VILNIUS - Lithuania's government survived its worst crisis to date after Arturas Paulauskas was ousted from his position as chairman of Parliament in a dramatic no-confidence vote and his party, New Union (Social Liberals) pulled out of the coalition. The party's departure, however, failed to trigger the collapse of the entire Cabinet, as the Social Democrats and National Farmers Union decided to hang on alongside the Labor Party, whose members voted in favor of the no-confidence motion. The three-party coalition will still have a majority of votes 's i.e. 71 seats 's in Parliament.
By backing the opposition-led vote, the Labor Party, the coalition's dominant member and Lithuania's most popular political party, had hoped to tip the balance of forces in its favor and increase its overall influence in the government.
To be sure, Viktoras Muntiunas, a Labor Party MP, was elected as Parliament's new chairman, but by the time The Baltic Times went to press on April 18 it was unclear whether Labor would pick up any new ministerial posts.
The New Union occupied both the Foreign and Social Security and Labor ministries. But to prevent any instability in the Cabinet, President Valdas Adamkus asked Antanas Valionis and Vilija Blinkeviciute to temporarily drop their party memberships and stay on as foreign and labor ministers, respectively.
"I will do everything in my power 's and the president will also 's to propose that Blinkeviciute stays on by suspending her membership in the party," Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas said.
Regarding Valionis, who was in China during the crisis, Adamkus requested that the foreign minister stay on at least until the completion of the Baltic Sea leaders' conference in Vilnius on May 2 's 4. "In foreign policy it is of utmost importance that the work successfully undertaken by Valionis' team be continued," the president's spokeswoman was quoted as saying.
Nevertheless, speaking on April 13, Brazauskas suggested that two ministerial posts, left vacant after the Social Liberals' withdrawal from the ruling bloc, may go to the Labor Party. "Under the proportions in Parliament and the seats they [the Labor Party] have, we do not have any reason to object because we [the Social Democrats] already hold five ministerial posts and the post of prime minister," he told Ziniu Radijas radio.
Labor leader Viktoras Uspaskich was no doubt aiming for a couple more ministerial posts when he said that the coalition needed to be rejuvenated after Paulauskas' removal.
It would appear, however, that the Presidential Palace is dead-set against any increased influence for the Laborites. Just two weeks ago, Uspaskich all but declared war on the president when he said an ad hoc parliamentary commission should be formed to investigate Adamkus' activities as head of state.
Indeed, forces of restraint are gathering around the Labor Party. The newly elected parliamentary chairman, Muntianas, was immediately criticized as being a foot soldier for Uspaskich, a charge he hotly denied.
Muntianas, who has publicly criticized his party's decisions in the past, leveled criticism against Uspaskich on April 14 when he said that decisions within the Labor Party are often made under Uspaskich's iron grip on the party.
"Many issues, particularly in the party-political life, should be solved with proper agreements and discussions should produce results. There are no proper discussions [in the party], which are sometimes determined by the orders of one man, therefore, certain mistakes simply cannot be avoided," said Muntianas.
He said he strongly disagreed with Uspaskich on managing the party's activities. "We have different views about managing political processes: Uspaskich sees it through the prism of business management, and I see it through the prism of public and political life. There are certain differences, and they are rather serious," he said.
Once the dust had settled, many speculated how long the new, stripped down coalition would last. Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkilas, a Social Democratic, predicted it would hold out until the start of a municipal election campaign.
"Each new campaign is a challenge to coalitions, especially those that have a small majority such as this one. It will pose a certain challenge, which we can overcome if we are able to coordinate our positions in the upcoming municipal elections," Kirkilas told reporters on April 13.
Kirkilas admitted that a 71-seat majority was "minimal" and support among the opposition would be sought.
"I am not inclined to believe that somebody will join the coalition, but there could be agreements with some of the opposition parties, maybe even giving them one or another committee, which would be very good in this situation and in general, when the opposition holds some opposition posts in the parliament," Kirkilas said.
On the right, the Liberal and Center Union proposed the creation of a broad-specter rainbow coalition, an idea that has been floated but never came close to reality. Prior to the vote on Muntianas, Vilnius Mayor and Liberal/Center chief Arturas Zuokas called upon parties to "start forming a coalition of statesmen with the president being the main pivot."