Labor Party wastes no time going for the jugular

  • 2006-01-11
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - Following a temporary Christmas season truce, the New Year once again unleashed fighting among ruling coalition partners 's particularly the Social Democrats and the Laborites 's this time over the creation of a new ministry and natural gas regulation.
The Labor Party, led by deposed Economy Minister Viktor Uspaskich, effectively started the new row by dumping a range of initiatives at the Cabinet's door. The party was to establish an information ministry, create a post of deputy prime minister and regulate natural gas prices, none of which appeal to the Social Democrats, whose leader Algirdas Brazauskas is prime minister.

Since losing his ministerial post last year, Uspaskich has continuously raised the topic of forming a Ministry of Informatics. Such a ministry existed for eight years after the re-establishment of independence in 1990, until the Conservative-led government decided to eliminate it. All former duties were redirected to the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

If the new ministry were to be approved, the Labor Party would likely fill the minister's chair. Uspaskich, who has been busy travelling around the country meeting with voters, argues that the ministry is needed to coordinate societal development projects.

According to preliminary calculations by analysts from the Lietuvos Rytas daily, an information ministry would stand to gain financial strength and influence by distributing EU aid. The ministry could be responsible for more than 1 billion litas (289 million euros), the paper wrote.

However, critics of the idea, including President Valdas Adamkus, disagree with the need.

Arturas Skardzius, MP from the Social Liberal Union, a coalition member, said it would be more meaningful to strengthen present institutions, such as the government's information society development committee, rather than establishing new ones.

Adamkus and Uspaskich have had a robust exchange on the issue. After Adamkus openly disagreed with the concept of the new ministry, Uspaskich mocked the president's age, implying that he had previously agreed to the proposal, but now suffers from memory failure.

During a press conference in Kaunas on Jan. 5, Adamkus told journalists that the issue had been discussed when Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas introduced his new Cabinet members last year. At the time, Uspaskich suggested a new ministry, but the president redirected attention to forming a government and said that discussion on Uspaskich's proposal could be postponed.

"I've never approved the establishment of the Ministry of Informatics, because this would be an increase of bureaucratic apparatus," said Adamkus. "The Labor Party is interested in the new ministry. It shows purposeful steps toward this and sees benefits from it, but this has no effect on my position."

On Jan. 4, Brazauskas opined that a new ministry wouldn't cause a revolution in state governing, implying that he supported Uspaskich's initiative. But the prime minister's approval caused indignation among the opposition, which saw this as a demonstration of back-stage agreements among the ruling coalition over EU money.

Parliamentary deputy chairman Gintaras Steponavicius suggested that this 's a new ministry 's was the price the prime minister had to pay for quashing the scandal over his family business. (Uspaskich initially criticized Brazauskas as the Crown Plaza Hotel scandal broke out, but later, at the peak of the turmoil, cooled down.)

Finally, on Jan. 10, Brazauskas told the national radio station LR that he no longer saw the purpose of forming the Ministry of Informatics, and he denied having any alleged back-stage agreements with the Labor Party.

The Labor Party's suggestion to create the post of deputy prime minister was also met with little support from the Social Democrats. Brazauskas said he had managed the responsibilities of prime minister for several years without help.

The Laborites responded by accusing the Social Democrats of blocking them from political posts.

"From a management perspective, such a position is necessary. I have no doubts about this," said a Labor leader and deputy parliamentary chairman Viktoras Muntjanas.

He explained that the proposed position of deputy prime minister was being hindered due to "some unwanted personalities."

Regarding the third disagreement 's gas prices 's the prime minister said they shouldn't be regulated, while Economy Minister Kestutis Dauksys, a Labor Party member, suggested the opposite. Brazauskas fumed about the regulatory amendments, which were arranged behind his back and have wandered the corridors of Parliament.

"I think those are pathetic attempts. The actual situation needs to be considered, and our actions have to be organized accordingly," Brazauskas said. He explained that gas prices were regulated before the gas arrived at the border 's by Russia's Gazprom 's and there was no sense in Lithuania attempting to regulate gas again.

Lauras Bielinis, a political analyst at the International Relations and Political Science Institute, pointed out that the conflict between Brazauskas and Uspaskich stems from a desire to dominate the coalition. "The character of the competition is determined by the level of intellectual and political culture of those personalities,"he said.

"Bearing in mind Uspaskich's cultural background and his wish to dominate, we have a conflict situation, but Brazauskas is strong enough to impede his ambitions. The tensions will increase as the municipal elections approach. We can even expect a breakdown of the coalition, which will be artificially provoked by both sides," Bielinis said.