Uspaskich lashes out; coalition teeters on edge of collapse

  • 2005-11-02
  • By TBT staff
VILNIUS - The government was thrown into turmoil on the eve of the All Saints' Day weekend as Viktor Uspaskich abruptly announced that his party, the Labor Party, was ready to replace Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, who has been dogged by conflict of interest allegations involving his wife.

"He [Brazauskas] has made a number of mistakes over a year. If it were me, I would have been ousted and reinstated 10 times for those mistakes, while he suffers no consequences," said Uspaskich, who was fired as economy minister for gross ethic violations earlier this year.

Uspaskich, who was essentially firing his first salvo since losing his ministerial post, said he wanted to form a new government, even if it meant holding new elections.

"I don't want to hide that we are considering our candidate as well. We are even considering early elections if it happens so," the Labor Party leader said.

Brazauskas responded by saying he would demand an explanation and apology from Uspaskich, a millionaire businessman who was born in Russia.

"I will ask him to apologize if he has expressed distrust in me. I have not heard any statements from Uspaskich expressing distrust," Brazauskas told reporters on Oct. 28.

The prime minister, who heads the Social Democratic Party, said he would try to prevent the government from falling apart. "I see no reason why the government should collapse," he said.

Uspaskich told the Baltic News Service that, although the Labor Party and the Social Democrats were partners, in the political arena they were opponents.

"It is absolutely natural and understandable that the Labor Party, which has the largest faction in Parliament, is considering several variants and planning its moves when Brazauskas' possible resignation as prime minister is discussed," Uspaskich said.

"The Social Democrats have been granted much power and respect in the present coalition. They have failed to use it. This means that their power should parallel the number of votes they have in Parliament," Uspaskich said.

Though the Labor Party won the most seats in the last elections, it was prevented from taking key ministerial posts.

Speaking in Zokniai on Oct. 29, where he attended the inauguration of a reconstructed runway, Brazauskas said, "I can imagine working together with the Labor Party. We have been working together and there has been no sense of discomfort. It was not ourselves that caused all the ruckus, but the Conservatives."

Last week the parliamentary faction of the Homeland Union (the Conservatives) collected the signatures of 42 MPs in support of forming a commission that would investigate Brazauskas' family business. Several Labor Party MPs supported the initiative, which angered the prime minister.

The Conservatives want answers to questions about whether deals made during the privatization of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, as well as acquisition of hotel shares by Kristina Brazauskiene (at the time Butrimiene) and her relatives, were in accordance to legislation.

The Conservatives also fear that Brazauskiene's relations with Ivan Paleychik, who heads Lukoil Baltija, might serve as a conflict of interest considering that Lukoil is one of the main contenders to become the new strategic investor at Mazeikiu Nafta, Lithuania's oil refinery and largest corporation.

However, the Chief Ethics Commission announced two weeks ago that it found no basis for recommending that the prime minister remove himself from the upcoming sale of Mazeikiu Nafta.

Brazauskas then struck back at the Conservatives, asking the Prosecutor General's Office to launch criminal proceedings for slandering his name. Prosecutors did not satisfy his request.

Brazauskas was set to convene a meeting of the four-party ruling coalition's political council to find a solution to the crisis. The stakes were high.

Social Democrat Deputy Chairman Gediminas Kirkilas commented on Oct. 28, "If the prime minister steps down and one party withdraws from the coalition, the coalition will collapse. Talks about a new coalition would have to be held."

As he explained, the four-party coalition agreement stipulates that the post of prime minister goes to Brazauskas, so if the latter resigned, the agreement would be null and void. "The Social Democrats are not considering a replacement for the prime minister," said Kirkilas, who is Lithuania's defense minister.

Upon returning from Germany on Oct. 28, President Valdas Adamkus urged the four ruling parties to settle their differences. When asked whether it was possible that Brazauskas resigned, the president said he would "not make any guesses," as "currently he [Brazauskas] has all the powers to work."

Adamkus was also skeptical about the Conservatives' initiative to set up an ad-hoc commission. "It is not for Parliament to solve family affairs," the head of state said.

The posts of PM and five ministers belong to the Social Democrats, while the Labor Party has five ministerial posts, the Social Liberals two and the Union of Farmers and New Democracy Parties one.

The Labor Party faction has the most votes in Parliament 's 39 's while the Social Democratic has 22 seats.