VILNIUS - The Labor Party, once Lithuania's dominant political party, has started falling apart at the seams as prosecutors continue to probe an alleged misappropriation of funds and influence peddling. On top of this, the party's founder and leader has been hiding in Russia and two members have defected.
As a result, the once popular party has seen its ranking dive.
In an effort to shore up faltering support, party members convinced acting leader Loreta Grauziniene to resign last week. In her stead they elected MP Jonas Pinskus as the party's new faction leader.
But even this move had its consequences. On July 18, Virginijus Domarkas, who also vied for the position, and Skirmantas Pabedinskas, said they would leave the Labor Party's parliamentary group. "We are withdrawing because our attitude toward the party's future and necessary changes differs from that of the party," Pabedinskas said.
If the two do leave, it would give the Labor group a total 29 seats in the 141-seat Parliament.
However, most of the public's attention continued to center on Viktor Uspaskich, the party's founder and former leader who left for Russia, where he was born, and has not yet returned to Lithuania, where he has extensive business and political interests.
In his first statement since leaving the Baltic, Uspaskich, who wrote a letter to the Labor Party's July 15 congress, said he did not trust Lithuania's law enforcement agencies and that he would only allow himself to be interrogated by foreign law enforcement officers.
In Uspaskich's words, he is not returning from Russia because "this is the only possibility to involve international organizations in this process and in such a way to save the party, the party's honor, and all those named as suspects."
Lithuanian prosecutors, who are investigating Labor Party's financial activities, have said they cannot contact Uspaskich and regard the latter's absence as hiding.
Uspaskich, however, had his own excuse.
"I do not trust Lithuania's law enforcement," he wrote. "I have no confidence in the impartiality and honesty of the authorities. And I have facts to substantiate this distrust. Therefore, I want to be questioned somewhere else, not in Lithuania, in the presence of international and other countries' legal institutions, media, and organizations defending human rights."
According to unofficial information, prosecutors have discovered Labor Party's cooked books, which show unlawful payments not only to members of the party but to MPs of some other parties.
During the investigation into Labor Party's financial activities, prosecutors questioned several members as suspects in the case and searched the Labor Party's main office and Uspaskich's home, during which several computers were seized.
In the wake of the scandal, Uspaskich, the founder of the Labor Party, left for Russia.
After prosecutors brought suspicions against Uspaskich as a legal person in late June, he decided to resign as chairman of the Labor Party.
Indeed, the scandals have hurt the party's rating: Results of a poll carried out by RAIT market analysis and research group, published by the Lietuvos Zinios daily on July 16, showed that the populist party collected fewer votes than other parties for the first time in three years.
According to the survey, 8.9 percent of those polled in June would have voted for the Labor Party, as compared with 18.9 percent in April, when it ranked the most popular political force in the country. In May, the party would have been supported by 15.8 percent of respondents.
The Homeland Union (Conservatives) currently ranks as the most popular political force in Lithuania. It could expect support from 11.7 percent of the electorate (11.1 percent in May). The Social Democrats ranked second, supported by 9.9 percent of those polled (10.5 percent in May), the Labor Party third and Order and Justice (Liberal Democrats), led by impeached ex-President Rolandas Paksas, was fourth.