Of the many observations made after Lithuania's parliamentary election, one is irrefutable: in the past 10 years Baltic pollsters have honed their vocation down to a science. They predicted the Labor Party would win by a hefty margin, and they were right.
The parvenu populists took nearly 29 percent of the vote, giving them 22 seats in Parliament; once the single-mandated portion of legislature (71 seats) is determined on Oct 24, this number is bound to grow significantly. Few doubt that the Labor Party, founded a year ago by Viktor Uspaskich, a businessman from Russia who made his millions selling jarred pickles, will maintain its dominant lead in number of parliamentary seats. Everyone loves a winner, and Lithuanians particularly love someone who is ignored by the political establishment.
This of course puts President Valdas Adamkus, well, in a pickle. He has not hidden his dislike of the ultra-populist approach of the Uspaskich team and even warned voters not to be tempted by fiscally irresponsible promises. The Conservatives, for their part, are livid at the Laborites' victory, while the more centrist alliance of the Social Democrats and Social Liberals, who have ruled the country for the past three years, aren't ruling out a coalition with the victors.
Is a coalition with Labor possible? Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas seems to think it is, as long as he remains head of government. To that we can only add that he should keep the Finance Minister as well, since yielding control over the country's revenues to someone from a party that promised a dramatic increase in pensions, the minimum wage and the minimal level of tax-free income is fraught with financial catastrophe.
Otherwise, the buzzword in Lithuania now is "rainbow coalition." This envisages a marriage of right-wing (Homeland Union and the Liberal and Centrist Union) and left-wing (the Social Democrat/Social Liberal coalition) forces in order to keep the Laborites out of power and in the parliamentary opposition. The three groups already have 36 seats, but they would need that many more in single-mandate districts for any rainbow to materialize.
Ideologically, it seems that the two groups could get along. The ruling coalition of Social Democrats/Social Liberals have shown themselves to be quite pro-business, and Lithuania's economic growth - the highest in Europe last year - is the best proof of this. Speaking of the rainbow potential in an interview this week, President Adamkus said, "I am convinced that there may be such unpredictable situations in Lithuania. Those who are not on speaking terms with each other today and even deny such possibilities may surprise us." The question is whether the two sides can put to rest the bitter accusations of corruption that have tarnished Lithuanian politics this year.
But the president hinted as to where his personal preference lies. "We all make mistakes in our lives. In my opinion, the current government has made some as well. However, I admit that it is an efficient government, which has done a lot to retain Lithuania's stability, and created a favorable environment for its economic life," he told the Kauno Diena daily. "If the prime minister has authorization, if he has an opportunity to get sufficient approval in the Seimas for a stable government, I would certainly decide [to appoint Brazauskas]."