VILNIUS - Lithuania's ruling coalition once again avoided a breakdown after the three parties managed to divide up two ministerial seats left vacant after the withdrawal of a fourth party. According to the scant information available when The Baltic Times went to press, the Labor Party will take over the Ministry of Social Security and Labor, while the National Farmers' Union will be given the high profile post of foreign minister. No exact names were given, and officials close to the deal said an announcement would be made next week.
Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkilas, a Social Democrat, said that the agreement still had to be approved by each party. "Moreover, we intend to sign a protocol committing [each party] not to take part in any destructive actions organized by the opposition," the minister said, referring to the successful no-confidence vote that was initiated by the Conservatives and supported by the Laborites.
The deal was sealed just days after the coalition came under the threat of another collapse, with the Labor Party demanding more weight in the government. The Laborites, who now dominate the coalition, had ostensibly wanted to fill both the Foreign and Social Affairs ministries, but were forced to content themselves with the latter. The original round of talks between the three parties broke down on April 21, aggravating Labor leader Viktor Uspaskich.
"They [the SocDems and National Farmers] might have to work with the Conservatives. We cannot allow them to scrape their boots on our tunic," Uspaskich told LNK television.
The ultimatum apparently worked, and the Laborites mustered another ministerial post. Since parliamentary speaker Arturas Paulauskas stepped down in the no-confidence vote, the Labor Party has increased its influence in both the legislative and executive branches.
Originally, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and President Valdas Adamkus were aghast at the prospect of a larger role for the Labor Party, a young populist party, and together the two tried to convince Social Liberal ministers Anatanas Valionis and Vilija Blinkeviciute to remain on board. Technically the ministers could have done this by resigning their party memberships and proclaiming themselves as non-aligned.
However, Foreign Minister Valionis tendered his resignation this week (though he is likely to remain minister until completion of the Black Sea summit in Vilnius in the first week of May), while Vilija Blinkeviciute, who headed the Social Security Ministry, did the same.
Opposition politicians had been hoping that the Labor Party would pull out of the government, setting the stage for a rainbow coalition between center-left and right-wing forces. Still, while calls for both sides of the spectrum to set aside their difference for the sake of defeating the Laborites have been louder lately, few believe the Social Democrats and the Homeland Union (Conservatives) could get along.
"I cannot imagine another coalition that would suddenly take over all matters and work unanimously. I do not see this happening," Brazauskas told national radio on April 25. As he sees it, the hypothetical coalition would have "very differing views."
"I cannot say this only applies to ideological issues, but simply to the view of the state, state development and the solution of specific problems," he explained.
The Conservatives have dogged the coalition from day one, particularly regarding the privatization of the Crowne Plaza hotel, which is owned by Prime Minister Brazauskas' wife. At one point last year, Brazauskas tried to take his right-wing critics to court for libel.
Conservative leader Andrius Kubilius said he was open to negotiations. "The only condition would be not to make an alliance with Labor and Liberal Democratic parties," he said.
The Liberal Democrats are led by Rolandas Paksas, who was impeached as president two years ago.
The Liberal Centrists, another right-wing group, also expressed a willingness to cooperate in a rainbow coalition. Earlier this month party leader Arturas Zuokas, the mayor of Vilnius, called upon parties to "start forming a coalition of statesmen, with the president acting as pivot."
Commenting on the situation, Paulauskas reiterated that the Social Liberals' decision to leave the ruling coalition was correct, and that there was no returning to the coalition. "This was not a last minute move, the decision was made following a clear consideration of all pros and cons. Our coalition partners betrayed us by saying one thing and doing the complete opposite, and this was the only way we could have acted," said Paulauskas.
His words directly contrast with those of party colleague Valionis, who said the Social Liberals made a hasty decision about leaving the coalition.
"I think our party should forget about wounded ambitions and think about the stability of the government, the state, and its future. After all, this government will continue implementing its program, approved in Parliament by the Social Liberals as well. This is one reason to cooperate with the current ruling coalition," Valionis said.
In Valionis' words, the Social Liberals should set aside emotions and support the Social Democrats and their chairman, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas. Valionis is deputy chairman of New Union.
But Paulauskas would have none of it. "We believe that saving or strengthening something doomed is hardly a good move," he added.
The coalition's predicament became even more tenuous after MP Kazys Bobelis suddenly left the National Farmers' Union, expressing dissatisfaction with the coalition's performance. His exit now leaves the coalition with only 70 mandates in the 141-seat Parliament, effectively giving Lithuania a minority government.