Lithuania poised for early elections over local government expenses scandal

Lithuania poised for early elections over local government expenses scandal
Prime Minister Minister Ingrida Simonyte with Polish premier Mateusz Morawiecki. / Latvian PM's Office.
By Linas Jegelevicius in Vilnius May 22, 2023

Lithuania looks poised for early elections after the leadership of the ruling Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) said it would push for the coalition government’s resignation unless snap polls were held. The next national election is not due until October 2024.  

The Baltic state’s politics have been in uproar since Andrius Tapinas, a journalist and an internet media personality, earlier this month reported that the government’s education, culture, and finance ministers received thousands of euros in expenses as members of the Kaunas City Council but failed to provide receipts.

Education, Science and Sport Minister Jurgita Siugzdiniene has handed in a resignation letter to Prime Minister Minister Ingrida Simonyte, although the premier has yet to accept it.

Simonyte – prime minister since December 2020 of a centre-right coalition of the Homeland Union, Liberal Movement and Freedom Party  – has said she was satisfied with Siugzdiniene's explanation, and trusts her.

Gabrielius Landsbergis, leader of the rightwing Homeland Union, has said that most politicians fail to meet the standards of transparency demanded by the public and that removing her alone would amount to "lynching", Reuters reported.

"The norms of proper behaviour [for expenses reporting] are set so high that they are simply unattainable ... I don't think this can be solved in any other way than a full reset of the whole system," Landsbergis told reporters.

As a member of the Kaunas City Council in 2019-2020, Siugzdiniene claimed expense reimbursements worth  €13,800. She did not, however, submit any receipts, saying this was not required by the rules.

Two more ministers, the Liberal Movement Culture Minister Simonas Kairys and the TS-LKD Finance Minister Gintarė Skaiste, have also had to answer questions about their expenses as former Kaunas Council members.

The Homeland Union presidium convened on late May 19 and decided that if the Lithuanian Parliament, the Seimas, does not approve early elections, it would consider the resignation of the entire government.

The presidium also recommends to its parliamentary group to submit as soon as possible changes to the regulation of the expenses of municipal councils, which would introduce a common standard of transparency and accountability in all Lithuanian municipalities.

Asked about the early elections initiative, Homeland Union deputy leader Radvile Morkunaite-Mikuleniene said that the party believes that it is about the public’s trust in the entire political system.

“This is for the people to assess. Whoever will have a mandate of trust after the next elections, will be able to ensure these standards. If this initiative is not approved by the Seimas, then we will consider changes in the government,” Radvile Morkunaite-Mikuleniene said.