Deposed President Paksas again sets sights on high office

  • 2013-12-19
  • Interview by Linas Jegelevicius

Driven out from Lithuania’s Presidential Office in 2004, Rolandas Paksas, now MEP, has devoted his life to clearing his tarnished name, and to having the right to run for election reinstated. After the Strasbourg Court’s binding ruling that Lithuania had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by barring - for life - Paksas from any state office where the state oath is required, the impeached former president’s hopes of having his rights restored seemed close to realization. But with two parliamentary votes to put the constitutional hurdles behind him complete, crucial voting has stalled in Parliament. Paksas met with The Baltic Times to promote his position. To remind our readers, Paksas was impeached and removed from office as president in 2004 after Lithuania’s Constitutional Court found that he had abused his position.

How many years have you been in active politics?
I believe about 16 years, quite some time already.

Have you ever thought it is enough and you need a change?
I’m always thinking something, and I’ve had that kind of thought, too.

Where would you see yourself out of politics?
(Grins) In the skies, for example. Don’t forget I am a pilot by profession. I’ve spent quite some time in the air. And sometimes I’m missing the feeling. I could be, for example, a pilot of a passenger plane. Imagine yourself being flown by me!

It would be a terrific feeling, I guess. It’s surely nice to hear you cracking jokes, as, for many, you look just too serious in public life. One will hardly see you as a pilot in the near future - you’ve clearly stated you will seek a euro parliamentarian’s seat again and set your eyes on the presidential primary if the Lithuanian Parliament passes the Constitutional amendment, giving you the green light to run.
Yes, indeed, these are my intentions, and I am very serious about them. Do you wonder why I’m trying to wade into the same waters again? The answer is simple: I’m chairman of a major parliamentary party, Order and Justice. We have very old and strong positions in political life, so no one would understand me if I didn’t run for the Lithuanian President’s office. If the Parliament has enough time to pass the necessary constitutional amendments allowing me run in 2014, I’m pretty sure it will have done that by 2019. I am a Samogitian, and toughness of character is Samogitians’ signature trait. I have no doubts that the decision will have to be passed sooner or later. For me and many out there, Lithuania doesn’t look very nice dragging into an indefinite future.

Can you remind everyone of the results from vote the Lithuanian Parliament has already held in your bid?
There were two votes necessary to [be] passed, [before] the final constitutional vote on the matter. I’ve passed them both, garnering slightly over a hundred votes in the first ballot and a bit over 90 votes in the second [Lithuania’s Parliament consists of 141 seats, and three-fifths of the MPs’ votes are required to make constitutional amendments]. So the will [to pass them] seems to be there. Now the Parliament should hold the crucial vote, but it is being postponed, which makes me think: are we really a democratic and mature state that is bound to the Strasbourg Court ruling, or perhaps not?

Do you really believe you can win the presidential election with the shadow of a nearly 10 year presidential impeachment still dwarfing you?
Well, I admit, it will be really hard to do. But for me the bottom line is not about winning or losing it. For me, it’s about the hindrances rolled [against] me on the road to the primary. I really find it mind-blowing that many of our politicians would ever want to bar someone from running in an election. Furthermore, for forever, like in my case! Pure nonsense!

No need to tell you, most of the time crucial decisions are made without even thinking of democracy or even court rulings. Perhaps in your case, it all boils down to what you could offer the parties for their votes securing your slot in the presidential primary next year?
It’s really a good question. I could suggest to them to jointly work for the interests of the state. Trust me, today we don’t have many people out there who really know the nitty-gritty of state affairs, how they stand. I sometimes see there is no understanding that we all are in a small boat that is being swayed over the waves and that needs to be put back on tack.

You have to admit there are hardly any new ideas you can come up with that could bring together all the parties to give you the green light if they don’t want to do that for some reason.
I see it differently. Trust me, 10 years ago, many believed I would be crushed and never be able to stand on my feet again. But as you see, I’ve overcome all that slander, all those ill efforts to break me down as a person. And even more, with the Strasbourg Court ruling, I’ve advanced quite significantly in the legal battle in reinstating my constitutional rights to run for office in Lithuania. Taking into account that all this has been done for one man, it’s really a lot!

Still, do you really believe you’d be able to pacify and unite the country if again elected president of Lithuania, instead of possibly antagonizing it because of the controversies surrounding you? Wouldn’t it be better to encourage young people from your party to seek the nomination?
I really do not think that I’d be antagonizing anyone by running for president. Frankly, I don’t understand what you’re implying. Also, I am not deterring any young people from running for any office. In fact, I’m encouraging everyone, and especially young people, to participate in politics. Perhaps you know that there are over 17,000 members in the Order and Justice Party, so it shows the people trust the party and see their future in it. Second, I’ve always thought that no one can stop in the middle of the road, whatever one does. Especially if that person has experienced some injustice, social or judicial, in his life. Statistically, every second Lithuanian family experiences some kind of injustice in their life, by the way. Do you really like living in such a country where you or your family can be left beyond the law? Where immigration and suicide rates are one of the highest in the European Union? Where allowances and pensions are among the smallest on the continent?

Well, with your party in the ruling coalition you can obviously tackle the issues.
Certainly. But we’ll do that when we have at least 50 seats in Parliament, not those 10, like now. I just want to reiterate; I have garnered a truly unique experience in dealing with the public, political and social processes. So this is my answer to why I want again to seek the presidential office.

To exhaust the topic, the Conservatives have hinted they may vote in favor of the constitutional amendments if you make a public apology for the misdeeds you allegedly committed in the presidential palace back in 2003-2004. Would you consider doing that for their votes?
Personally, I have never heard of that. When I have something that you’re referring to on my worktable, I’ll start thinking what to do. Not now. Generally speaking, I am convinced that only strong people are able to make high-profile public apologies. And I deem myself a strong person. I’m not saying I didn’t make any mistakes while president, but I wish all people out there could honestly tell themselves they haven’t done any [mistakes] in their lives.

Can you think of a mistake you regret now?
Don’t expect me now to go into the details. First I have to see what others consider having been my supposed mistakes.

Are you satisfied with the work of the ruling coalition that also includes your party ministers?
Pretty much so. I’d give 7 out of 10 for its performance. As I like to say, the coalition’s work is not as bad as the opposition had expected, but it is not as good as the Lithuanian people expect it to be.

Why can’t it perform better?
Because it is dealing with what I call certain underwater mines - especially in the field of energy and social well-being.

What ought the government to do first?
To restore social justice. It’s not fair when the Constitutional Court has reinstated some social justice for some categories of white-collar workers, but has closed its eyes on others. I’ve always kept repeating: if the crisis ended for some, it is supposed to come to an end for others, too. In fact, I’ve set out how to do that without hiking up the budget deficit. It has not yet found understanding on the legislative floor, but I believe it’s a matter of time when the proposal will be turned into a certain piece of legislation.

Which of the three Order and Justice Party ministers in the government do you believe has the strongest positions?
All of them, more or less, do so, I believe. Perhaps Valentinas Mazuronis [environment minister], with the renovation of apartment houses started, has been off to the most recognizable and visible start. He told me that this year alone as many apartment houses have been renovated as during all the years since the restoration of our independence. Quite impressive, isn’t it? The Environment Ministry has especially seriously taken on the changes to the territorial planning documents, which will considerably simplify the planning procedures. The ministry’s waged war against poachers [fines have soared ten-fold in some cases of poaching] has also been noticed and favorably accepted by the public. For the interior minister, Dailis Alfonsas Barakauskas, a very serious field of work was entrusted, and with some ups and downs in the past he’s smoothing it out.

The environment minister is often portrayed as your key rival within the party. Do you admit the rivalry?
He is as much of a rival to me as anyone of the other 17,000 party members. When the party votes in an electoral congress that it needs a new leader, I’ll be the first to shake the person’s hand. And sure, will help him as much as he will seek my guidance.

But you cannot deny the obvious friction between Mazuronis and you.
And how is it “obvious” for you and others, may I ask? (Pause) I want to tell you this: when the party cannot be split externally, then there are always attempts to ruin it from inside. This is exactly what I see some people doing with our party. In fact, I’ve been seeing that not only in recent years, but for a whole lot longer. Over a decade by now. I want to assure you, both of us have excellent relations, and I want to wish good luck to all those who want to try to splinter us.

Is it normal for the minister and you, the party chairman, to have completely different views on the issue of shale gas in Lithuania?
It is, as we are strong personalities and politicians able to defend our different takes on the issue… In fact, the issue has been very divisive, and our party’s Political Council was not an exception. Hence, we decided to let the prime minister take the lead on the issue. I’m glad his stance is supported by the environment minister. But I want to reiterate: I am against shale gas exploration and extraction in the country, as well as I am against the introduction of the euro. But that does not mean I do not support the government on the whole. Remember: we live in a democratic society, so the differences in views should not surprise anyone.

Do you regret not having coalesced with the Labor Party?
No, not at all. Why would I? But altogether I’m in favor of the Lithuanian political parties’ augmentation.
I believe it is a thing of the future.

How many seats do you expect to win in the upcoming European Parliament elections?
I believe winning 3 EP mandates would be a good result. We have 2 MEPs in Brussels now. The final list of the EP election candidates will be approved at the Party Congress scheduled in Kretinga in February.