• 2006-04-19

Cartoon by Jevgenijs Cheksters

One has to give credit to Lithuania's Laborites. The party pulled off a brilliant tactical maneuver allowing it to gain control of the chairmanship of the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) without destroying the country's fragile coalition. At one and the same time, the Labor Party embraced the opposition while retaining, and even consolidating, power. And this was not the first time the party employed such a strategy 's's badmouthing the government to which it is a member.

Since losing his post of economy minister last year, Labor leader Viktor Uspaskich took to the road, visiting towns and villages and meeting with the common folk. Normally he ridiculed Vilnius, both the government and the President's Office, and told voters how the corrupt politicians in the capital had prevented him from doing a job for the people's welfare. Lithuanians soaked it up.
Opposition within the coalition 's an amazing approach. Call it the Labor Phenomenon. The question is: how long can it last?
Despite winning the 2004 elections, the Labor Party, a populist hodge-podge started in 2003 by millionaire Uspaskich, was not given a position of influence in either the Cabinet of Ministers or Parliament. Seasoned politicians like Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and Seimas Chairman Arturas Paulauskas kept their high-profile posts, and even coveted ministries like Finance and Foreign Affairs remained in the hands of the Social Democrats and New Union. Uspaskich was forced to be content with the Economy Ministry, and he even lost that position. Gradually, the Laborites found themselves losing influence.

In the meantime, polls were telling a different story. Almost without exception, the Labor Party tops every opinion survey. The most recent, conducted last week by Vilmorus, has the Laborites winning 15.6 percent of the vote if elections were held now. The next most popular, the right-wing Homeland Union, is three percentage points behind. In the past, the gap has been even wider.
This is what scares both President Valdas Adamkus and Prime Minister Brazauskas 's a Prime Minister Viktor Uspaskich. So frightened are Lithuania's two most powerful politicians of a populist Russian-born head of government, or virtually any Laborite for that matter, that they loathe to see the current government collapse or new elections held. Lithuania is now in a kind of political stalemate.
But what can be done? Well, unless Labor's ranking suddenly takes a dive, Lithuania's political elite, on both the right and left, will have only two options. First, form a rainbow coalition between the right-wing Conservatives and Liberal/Centrist Union and the center-left SocDems and Social Liberals. This would seem highly unlikely; too much resentment exists between these vastly different sets of parties. Besides, the Laborites would only bask in the opposition. It's exactly where they thrive.
The second, and perhaps only viable, alternative would be to slay the dragon. Combining resources both overt and covert, Lithuania's mainstream political elite will have to sabotage the Labor Party so that by the next elections the party is a shadow of its present self. The methods here are manifold, from discrediting to luring away individual party members. Again, the plan could easily backfire, but it may be the only solution to combating the Labor Phenomenon.