• 2004-09-02
There's a month-and-a-half remaining before Lithuania's parliamentary elections, and the situation is looking increasingly grim. The parvenu Labor Party continues to lead in the polls, and indeed, is even consolidating its support - last measured at about one-third of the voting-age population. This makes it far and away the dominant political force, and with each day hope for a drastic change in the situation fades. Lithuania is on the verge of a new round of political upheaval.

Founded by Viktor Uspaskich, a millionaire ethnic Russian who made his fortune on pickles and real estate and whose Lithuanian proficiency is lacking, the Labor Party is unique in that it refuses to adopt a specific ideology (socialist, liberal, social-liberal, etc.) and seems to exist only to engage the people. In other words, Uspaskich's Labor Party is pure populism, and anyone who questions this should accompany party functionaries on their tour through the Lithuanian boondocks.
The Labor Party's approach to its inaugural campaign has been simple and straightforward - promise, promise, promise. It is a language that rings well in destitute provinces, where post-Soviet life is equated with joblessness, spiraling communal costs and a loss of hope. Uspaskich's team has proven to be quite robust in dishing out lofty pledges, forsaking no one. Young families will receive interest-free home loans, workers and pensioners a fat raise, and everyone will receive subsidized heating costs.
Rational politicians are abhorred by this spectacle, but considering that all is fair in love, war and politics, there is not much legal recourse. The only viable defense opposing parties can organize is to visit the same towns and villages after a Labor Party whistle-stop and prove to voters that what they just heard is not only ridiculous but fiscally dangerous.
Comparatively speaking, the upcoming Lithuanian election will be an anomaly for the Baltic states. In Estonia and Latvia, the latest parliamentary elections also gave rise to new political parties, but Res Publica and New Era were designed to entice younger and middle-aged voters wanting to clean up corruption and make the state apparatus more "user-friendly." Sadly, in post-Paksas, post-Borisov, post-MP bribery Lithuania, no such party has emerged. Instead, one with a ton of cash and a mouthful of empty-promises has. Call it the post-impeachment syndrome - people just want to believe.
The Laborites could, of course, suffer the fate of Estonia's Centrists: after a first-place finish in the polls, they will be kept out of coalition negotiations and left to sit on the opposition sidelines. (Likewise, the Laborites could become a crucial player in municipal administrations, as the Centrists currently are.) This is what many sober, level-headed politicians will attempt to do, though recently there is a fear that the Labor Party will simply be too strong to ignore, and for this reason many smaller factions might gravitate toward it.
Put it all together, and one thing is certain: President Valdas Adamkus' leadership abilities are about to be tested as they never have before.