VILNIUS - Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas employed sleight-of-hand to outfox his accusers and defy an unpleasant interpellation procedure, allowing him to maintain his post until the term ends.
On Jan. 25, the mayor urged the City Council to cast a vote of no-confidence, conveniently, on a day when several of his opponents were missing. As a result, the voting was rushed, and protests from the opposition that Zuokas had not received the original interpellation text from its authors 's a violation of municipal law 's went unheard.
"This is a betrayal," said the author of the interpellation, Kestutis Masiulis. "We are absolutely sure we didn't submit any signatures, nor any interpellation. And all of this has been an imitation of interpellation."
Opponents claim the mayor registered a photocopy of the interpellation draft with an unfinished list of signatures. As proof, authors of the interpellation continued to collect signatures during the session.
Municipality clerks, however, rejected any suggestion of a violation, and the no-confidence vote ended with 24 against, one in favor and one abstaining.
Though he has been the target of numerous corruption accusations, Zuokas has repeatedly gotten the better of those aiming to overthrow him.
Attempts to boycott the voting failed after all three members of the Social Liberal faction, whose top presidium instructed a cancellation of ballots if Zuokas shunned fair voting, didn't obey. Nor did the mayor's opponents manage to break the quorum as their own allies betrayed.
Masiulis is currently uniting forces to seek justice in court.
Infuriated with their disobedience, the Social Liberals' presidium dealt with its traitors: The following day three Social Liberals who helped Zuokas save his seat were eliminated from the party.
"They betrayed the interests of the party, of party colleagues, and they ignored the decision of the presidium. They discredited the party and harmed its image," said Parliamentary Chairman and Social Liberal leader Arturas Paulauskas.
When called to explain themselves to party leaders, the ousted party members were asked if they were paid to participate in the voting. One of the politicians responded, "There is no proof that I was paid for this."
After the incident, the Social Liberals have been deprived of representatives in the Vilnius City Council.
"It is better without representatives than having this kind," Paulauskas commented.
Meanwhile, the parliamentary chairman apologized to Vilniusites on behalf of his party.
"All there is left is to apologize to the people of Vilnius who trusted us," Paulauskas said in an interview with National Radio. "It is clear this was a betrayal."
Paradoxically, the allies of Zuokas insisted on having a vote of no-confidence, which they later voted against.
"This was juggling with law. The mayor's biggest supporters push the no-confidence vote but later vote against it," said Social Liberal MP Arturas Skardzius on the live TV talk show Forumas.
Political analysts and news headlines have referred to the voting as "farce" and a "manipulation."
"The politician has lost all chances to be respected in Lithuania," said political scientist Lauras Bielinis from the International Relations and Political Science Institute.
"Yes, Zuokas' allies today may think they have secured power in their hands, but if they are rational they must understand that one more year with Zuokas is their last in any type of political structure," he explained.
Bielinis continued: "[Zuokas] acts as if he has no self-defense instinct. People behave this way when they know that, otherwise, it would be even worse. This is why I dare make the assumption that Zuokas indeed is dependant on unknown structures 's perhaps economic, perhaps political, structures that demand from him to continue and to secure the mayor's post at any price."
Analysts also said that those who joined forces with Zuokas' opponents had many weak points: on top of their inability to stay united, the opposition had no clear vision about life post-Zuokas. To some extent, the mayor's removal failed as the opposition was only aiming to overthrow him without offering an alternative candidate.
"The man is ruining his career, because in a year it will be clear that no serious party or politician will want to have anything in common with him," Bielinis said.
The failed interpellation brought back old questions: namely if the Vilnius municipality requires direct rule from the government. Paulauskas, who had always been against such a form of government, admitted that he no longer ruled this out.
"Earlier I was skeptical toward suggestions of imposing direct rule. But now, when the situation shows that the mayor employs fraud to keep his post, perhaps it is time to consider even direct rule, and this way ensure democratic order in the city," Paulauskas said in a televised interview. "Such cases deepen disappointment with democratic institutions, and, as public surveys show, the people demand a strong arm."
Paulauskas and legal experts said there were few chances that direct rule could actually be implemented. According to Lithuanian law, the measure can only be imposed to prevent serious damage such as a governmental overthrow or violation of the country's territorial integrity. Zuokas' political morality will not likely be enough.