VILNIUS - Lithuania was thrown into political turmoil this week after coalition partners turned against one another and ousted Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas in a no-confidence vote on April 11. Ninety-four MPs supported the motion, 23 more than necessary.
The Social Liberals, the party that Paulauskas leads, responded by immediately pulling out of the coalition, while leadership of the Labor Party, a senior coalition partner whose MPs voted against Paulauskas, said the time had come to form a new government. "The coalition's life should start anew," Labor leader Viktor Uspaskich told national radio on April 11.
The Labor Party, which Uspaskich founded in 2003, has been disgruntled with its disproportionate weight in the government, despite having the largest number of seats in Parliament among the four coalition parties. Uspaskich also holds a grudge against his partners at having been booted from his position as economy minister last year.
But to complicate the situation, Uspaskich launched a scathing attack on President Valdas Adamkus last week, suggesting that the head of state was corrupt and needed to be investigated by a parliamentary commission. The move, which the Presidential Palace refused to comment on, seemed to form an irreparable rift between Adamkus and Uspaskich, arguably Lithuania's two most influential politicians.
This would seem to indicate that Adamkus would be loathe to support any new government in which the Labor Party, the country's most popular party, will have more influence and that the only alternative would be to hold new elections.
Andrius Kubilius, leader of the opposition Homeland Union (Conservatives), said early elections were the best way out of the inevitable deadlock. "As indicated by the jumpy conduct of most parties, I cannot reject a possibility that Lithuania should start thinking about extraordinary Seimas elections," Kubilius said.
But the Labor Party was in full fighting form throughout the past week with calls to investigate the president and unseat Paulauskas. In both cases, the Laborites issued de facto ultimatums and seemed ready to rock the governmental boat.
Uspaskich was quoted as saying that the Labor Party's ruling council tabled the idea of a presidential investigation on April 10. When presenting the proposal to coalition partners the same day, he warned that the Laborites would withdraw from the government if they did not receive a show of solidarity.
In justifying the move, Uspaskich accused Adamkus of lying and applying double standards. He blasted the president for expressing distrust in Supreme Court Chairman Vytautas Greicius. The president must serve as an example of morality, Uspaskich said, yet "he dares to lie and censure the Supreme Court chairman."
To buttress his case, the Labor leader also recalled the circumstances of Adamkus' run for the presidential office in 1998 and his role in selling Mazeikiu Nafta to Williams International, a U.S.-based company. Uspaskich also recalled Adamkus' position on a scandal involving Uspaskich's university diploma.
"Current events in our country are worse than Rolandas Paksas' scandal," Uspaskich said at the council meeting.
Relations between Uspaskich and Adamkus have always been strained, but in recent weeks the tension has escalated. Uspaskich, who has been touring the countryside since losing his government position, has even poked fun at the president's age, suggesting the head of state was unfit for the job.
The Presidential Palace declined to issue a statement on Uspaskich's verbal barrage.
"The president is not commenting on Uspaskich's initiatives," spokeswoman Rita Grumadaite told the Baltic News Service on April 11.
Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, who leads the Social Democrats, said Uspaskich's gambit was "incomprehensible."
"The president is the head of the country, so I cannot imagine that there could be some commissions. There could be only impeachment, but this, in my opinion, is absolutely incomprehensible," Brazauskas told reporters on April 10.
In Parliament, Labor members were no less outspoken, accusing long-time Chairman Arturas Paulauskas of negligence in regards to oversight at the chancellery, whose head resigned amid scandal last week.
The controversy inspired Labor Party's faction leader, Loreta Grauziniene, to urge her colleagues "to take real power" in Parliament. "Either we take real power or withdraw to the opposition," Grauziniene said at the same party council meeting on April 10 where she recommended Laborites show "resolution" in the no-confidence vote on Paulaukas, who leads the New Union (Social Liberals) party.
Right-wing opposition forces in Parliament collected 36 signatures on April 7 for a no-confidence vote on the parliamentary speaker, who has become entangled in the so-called "scandal of privileges" in Parliament's chancellery.
Under the Seimas Statute, the parliamentary chairman would be dismissed if it was required by over a half of all lawmakers 's or 71.
But even in the run-up to the vote Uspaskich walked a tightrope and refrained from expressing the party's support for the no-confidence move. "He [Paulauskas] simply has a decent control of the Seimas and is doing his job well. Why should he lose it?" he told a news conference on April 11.
He said the faction would be allowed to vote freely. "Yesterday [April 10] the council voted unanimously against [the no confidence vote]," said Uspaskich.
For his part, Paulauskas said he did not understand the move to remove him. He said he personally initiated reforms at the chancellery and an investigation into scandalous facts involving the chancellery's work. "I am proud that I have managed to shake the chancellery's work somewhat, change some heads, and initiate or set preconditions for reforms, which had not been undertaken for 16 years," Paulauskas told national radio on April 7.
"When you start fighting, all criticism is always leveled at you," he said.
The scandal in the chancellery over abuse of authority forced several department heads to resign, as well as Chancellor Arvydas Kregzde.
Speaking to Parliament before the no-confidence vote, Paulauskas said the Conservatives' demand for him to take personal responsibility for the scandal was ungrounded. He accused the Conservatives of confusing limits of competences of different institutions.
"The performance of the office has nothing to do with the lack of confidence in me. [Conservative leader Andrius] Kubilius is deliberately confusing the concepts of Seimas speaker, Seimas and Seimas office in an effort to launder the concept of responsibility. When answering questions last week, I could see some did not understand the competencies of these institutions," Paulauskas said.