VILNIUS - Given the remarkable stability the outgoing government has bequeathed Lithuania, it came as little surprise that President Valdas Adamkus announced this week that he was throwing his support behind Algirdas Brazauskas to head the country's next government.
On Nov. 23 Adamkus asked the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) to confirm the nomination on Nov. 25.
"I hope that the coalition-proposed candidate to head the government, Algirdas Brazauskas, who has extensive political experience, will take care of the country's stability and work hard to retain the state's strategic direction," the president said, adding that his choice was based on the new ruling majority's will.
Brazauskas has been prime minister since 2001 and led the longest-serving government in Lithuania's postindependence history. Under his watch, the Lithuanian economy posted the highest growth rates in Europe.
Adamkus expressed hopes that after winning Parliament's approval, Brazauskas would form a professional and competent government of irreproachable reputation, representing the interests and enjoying the trust of the Lithuanian people.
The words were a veiled critique of the Social Democratic leader, since a couple of his choices for ministerial posts have been tarnished by allegations of impropriety.
Indeed, a lack of trust is turning out to be one of Brazauskas' trickiest challenges. After shaking hands with Labor Party leader Viktor Uspaskich on the coalition agreement last week, Brazauskas, who had previously said he would not cooperate with the populist upstart, seemed to have dug himself into a hole with many parts of the electorate.
The backlash seemed to take immediate affect. Though he ranked first in public opinion polls last month, Brazauskas finished third in November, on the same level with Uspaskich, his new coalition partner. Only half of those that cast their ballot for the Social Democrats on election night said they would do the same now. What's more, the Brazauskas-led government is also loosing support. The government's rating has decreased by 12 points - a record decline over the past few years.
Part of the blame for this is due to Uspaskich, a millionaire food producer and real estate speculator who was discredited among many Lithuanians for the exorbitant social promises his Labor Party made during the parliamentary campaign election.
In the meantime, Brazauskas continues to draw fire in the media for his plans to nominate Arunas Kundrotas as environment minister. The candidate's work in the ministry has been criticized by EU officials for failing to meet environmental project standards.
Adamkus has also expressed doubts about several proposed candidates among the ruling coalition party - the Social Democrats and Social Liberals, the Labor Party and the Union of Farmers and New Democracy Party.
This week he went so far as to address the Special Investigation Service with a request to submit information on particular individuals seeking governmental posts. In his request, Adamkus pointed out that it was of crucial importance to limit possible conflicts of interest in the executive branch.
Adamkus previously said that he intended to personally introduce each of the candidates to the Cabinet of Ministers. The president, who is eager to return of semblance of integrity to Lithuania after the lengthy impeachment and parliamentary corruption scandals this year, said he wants to make sure that the candidates hold an irreproachable character in addition to high competence.
According to unofficial information, the Presidential Palace has expressed reservations on six nominees for ministerial portfolios - Social Democrats Kundrotas, Zigmantas Balcytis, Rimantas Vaitkus and the Labor's Uspaskich, Viktoras Muntianas and Gintautas Buzinskas.
Meanwhile, on the right, criticism of the yet unformed government has been vocal. Opposition Conservatives, whose numbers in the new Parliament have doubled, warned that the Social Democrats are losing face.
"The power is regarded as a possibility to benefit or, said differently, to take advantage of ruling posts to settle your business. What is more dangerous is that the social democrats that compound the ruling coalition do not differ from the Labor Party, at least for the time being," Andrius Kubilius, leader of the conservative Homeland Union, said.
Observers have been no less harsh in their assessment of the proposed government.
"Some of those currently participating in the subdivision of Lithuania's minister portfolios can not be called professionals of politics," National Radio commentator Gintaras Aleknonis said. "It is alarming that some intend to start political careers directly from minister positions, having only briefly strolled into a party established a year ago [Labor Party]. It is dangerous when people aim at the highest governmental positions, depending only their entrepreneur's experience."