LABOR'S HALLOWEEN SURPRISE

  • 2005-11-02
It was only a matter of time. After the nearly debilitating wave of discord that trembled through Lithuania's government earlier this year, after which Viktor Uspaskich was sacked from his ministerial post, observers have been waiting for the Labor Party leader to mete out revenge. He bided his time, waiting patiently for the first sign of vulnerability of his tormentors 's i.e., his coalition partners and Prime Minster Algirdas Brazauskas.


No doubt, he didn't have to wait long, since in the vicious arena of Lithuanian politics even saints are vulnerable. Brazauskas, who leads the Social Democrats, has been targeted by the right-wing opposition, which has raised numerous questions about the business activities of the prime minister's wife and the extent of her involvement with a Lithuanian subsidiary of Lukoil, the Russian oil company that has been lobbying the government in an effort to buy the Mazeikiu Nafta refinery.

The Conservatives have proposed forming a parliamentary commission to investigate certain Brazauskas-family deals, and not surprisingly, several members of Uspaskich's Labor Party have shown their support for the idea. To Brazauskas, the latter is nothing less than a stab in the back, and he has threatened to resign if any such commission is formed. He doesn't want his family's laundry to be washed in public. After witnessing what happened to former President Rolandas Paksas in 2004, and Uspaskich this year, one can understand the prime minister's apprehension.

From the outset there has never been any fondness between Lithuania's Social Democrats/Social Liberals, a left-of-center bunch that has generally been more pro-business than its European counterparts, and the Labor Party, a neophyte organization formed on Uspaskich's purse-strings that, at its worst, is recklessly populist. This is why Uspaskich has suggested in the same breath that new elections be held, knowing that no Labor-Conservative or Conservative-Social Democratic coalition is humanly possible. Not surprisingly, there have been calls for President Valdas Adamkus not to fear the prospect of early elections given the incompatibility of the current Parliament.

Most politicians and pundits agree that, even if Brazauskas and Uspaskich manage to work out their differences this week, for a variety of reasons the current coalition is doomed. Most crucially, the Laborites, who hold the most seats in Parliament 's 39 out of 141 's are keen to consolidate their strength while still strong in the polls. To be sure, it is they who are positioned to gain the most from fresh elections. Which is exactly why the rest of the MPs will never give them the chance.

As far as an ad hoc commission, the Conservatives' proposal should be supported. Lithuania's largest enterprise is about to go up for sale in a $1 billion deal, and the government may borrow some 850 million euros to pull it off, so there is no room for leaps of faith. If the prime minister's wife has had dealings with one of the potential investors, then the public has the right to know the details. Period. If the Brazauskas family has nothing to hide, it shouldn't fear any probe.
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