A historic day for Lithuania

  • 2004-05-27
Now that both presidential and Europarliament elections will be held simultaneously, June 13, 2004 is assured a place on Lithuania's historical timeline. On that day Lithuanians will elect its 13 members to the European Parliament who will represent their interests in Strasbourg and replace the impeached Rolandas Paksas.

Milda Seputyte recently met with Chairman of Central Electoral Committee Zenonas Vaigauskas (before the Constitutional Court's landmark decision on May 25), to discuss the enormous organizational challenges of the upcoming election day.This is the first time Lithuania is holding Europarliament elections. What degree of interest are citizens showing in it?
The presidential elections, which are held on the same day, are subduing voters' interest in the EU Parliament elections. For most Lithuanian voters the EU Parliament remains a conundrum. Since the institution works rather far away from us, people are not sure what the function of the Parliament is and what effect it may have on their lives.
Nevertheless, that's what the election campaign is for. I believe that the citizens will manage to choose, but most likely their votes will go to popular parties and not to candidates with particular personal qualities.

Nevertheless, the parliamentary election appears to be very popular among politicians. How intense is the competition in joining the Europarliament?
The competition is really big. I'd say one of the largest of all times. Lithuania will send 13 parliamentary members to the institution, and now there are up to 20 candidates per position! When comparing the competition to the proportions of the Seimas (Lithuanian parliament) or municipality elections, the average number is seven candidates per available position.
The last presidential election broke the all-time record: There were 17 candidates on the voting bulletin. Still, this EU parliamentary election managed to even break that record.

If Paksas would return to the presidential race, would the Central Electoral Committee consider postponing the election date to provide an equal campaign period for every candidate?
I don't think a few days would be significant and serious grounds to postpone the election date. All this matter is not the fault of the state or the voter. If Paksas were allowed to participate in the election, his supporters of course would use it as a very strong argument for Paksas. I doubt they would request additional time - usually such "comebacks" are very profitable for candidates.
Former President Valdas Adamkus still does not reject the possibility of pulling out in favor of Petras Austrevicius, the former negotiator with the EU. His initial decision to participate in the election was to get to grips with removed president. How valid is it to pull out of the race?
The possibility of removing one's candidacy is very limited. Lithuanian law prohibits pulling out in the second round. In the first round a candidate may leave the presidential race 15 days prior to the election date. After that the door is closed. The law does not allow for pulling out in favor of another candidate, because that might raise various suspicions of bribery.
I am not sure what Adamkus' decision will be; however, he has very little time left to make up his mind.
Besides, after candidates pass the entire registration procedure, which is not very easy, their name on the candidate bulletin becomes rather valuable, and hardly anyone rushes to cancel it.
The candidates have to pay a registration fee and to collect 20,000 signatures of supporting citizens. Initially we had 10 candidates for this presidential election, but four of them did not manage to overcome the challenges with signatures.

Political advertising and the records of spending raise doubts in the last presidential elections. What measures are the Central Electoral Committee taking this time?
In the last election candidates had to declare their expenses, but control was not as strict. The parties reported on their spending themselves, and it was more a matter of honor. Despite the fact that no clandestine expenses or breaches of law have been proved, this time we are more cautious. We need to be sure that politics are not restricted by certain obligations to business people.
The Central Electoral Committee has signed a contract with a sociological company that will monitor the amount of political advertising in the media. The collected data will show how many programs or articles were published during the campaign period and what were approximate costs of each candidate's political advertising. All the information will be open to society, and we hope that this additional measure will become a significant input into maintaining transparency of campaign finance.
Are joint elections expected to increase voter turnout?
I believe so. Since the elections would have been very close to each other time-wise, setting the date of presidential election on the same day as the parliamentary ones was meant to spare voters' energy. The presidential election might have a second round, therefore voters would have been forced to go to the polls three times. This is very inconvenient, and very few voters would have attended the parliamentary elections.
Moreover, we are saving up to 10 million litas. During joint elections we use the same lists and identification cards for voters, and the same people work during the election. I don't think the quality of the elections will suffer.

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