Interpellation haunts Zuokas

  • 2006-01-25
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - The nasty political confrontation in the Vilnius City Council is steps away from its culmination, as politicians were set to launch an interpellation procedure against Mayor Arturas Zuokas.

Conservative Kestutis Masiulis promoted the initiative, after a commission in Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) ruled that Zuokas (above) had accepted bribes from a conglomerate.

"I'm a hundred plus percent sure that Zuokas would be last to match the people's trust requirements. This political position requires confidence in the man, and it doesn't allow disrupting democratic values," Masiulis told The Baltic Times.

Zuokas has denied any wrongdoing.

Masiulis, who previously resigned from the position of deputy mayor in protest against Zuokas, collected 17 signatures in support of the interpellation, along with one signature sent by fax and seven "promises" from the Social Democrat faction to sign on after the city budget is approved on Jan. 25.

An interpellation process essentially forces an elected official to explain his or her behavior before an elected body. It is often carried out before a no-confidence vote. Under Lithuanian law, interpellation requires 26 votes from the 51-member body for the mayor to be removed.

The draft text stated that members of the City Council, having signed the document, have lost confidence in the mayor and demand a special session to vote on whether Zuokas should continue his duties.

Prior to the interpellation initiative, 25 council members signed a letter to Zuokas, urging the mayor to consider Parliament's decision and resign prior to an interpellation. Zuokas didn't budge.

Another conflict arose on the eve of the interpellation, when the vote against Zuokas was unexpectedly included on the City Council's upcoming agenda. Masiulis said he was "shocked" to learn this. As he explained, the text was still unprepared, and the list of signatures wasn't yet final.

"The mayor attempts to avoid just voting," Masiulis said. "He is well aware that at least three of his opponents will be absent during the session, and given the importance of each vote, this makes a difference."

What's more, supporters of the interpellation said the mayor was in legal violation of the city council's agenda. Having not received an original interpellation text with signatures, the mayor used draft copies of the future document and identified them as original, they said.

Zuokas doesn't seem phased by the threat. "I'm simply tired of being blackmailed. I'm tired of daily threats that I'll soon be removed. This unclear situation also doesn't help tackling the most important issues of the city," he wrote on his blog page.

"My suggestion is to vote in the upcoming City Council session that is also my response to invitations to resign. What's going to happen, let it be, but most importantly 's finally, it will be clear," he wrote.

Council secretary Zilvinas Silgalis told The Baltic Times that a document 's provided by the author of the interpellation to the Secretariat 's was registered following all necessary legal procedures.

As a response from the mayor is required within two weeks, the issue was included in the upcoming session.

"The behavior of Masiulis is astounding. We can no longer understand what's on his mind. Everything has been done strictly according to the city council rule," said Silgalis. "It's time to dot the 'i' in these speculations, and the council has to provide the answers. It isn't in Masiulis' disposition to indicate when the question is to be answered."

The secretary also added that the absence of several council members wasn't a reasonable argument. "Given my experience in the Council Secretariat, it's hard to remember any sessions when all members were actually present, typically politicians are absent on both sides," Silgalis said.

But Zuokas appears to have his back against the wall. The general opinion in the media and among political analysts is highly critical of Zuokas.

"I have the impression that Zuokas is a cynical politician, who snaps at any civilized democratic norms of responsibility, such as political responsibility," said political analyst Mindaugas Jurkynas from the International Relations and Political Science Institute.

"I would assess his PR-based activities and his obstinate holding on to the post as cleaning up for someone. Someone benefits from this, but not politically," he said. "Otherwise, he could be called a political dope, which in fact he isn't. Therefore, Zuokas has probably decided either to terminate his political career or to retreat for a while."

Experts have avoided betting on Zuokas opponents' success, which they say is 50:50. If Zuokas isn't removed, political analysts imply that the interpellation would even benefit the mayor, in which case he would be prevented from removal until the end of his term.

On Dec. 1, the commission investigating City Council corruption allegations stated that the so-called subscriber who received large sums from Rubicon Group was most likely Zuokas, leader of the Liberal Centrist Union. Seimas approved the findings.

Following the conclusion, the commission and Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas urged the mayor to step down.

The scandal broke out last May when LNK TV, the television station owned by MG Baltic, ran a program on the "unreported bookkeeping entries" of the Rubicon Group, which were actually regular payments made to an unknown individual. The mysterious person was paid 2 million litas (579,000 euros) in bribes over a two-year period for promoting favorable decisions in the Vilnius municipality.

The report was based on "leaked information" from the Special Investigation Service. LNK later implied that a person nicknamed the "subscriber" could be the mayor.

However, no conclusions from any legal enforcement institutions regarding the alleged corruption case were ever made.

In his defense, Zuokas said he was a victim of slander. During a video interview published in Zuokas' blog, the mayor criticized LNK and other members of the media for providing speculative information and twisted facts, which favored LNK owner MG Baltic.