Paulauskas asks Paksas to leave

  • 2001-06-21
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - In the first open conflict between Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, leader of the Social Liberals, and Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas, leader of the Liberal Union, Paulauskas asked Paksas to leave his post June 18. When Paksas refused, all six Social Liberal government ministers resigned.

On June 19, Paksas narrowly survived a no-confidence vote in the Parliament. While 46 MPs voted against him and 45 supported him, the motion failed since eight abstentions counted as "no" votes under parliamentary rules.

Seventy-four-year-old President Valdas Adamkus, who cut short a visit to Chicago when he heard the news, suffered an appendicitis attack in Vilnius on June 20 and was rushed to hospital. A meeting with Paulauskas and Paksas scheduled for the same day was cancelled.

The air has been thick in recent weeks with talk of bringing the large left-wing opposition Social Democrats into the government. Political analysts are busy speculating about the possibility of the creation of a new ruling coalition between the Social Liberals and the Social Democrats, thus depriving Paksas' center-right Liberals of power.

Officially, Paulauskas continues to say that he is faithful to the coalition with the Liberal Union and wants only to replace Paksas with someone else from the party. However, very few believe Paulauskas does not harbor a secret wish to change his political partners.

"It is difficult to work with Paksas, and I have asked him to resign from the post of prime minister. He does not keep his promises in his work," Paulauskas said after a meeting between leaders of the ruling coalition. He was not able to specify what Paksas' unfulfilled promises might be. After his statement, June 18 turned into a marathon of press conferences and briefings.

Paksas held a press conference in the national government building. "I don't understand the language of ultimatums. They gave me three hours to resign. By this move the Social Liberals are concealing plans to form a coalition with another partner," Paksas said.

He added that he would try to preserve his power by keeping a coalition going with still-faithful smaller partners, namely the Central Union, the Modern Christian Democratic Union and the Polish Electoral Action, and to add to this the right-wing Conservative Party, which was heavily defeated in last October's parliamentary elections.

However, observers say that Paksas is wasting his time, since all these parties, together with the Liberal Union, have only 50 seats in the 141-seat Parliament.

Meanwhile, the 28 Social Liberal MPs and 48 Social Democrat MPs could create an absolute majority in the Parliament.

On the same day, June 18, all of the Social Liberals' ministers handed their letters of resignation to Paksas: Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis, Social Welfare and Labor Minister Vilija Blinkeviciute, Health Minister Romualdas Dobrovolskis, Agriculture Minister Kestutis Kristinaitis, and Education and Culture Minister Algirdas Monkevicius.

Interior Minister Vytautas Markevicius, currently on an official visit to the Czech Republic, sent his letter of resignation by fax.

The durability of the ruling coalition has been in doubt since its formation. The partners have had clear ideological differences, many of which were outlined in their party programs, related to taxation and other issues.

However, it is considered that the privatization and restructuring of two of Lithuania's strategic companies, the natural-gas monopoly Lietuvos Dujos and power company Lietuvos Energija, drove the wedge between the partners.

In the privatization of Lietuvos Dujos, the interests of the financial supporters of the parties allegedly clashed. The Liberal Union favored bringing in foreign investors, while the Social Liberals demanded that local investors be given priority.

"We are ready to take power," Social Democrat MP Juozas Oleka said during a press conference in the Parliament.

"The main problem of both the Liberal Union and the Social Liberals is that they are very dependent on their financial supporters," said Social Democrat MP Gediminas Kirkilas during the same press conference. "We'll create a new coalition strictly on the basis of our program, not depending on deals over ministerial posts."

All Social Democrats say they want to see their leader, Algirdas Brazauskas, in the post of prime minister. Brazauskas, a former president, is the most popular politician in the country.

The next day, June 19, press-conference fever continued. The Liberal Union held one in the Parliament. They still talked about the possibility of creating a new government led by Paksas.

"Maybe part of the Social Liberals will not want to join a coalition with the Social Democrats," Liberal Union MP Gintaras Steponavicius said hopefully. However, most observers agree this is wishful thinking.