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Coalition, program approved after drawn-out battle

  • 2004-12-15
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - The Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) has approved the new Algirdas Brazauskas-led Cabinet and its program, which aims to keep nuclear-energy production in Lithuania and set up the direct election of city mayors.
The Dec. 14 confirmation comes at the end of a long, difficult series of negotiations in forming both the coalition and Cabinet of Ministers, which culminated in a standoff between the two sides of the executive branch - the Presidential Palace and the government - and the replacement of two ministerial candidates.

Controversially, the program states that the country will aim to remain a nuclear state, a provision that Prime Minister Brazauskas is keen to realize. The program also calls for amending municipal elections so that mayors would be directly elected by local voters and for raising the average monthly wage to 1,800 litas (530 euros) from the present average of 1,140 litas.

Crucially, the program does not mention many of the extravagant promises that the Labor Party, a coalition member, made during the election campaign, such as raising minimum tax-free income to 490 litas and the minimum wage to 600 litas in only 11 days. The new government, by contrast, promised to achieve its goals in two years. Another Labor has promise - reducing heating expenses for all by 20 percent - was left out of the program.

As expected, the opposition Homeland Union and the Liberal and Center Union voted against the coalitional government - the Social Democrats/Social Liberals, the Labor Party and the Farmers and New Democracy Union - and strongly criticized its program. They said the document was unclear and failed to list concrete objectives, especially in the spheres of tax administration and economy.

"It is still unclear whether the government will seek to see Lithuania as a member of the eurozone until 2008 or not. It is unclear if Lithuanian will seek to become a member of the Schengen zone during the period," Andrius Kubilius, the leader of the Conservatives, said.

"The first impression is that the program was prepared hastily. This is a compilation of nice wishes - a good life for everybody and tomorrow, but when one promises this, it means that only a handful of in-crowd would enjoy the good life," Algis Caplikas, chairman of the liberal center faction, said.

Brazauskas dismissed the criticism, saying it was typical of the opposition. "How could the opposition say it was a good program?" he asked. "Have you ever anywhere heard that? I haven't."

The prime minister said it hadn't been for the four parties to draft a detailed document, and this could be regarded as an achievement.

Indeed, the entire government and program-formation was grueling - one of the slowest and most controversial in the country's post-independence history, analysts said. Two ministerial candidates - Rimantas Vaitkus (Social Democrat) for the Education and Science Ministry and Viktoras Muntianas (Labor Party) for the Interior Ministry - had to be stricken from the list in favor of individuals less prone to a conflict of interest.

Facts in the career of Gintaras Furmanavicius, the newly assigned minister of interior, were also cause for concern. He was questioned due to his ties with the EBSW concern, which is being prosecuted for squandering tens of millions litas. Conservative MP Jurgis Razma was quoted as saying that Furmanavicius, who headed a subsidiary at EBSW, had been part of the concern's policy-making team. However, the special services did not disclose any suspicious activity on the party of Furmanavicius.

Another nominee for the Education and Science Ministry, Juozas Antanavicius, who had been approved as a minister on Dec. 7, suddenly withdrew last week. The next day it was reported that the president's office received a report from the Special Investigation Service that Antanavicius might have collaborated with the KGB.

Eventually President Valdas Adamkus approved Remigijus Motuzas, former State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as minister of education and science and signed a decree approving the government on Dec. 7.

But the damage both within the coalition and in the public has been done. Labor leader Viktor Uspaskikh acknowledged this week that he did not believe the government was stable. He said it would probably not survive until the end of the term in 2008.

"Dangers to the coalition could increase with the inception of municipal elections in two years. I am probably the first one from the coalitional partners saying this," said Uspaskikh, who decided to forego presentation of the governmental program in the Seimas and participate in the congress of the European Democracy Party in Brussels instead.

One insider said that Uspaskikh disregarded many issues vital to the state and prioritized his party affairs instead while the program was being compiled.

Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee approved the program on Dec. 14, though even some members of ruling parties said it was unclear on many points, particularly on joining the eurozone and the Schengen Treaty.

Regarding nuclear energy, the government wants to built a new nuclear power plant to replace the one in Ignalina that is being phased out pursuant to Lithuania's agreement with the European Union. Electricity exports are one of the country's most reliable sources of income.

"I support the idea. Let them start the construction as soon as possible. I am clapping my hands," Brazauskas said in response to news that the French would purchase technologies for the construction of a new reactor and invest in the project as well.