Coalition talks break down amid accusations of bad faith, dishonesty

  • 2006-06-14
  • By Tassos Coulaloglou
VILNIUS - Talks between the Social Democrats and the Conservatives to form a broad-based coalition ended abruptly on June 13 as both parties failed to compromise on their vision of what the next government's program should be.
Both sides had agreed to make a final decision on June 12 before they met with President Valdas Adamkus, but five hours of negotiations the day before and subsequent talks failed to garner a compromise.

Finally, on June 13 representatives of the left-wing Social Democrats announced that they would cease negotiating with the Homeland Union (Conservative). "We made such a decision because the Conservatives had violated an agreement on honest and fair negotiations," said Gediminas Kirkilas, defense minister and lead negotiator for the Social Democrats. Conservative leader Andrius Kubilius struck back, saying the SocDem's decision was "not surprising" and typical of the old communist "nomenklatura." "We saw total demagogy from the Social Democrats, but not serious talk. While we were negotiating in good faith, they were negotiating on the side with other groups. This is dishonest behavior," Kubilius said.

The president, who does not want to call new elections, had been holding out hope for a rainbow coalition that would steer Lithuania through the next two years to parliamentary elections. The president will nominate his candidate for prime minister on June 15 when he visits Parliament. The Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) must then ratify the nominee. If there is no majority support in the legislature, Adamkus will have another 15 days to come up with another candidate.

Kubilius, who leads the so-called Breakthrough group consisting of the Conservatives, Social Liberals and the Social Democrats, said the ball was in the president's court. "It all depends on the president's decision now. If he were to nominate a candidate from our coalition of the Social Liberals, Conservatives or Liberal Movement, I'm sure the Social Democrats will come in the end. If he does not, we will be in the opposition," Kubilius said.

The left-leaning group 's the Social Democrats, the Civil Democracy Union and the National Farmers' Union 's was sure that the prime minister nominee should come from its ranks. Parliamentary Chairman Viktoras Muntianas, who leads the Civil Democracy Union of MPs who broke away from the Labor Party, said, "In my understanding, the better solution is the one we are dwelling on - a bloc of centrist and center-left parties."The group is hoping that the center-right Liberal/Centrist Union, led by Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas, will join in, giving the four-party bloc a total of 52 votes in the 141-seat legislature. President Adamkus was expected to meet with leaders of the Conservatives and Social Democrats on June 14 when The Baltic Times went to press.

The collapse of Lithuania's 13th government on June 1 ended months of scandal and political intrigue by the four-party ruling coalition of Social Liberals, Social Democrats, the Labor Party and the National Farmers' Union. Arturas Paulauskas, leader of the Social Liberals, was ousted from his post as parliamentary speaker in a no-confidence vote in April when members of the Labor Party turned against their fellow ruling coalition partners and voted with the opposition in what was called a "scandal of privileges." The Social Liberals promptly left the coalition and the government, only to be followed by the Labor Party after prosecutors opened an investigation into financial misdealing by party leaders.

Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas abruptly resigned, saying he did not wish to accept responsibility for putting together a new government. But first politicians must agree on the new government's work. The Social Democrats had insisted on a continuation of the previous government's agenda, while the Conservatives called for a new slate of proposals. "We're saying Lithuania needs a government that is going for real change, and the Social Democrats are demanding that the new coalition should continue the program of stagnation and scandal 's characteristic of the old coalition between former Prime Minister Brazauskas and Labor Party leader Uspaskich. That was completely unacceptable," said Kubilius.

According to Kirkilas, the Conservatives failed to present a full list of new initiatives, which made a potential breakthrough impossible. "There is not a whole program, so who knows what the real costs of their proposals will be. It could be three times the budget," said Kirkilas. He also said that an impasse on a number of social issues, like pensions and minimum wage, as well as the Conservatives' opposition to direct mayoral elections, made any compromise almost impossible. But he did not rule out the possibility of a last minute deal if the Conservatives were to agree with the outgoing government proposals.

President Valdas Adamkus expressed disappointment with the news. "The president is also disappointed that negotiators lack the will to take a step forward and, putting aside party disagreements, prepare a program of joint actions that would serve Lithuania, help carry out overdue reforms," his spokeswoman, Rita Grumadaite, was quoted as saying.