VILNIUS - As Lithuania passed the week in mid-election limbo, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas let the full weight of his political influence be felt on Oct. 18 when he said there would be no coalition between the Social Democratic coalition and the victorious Labor Party with Viktor Uspaskich as prime minister.
Though the millionaire Labor leader has the most popular party, Brazauskas is still Lithuanians' preferred PM with 35 percent of respondents in a recent poll showing support for the current government head.
"There will be no coalition if Uspaskich insists on having the PM's seat," Brazauskas told reporters this week after a meeting with President Valdas Adamkus.
The prime minister, who has led the longest standing government in Lithuania's post independence period, predicted that after the Oct. 24 runoff election for single-mandate districts, the Labor Party would have 40-42 seats in the 141-seat Parliament, the Social Democrat/Social Liberal alliance would have 35-37, the Conservatives 21 and the Liberal and Center Union 15 mandates.
This largely falls into line with experts' predictions and, assuming it is roughly accurate, would create three centers of power - none of which would have a clear majority - in the upcoming coalition bargaining and haggling process.
What's more, only two coalition alternatives discussed this week in Vilnius looked promising.
The first possible alliance - the populist Labor Party along with Working For Lithuania, the Social Democratic/Social Liberal coalition - is regarded as being the most stable, since it would keep the Laborites, political neophytes, under the supervision of Brazauskas, whose name defines stability.
The second scenario foresees a rainbow-like coalition between the Homeland Union (the Conservatives), the Liberal and Center Union and For Work For Lithuania, parties that largely span the political spectrum, while the election winner, Viktor Uspaskich, would be relegated to the opposition.
Not only would this latter scenario make pro-traditional advocates happy, but it would please Adamkus. Both the right- and left-wing have been seen as gung-ho in keeping the Russian-born Uspaskich out of power, but it often seems beyond that they find little to agree on. The left-wing coalition is persistent on preserving the PM's position exclusively for Brazauskas, while conservative leader Andrius Kubilius has been saying he would not "adopt" a social democrat philosophy without strings attached. Conservative, together with liberal-center forces, would want to see one of their own at the head of the Cabinet, and they believe that together they will get the seats to muster their bargaining position.
Curiously, negotiations on the rainbow alternative went so far as to consider a possible rotation of prime ministers, providing every political force with an opportunity to lead the government.
Kubilius believes that a rainbow government could be stable if it is backed by a strong coalition agreement. He argued that the conservatives "do not have the right" to reject a possibility with the social democratic and social liberal coalition due to the threat of a Uspaskich-led government.
Still, some political analysts maintain that the country has no need for a rainbow coalition. Despite the success of similar arrangement in Europe - e.g., the Finish rainbow, with five parties governing the country from 1995 to 2003, or Slovakia's coalition that ruled from 1998 to 2002 - most analysts remain skeptical about such a scheme working in Lithuania.
No doubt, recent Social Democratic moves have already led to complaints of disloyalty from the Conservatives. Only 24 hours after they and the Social Democrats failed agree on the prime minister's position, SocDems Gediminas Kirkilas and Juozas Bernatonis secretly met with Uspakich for lunch. This fueled rumors that the Social Democrats were ready to cut a deal with the Labor Party, with Kubilius pointing an accusative finger.
The two parties claimed that they were only "having a meal together."
Political analysts, however, found great difficulty in understanding the Social Democrats' necessity to negotiate with the Labor Party only 10 days before the runoff ballots.
"The inequality is obvious: the left-wing would have to support the representatives of the Labor Party in 32 regions, and the latter would have to support the Social Democrats and the Liberal Centrists only in eight," columnist Rimvydas Valatka asked in the Lietuvos Rytas daily. "Are the Social Democrats afraid that the right-wing forces may garner more seats in the Seimas [Lithuania's parliament] than the ruling coalition?"
During its one-year existence, the Labor Party has been promoting its image as a force in opposition to the political elite, but now that the hairsplitting coalition-building process is about to begin, party members are about to have the chance of taking part in the inner-working of Lithuanian politics.