VILNIUS - President Valdas Adamkus signed a decree on the establishment of a new government - Lithuania's 13th since independence - after four-hours of talks with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas on Dec. 7.
The president stood firm on doubts he expressed earlier about two candidates, and as a result the Labor Party's candidate for the Interior Ministry, Viktoras Muntianas, and the Social Democrats' for science and education, Rimantas Vaitkus, will not join the Cabinet.
Laborite Gintaras Furmanavi-cius will become interior minister and Social Democrat Juozas Antanavicius, rector of the Academy of Music, will be the next science and education minister.
The decree came after a week of intense negotiations and debate in which the role of the presidency itself was questioned. However, Adamkus, who is the country's most trusted politician, stuck to his guns and forced Brazauskas, who has been head of government since 2001, to remove the two candidates.
Having met all 13 ministerial candidates individually, Adamkus stood by his original assessment of the Cabinet and asked that the two controversial candidates be removed from the minister's list.
But many claimed Adamkus had overstepped his constitutional authority and had no right to make such demands. Social Liberal leader and Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas said in an interview with the radio station Ziniu Radijas on Dec. 2 that the president could only use "political measures" to influence a modeling of the government before receiving the final minister's list.
"He [the president] has few constitutional powers in this phase. Today the president has received the complete set of the Cabinet and his obligation is to approve the Cabinet," Paulauskas said.
Only when the head of state has the list can he approve it or explain why certain candidates are unacceptable.
The parliamentary chairman also implied that questioning coalitional agreement results, which were not easy to achieve, could harm the state and its political stability. "I believe that the president, as the rational head of state, will not take any steps that could lead to a political crisis," he added.
The Presidential Palace responded to Paulauskas, who served as interim president after Rolandas Paksas was impeached, with clear-cut disapproval. Adamkus said such an opinion was unacceptable.
"I keep a constant correlation with the chairman of the Parliament. Therefore, his choice of tactics to pressure me via radio is inappropriate. I am perfectly aware of my powers and responsibilities provided in the constitution regarding government approval," Adamkus said in response to Paulauskas' statements.
On Dec. 2 the Centre of Legal Projects and Research issued a conclusion that the president has the right - and sometimes the obligation - to reject proposed nominations for ministerial positions if their approval would violate the constitution and presidential oath.
"The president would violate his oath if he approved the ministerial candidates who, according to gathered information, do not match the constitutional requirements," the conclusion read.
"Not only is the president not required to approve a composition of government automatically, what's more is that, when deciding on the question, he must make sure not to violate the constitutional requirements for the state leaders," said Kestutis Cilinskas, chairman of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute.
Oppositional parties were quick to defend Adamkus, suggesting that the ruling coalition itself could trigger a political crisis if it failed to assess the president's concerns.
"The leaders of the ruling coalition should not engage in primitive blackmailing of the president. And the president should not yield the pressure, because, when proposing ministers with a controversial reputation to the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament), he also must take part of the responsibility," the leader of the conservative Homeland Union, Andrius Kubilius, said.
"If the prime minister himself runs around the responsibility, then why should the president take it?" Kubilius said.
The verbal battle between the ruling coalition and Adamkus, however, ended with the latter's victory. Brazauskas shared with Adamkus concerns that even if approved, Vaitkus would not be able to work smoothly, and therefore the coalition is now searching for another candidate for the position.
Muntianas, the Laborite nominee for the Interior Ministry, stated that he would no longer take the position if his candidature prevented approval of the new government. The coalition might realign its forces, he added, allowing him to be nominated as a candidate for another ministry. "Although I am not a universal minister yet, I would agree to head the Ministry of Communications," he said.
However, it was not Muntianas' competence that raised doubts in the Presidential Palace. Rather, it was his former business cooperation with Viktor Uspaskikh, the Labor Party leader. The president, analysts said, did not want to see the two men together in the government.