VILNIUS - Parties across the spectrum jockeyed for position in an attempt to cobble together a left-right coalition last week, while Lithuania's political landscape split at the seams. President Valdas Adamkus began a series of meetings with political leaders on June 5 in the hope of securing a new, broad-based government and avoiding early parliamentary elections.
Though far from certain, it appeared that the likeliest scenario would be a rainbow coalition with the Social Democrats leading the left-leaning forces and the Homeland Union (Conservatives) the right-wing parties. The two parties have been bitter rivals, with former Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, who heads the SocDems, and opposition leader Andrius Kubilius, the Conservatives' leader, openly expressing their hostility toward one another.
However, the two men, as well as their party colleagues, seemed united in the desire to keep the Labor Party out of any new government.
Still, by the time The Baltic Times went to press on June 7, there was no agreement on the table.
"We see a possibility to proceed with the consultations, and we believe they may evolve into agreements, but it is difficult to say more today," Kubilius told reporters on June 6.
Brazauskas tendered his resignation on June 1, one day after the Labor Party pulled its ministers from the Cabinet, spelling the end of Lithuania's 13th government. Brazauskas said he would not accept responsibility for forming a new government under the current conditions. Finance Minister Zigmantas Balcytis, a Social Democrat, has been appointed acting prime minister.
The Laborites, whose leader Viktor Uspaskich is on extended leave in Russia, recalled its ministers after President Adamkus had publicly expressed his lack of confidence in two Labor ministers 's Health Minister Zilvinas Padaiga and Culture Minister Vladimiras Prudnikovas.
The move came after one of the most tumultuous months in recent Lithuanian politics, which began when the Labor Party turned on its coalition partner, Social Liberal leader Arturas Paulauskas, and ousted him from his position as chairman of Parliament. The Social Liberals promptly exited the government, and later the Labor Party itself came under pressure after an internal rift spilled over and several MPs left the party.
Meanwhile, prosecutors have opened an investigation into corruption and misappropriation of funds by Labor Party officials.
Adamkus remained upbeat about the prospects of a deal.
"I believe the world is moving forward. Germany is the best example! Who would have thought that Christian Democrats and Social Democrats would agree in Germany? The government is operational, and I think it is a good example for us," Adamkus told reporters on June 6.
Asked whether he had in mind a candidate for prime minister, the president said the choice was up to political parties: "There just cannot be a strong candidate. This is the responsibility of parties, they have to decide and I will have my say afterwards."
Parliamentary Chairman Viktoras Muntianas floated the idea that European Commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite, a former finance minister and one of Lithuania's most respected leaders, could become the next head of government.
In the meantime, parliamentary factions have been allying themselves to strengthen their bargaining position as to who will have the right to form the next government. On the left, the Social Democrats, the National Farmers' Union and the Civil Democracy (lead by current Parliamentary Chairman Viktoras Muntianas) concluded a cooperation agreement. Together the three parties have 43 seats in the 141-seat Parliament, while on the right the Conservatives, the Liberal Movement and the Social Liberals signed a joint statement on forming a coalition. Together the latter three have 47 seats.
Still, the SocDems indicated that they have the upper hand. As Gediminas Kirkilas, head of the Social Democrat's negotiators, said on June 2, "The Social Democrat group of negotiators has held consultations with parliamentary parties. The core of the future ruling majority has virtually been formed."
Kirkilas also said the new Cabinet's program should be based on that of the outgoing government, and that it was too early to say whether the Labor Party could be included in any coalition deal.
The Laborites, however, seemed to have their hands full with the ongoing investigation into the party's bookkeeping. The party's offices were raided on May 19, and members are being questioned.
Prosecutors said on June 6 that they had questioned three persons as suspects in the case and had carried out 10 searches during which 19 computers were seized. What's more, document seizures are and will be conducted at various companies, the Prosecutor General's Office said, adding that several hundred persons will have to be questioned to get sufficient data to formulate an indictment.
"Since the investigation is related to complex checks on financial activities in many subjects, it will take much time," Prosecutor General Algimantas Valantinas was quoted as saying in a press release.
Algimantas Kliunka, chief prosecutor of the Organized Crime and Corruption Investigation Department, said individuals questioned have been notified about suspicions of fraudulent accounting.
The investigation was launched three years ago and has led prosecutors to question Labor Party's accounting.
The Labor Party has denied any wrongdoing and claims the probe is politically motivated.
When asked if he is hiding in Russia, Labor leader Uspaskich said, "I have received no summons and questions there, and so I have nothing to be scared of. I said long ago that I do not trust Lithuanian law enfor-cement."