured he does not fear the legal proceedings because according to him, the Liberals have no other skeletons in their closet.

"I read the accusatory statement. E. Gentvilas isn't there. V. Gailius isn't there. R. Kurlianskis [former MG Baltic vice president] offered V. Gailius, but V. Gailius refused, it's even beautiful. All those I mentioned, who can take our party forward, who are still in the party, are not involved in the case. You can angrily claim that "oh, you Liberals, your former leaders did something," but I believe that the nation will make its choice.

I reviewed the party's ratings since May 2016 – as it was 4-5.5%, so it still is. During that period suspicions have been cast on individuals and the party, R. Šimašius resigned from party leadership and there were new leadership elections, but we maintained, retained party's electorate. We hold hope that we will not make mistakes and that regaining voters and increasing their number is a matter of our abilities. Political analysis shows that there is nothing new on the right, it is the Conservatives and us, so it would appear that we will share with them. Meanwhile, a massive swamp is forming on the left," E. Gentvilas expressed his optimism.

P. Auštrevičius stands by his idea

When asked if he is unafraid that calls to form a new party will rise in the Liberals' ranks once more, E. Gentvilas emphasised that P. Auštrevičius, who presented such an idea is now the party's presidential candidate in the 2019 elections and realised himself that the idea of creating a new political power was not correct.

Nevertheless, on contacting P. Auštrevičius, lrt.lt found that the MEP has not shelved the idea of creating a new liberal party.

"I believe that it is never late for good ideas, we can start work and get it done. I accepted the opinion that the party council saw a different path to resolve what was being done earlier, but what the future will bring, I do not know. I stand by the idea that such an alternative is possible and even necessary in the future and the future will show, how things will develop, what legal processes will happen, conclusions and agreements. As such, it is premature to claim that I withdraw the proposal I made," P. Auštrevičius explained.

The MEP stated currently he does not see an ending for the political corruption case, where suspicions have been cast on the entire Liberal Movement, thus, according to him, it is better to not delay.

"If the party lingers and gets hooked by the legal proceedings, we will be unable to adequately perform political activities. This worsens our chances, thus creating a new mission for the liberals through political novelties – that's my proposal. It has nothing in common with trying to shake responsibility legally. In a political sense we cannot be linked with legal proceedings, sit and wait to see how it ends," P. Auštrevičius argued for his idea.

When asked of his views about E. Gentvilas' attempts to renew the party, the Liberal veteran stressed that his colleague was handed the fate of a crisis time chairman and with it – a massive burden of responsibility. That said, P. Auštrevičius did not conceal his scepticism of E. Gentvilas' position that the Liberal Movement's leadership should be taken by the young generation in the future.

"To me, a leader, future or present, is not so much associated with age groups. Some political parties in Lithuania got burned when they chose only this criterion when electing their leaders," P. Auštrevičius commented.

He also stated that he is currently not deliberating on the possibility of running for the post of party chairman in 2019 because for the time being he intends to focus on the presidential elections.

Shocked

Liberal Movement deputy chairperson A. Armonaitė, who is often called a rising Liberal star, told lrt.lt that political postings are not the most important matter to her. Nevertheless, when asked about her ambitions, she did not deny she might seek the post of chairperson.

"Someone has to take responsibility for leading the political community onward and I do not shun the opportunity that sooner or later I will resolve to take this responsibility," A. Armonaitė spoke.

When asked about what path the Liberals should take in the future, keeping in mind the accelerating legal proceedings linked to the party, the liberal accented that there is certainly no need to create a new political power, thus according to A. Armonaitė, P. Auštrevičius' statements shocked her.

"I am almost left speechless after hearing P. Auštrevičius' idea, that he does not relinquish it when the party's members nominated him as the Liberal Movement's presidential candidate," the MP did not hide her surprise.

A. Armonaitė was supported by Liberal Movement vice chairperson V. Gailius, who almost took the party's top post. According to him, the creation of a new political organisation would not aid the liberals in regaining the voter's trust.

"I believe that a better path is to prove that the current Liberal Movement party is in no way linked with the irresponsible mistakes made by a few people. And I believe it needs to be proved in court," V. Gailius told lrt.lt.

V. Gailius stated that the question of whether he would want to become the next party chairman and lead the Liberals into the next elections is premature.

"Many young, energetic leaders are rising. I believe that there is no problem of leadership in the Liberal Movement," he mentioned.

Weakening E. Gentvilas

Vytautas Magnus University (VDU) professor, political scientist Šarūnas Liekis stated that the Liberal Movement, faced with the corruption scandal, needs reformation not just in the party itself, but also in its leadership. According to him, the fragile victory of E. Gentvilas over V. Gailius in the party chairman elections shows that the authority of the current liberal leader is threatened.

"Often in Lithuania we are faced with office granting a certain credit of trust, respect. But this all has to be earned and around here we often mix office and the individual's actual leadership abilities. In this respect, it is clear that this leadership [E. Gentvilas'] will be questioned in the party in the near future when an opportunity presents itself. This is especially so considering that E. Gentvilas won the chairman elections by a narrow margin. <...>

His visibility, of course, is not rising, but declining, he is ever less identified as a politician overall in the public sphere. It is hard to say, whether those, who will challenge him will appear," Š. Liekis mused.

The political scientist emphasised that V. Gailius, despite nearly succeeding to take the post of chairman, may not be the most realistic candidate to become the liberals' future leader because according to Liekis, the former Financial Crime Investigation Service head's experience may be viewed ambiguously by both the liberals and the public. Meanwhile, the ambitions of P. Auštrevičius of building a new party are, according to the expert, tied down because he is the liberal candidate for president.

Š. Liekis also noted that the aforementioned politicians' conflicts, declining role of the Liberals in the public sphere has opened the path for the Conservatives to take initiative.

"A fundamental problem for the liberals is that part of the Conservative party's leaders have taken a liberal or neoliberal stance. In other terms, in a market sense, if you want to hear liberal discussions of certain questions, it suffices to listen to the Conservatives, there isn't even need for the Liberals," Š. Liekis cautioned.

V. Gailius has potential, but not intent?

According to Mykolas Romeris University lecturer, political scientist Rima Urbonaitė, it would appear that the Liberals need a new flag bearer despite E. Gentvilas taking the lead in the crisis period.

"V. Gailius has decent chances to be the leader because he is a representative of the Seimas Anti-Corruption Commission. There could be more proactive behaviour from him, but in essence, I don't see it. It is particularly odd to me. Sometimes I see more of hiding one's head in the sand, not proactive efforts to make use of even one's positions in Seimas in order to help the Liberals at the same time," the political scientist shared her insight.

According to her, P. Auštrevičius and other party leaders' disagreements should not be overstated because the MEP should not shine in the near future and his goal in the presidential elections will be to simply display the Liberal Movement's survival.

"Can P. Auštrevičius become a new star in the party? I honestly doubt it because there's no novelty factor, which usually grants an impulse for at least a while. P. Auštrevičius has been in the European Parliament arena and platform for a long time and for the public, which does not take interest in political news, he has been left in the shadow somewhere. I am unsure whether he could be the breakthrough element, who could demonstrate leadership," R. Urbonaitė explained.

"When talking about E. Gentvilas' mentions of the young Liberal generation, the political scientist highlighted A. Armonaitė as one of the more notable individuals in the current Seimas.

"But I believe that there is some hesitation even from her. There are proactive actions, which is good, but it is hard to tell whether she is prepared to become the party's leader. Perhaps there is significant support in the party. I do not have any research regarding A. Armonaitė, but my gut feeling tells me that she does not yet have a strong authority and political capital in the public and the question arises whether she could accumulate that capital," R. Urbonaitė stated.