VILNIUS - Few would doubt that the coalition-formation process in parliamentary democracies is more thrilling and tantalizing than the perfunctory process of vote counting. Lithuania is living proof of this, as the three main factions to come out on top of the parliamentary elections have little in common and, in the few days following the Oct. 24 poll, have shown even less inclination to compromise.
On the left is the tight ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Social Liberals - dubbed For Work For Lithuania - with 31 seats, on the right is the fairly strong alliance of the Conservatives (the Homeland Union) and the Liberal Centrists, with 43 seats, while somewhere in between are the upstart Laborites and their megamillionaire founder Viktor Uspaskich with 39 seats.
Somehow a combination of these factions - which could theoretically include the few independents elected as well as MPs poached from other parties - need to cull together 71 seats to form a majority Parliament that will support the next Cabinet of Ministers. Most of the speculation has focused on a rainbow coalition that would span the ruling left-wing alliance with the suddenly ultrapopular right-wing one.
This scenario is particularly appealing to President Valdas Adamkus, who is keen to prevent the Laborites from taking ministerial posts.
"The partners are rather equal and not built artificially," he told journalists on Oct. 25. "They have the mandate given by society - that is, the voters." He added that the new rainbow coalition would not repeat the mistakes of the New Policy Coalition in 2000 when the Liberals, Social Liberals, Modern Christian Democrats and ethnic Poles split up after six months in power.
Political scientists, however, were skeptical about the marriage. "A sacrifice of ideological differences in an effort to take power may compromise the traditional parties and open the door to new political forces in the future," Mindaugas Jurkynas, lecturer at the International Relations and Political Science Institute of Vilnius University, told the Baltic News Service.
In his opinion, a center-left coalition based on ideological similarities would be the most stable. Such a coalition, in Jurkynas' opinion, would include the Labor Party, the Social Democrats, the Social Liberals and the Union of Farmers and New Democracy parties.
For his part, the president didn't rule out this possibility. "If they [center-left forces] are truly determined and can see themselves working together in the coalition, I cannot reject their choice," he said.
Indeed, as much as Algirdas Brazauskas, Social Democratic leader and prime minister, is loathe to form a government with the populist Laborites, he may have no choice if he fails to find common ground with the right-wing alliance.
The left-of-center coalition - For Work For Lithuania - immediately launched negotiations this week with the right-wing alliance, while at the same time conducting indiscreet talks with the Labor Party. This two-timing approach has irked many Conservatives, who feel they should be courted more rigorously.
No matter what the make-up, Brazauskas intends to play hard-ball. On Oct. 26 he demanded that the prime minister's seat and seven ministerial portfolios remain in the hands of the current ruling coalition (SocDems/SocLibs) as a precondition to any political negotiations. "If such a majority is acceptable, we can hold further conversations," Brazauskas told journalists after a meeting of the Social Democratic Party's presidium.
Later he told national radio, "I believe the ministers in ministries that are closely related with Brussels - finance, transport and environment - should stay on. Enormous money from EU funds come to all of these ministries." He added that the Economy and Agriculture ministries were also vital.
In the meantime, Conservative leaders said that they should have the right to form the next government, given that their alliance with the Liberal Centrists won the most seats. "The right wing unit should have the right to form the government," Homeland Union leader Andrius Kubilius said on Oct. 25. (See interview on Page 18.)
For their part, the Laborites did not sit idle and moved to consolidate their bargaining position. Labor leader Uspaskich signed a cooperation agreement with the Union of Farmers and New Democracy parties, led by former presidential contender Kazimira Prunskiene, in what they called a "wide-spectrum center-left bloc." This coalition now controls 49 seats.
Uspaskich told journalists on Oct. 25 that Brazauskas could remain prime minister if the Social Democrats were to join the center-left bloc.
Uspaskich added that he invited the Liberal Centrists to join as a way of assuring as a wide as possible political spectrum of the bloc. It wouldn't be the strangest match: The five Labor Party members elected to the European Parliament in June are members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, a strong centrist formation in the EU legislature.