Fraud taints Lithuania's municipal elections

  • 2007-03-07
  • By Arturas Racas

DEMOCRACY'S WATCHDOG: Viagauskas canceled elections results in Pagarbiai and Svencionys after evidence of violations emerged.

VILNIUS - Lithuania's Central Electoral Committee made the unprecedented move on March 4 to cancel the results of the Feb. 25 municipal elections in two of the country's municipalities because of "severe violations," the committee's chairman, Zenonas Vaigauskas said. "The committee found out that severe violations of election laws took place during the municipal elections in Pagegiai and Svencionys and decided that election results in the two municipalities had to be canceled," Vaigauskas told The Baltic Times

"There were facts of vote buying, use of administrative resources to influence the choice of the voters, pressure on local electoral committees 's all this was reported by the voters, observers and legal institutions. The committee decided [the violations] had a decisive influence on the election results," he added.

The election in one of the municipalities, Pagegiai, was won by the Order and Justice Party, headed by impeached president Rolandas Paksas. The party had won 12 out of 21 seats in the municipality.
Since April 2003 the mayor of this tiny municipality of just over 12,000 inhabitants has been Kestutis Komskis, a member of the Order and Justice Party, also known as the Liberal Democratic Party. Lithuanian media reported that Komskis used all his powers to retain his position and suggested that he was simply buying votes during the elections.

"I can not make any comments on who is responsible for the violations of the laws. It has to be decided by the police who, to my knowledge, are conducting at least three separate investigations related to the elections," Vaigauskas said.
"But we took into account the complaints and the final election results, including the quite [unusually high] activity of early voting," Vaigauskas added.

Some 2,983 voters supported the Order and Justice Party in Pagegiai, however almost 25 percent of those votes were cast during the four-day early voting period. Almost 13 percent of the municipality's voters voted during the early voting period in Pagegiai, while the average for Lithuania was less than 4 percent.
Voters in the Svencionys municipality voted in a similar way. As many as 16.6 percent of voters cast their votes during the four days prior to election day. Half of the early votes 's 1,222 's were in support of the Social Liberal Party, which won 10 out of 25 seats in the municipality. Votes cast in advance accounted for almost 20 percent of those received by the party, which currently rules the municipality and is headed by mayor Vytautas Vigelis.

"The members of the Electoral Committee had no doubts that violations of the laws took place in the Svencioniys municipality," Vaigauskas noted.
He also stressed that this was the first time election results in two municipalities have ever been canceled.
"We have seen situations when results in a few municipalities were doubted, but it is the first time we've had to make such decisions on two municipalities," Vaigauskas said.

The chairman said that results in the Salcininkai and Vilnius region municipalities were also under question.
"There were reports of violations of election law there, but members of the committee decided that they did not have a major influence on the results," Vaigauskas told The Baltic Times.
He explained that the situation changed with the introduction of new election laws.
"The law now prohibits all minor gifts to voters and some other forms of influence. We also have the police helping, which was not the case with previous laws. So the control of the election process is much tighter compared to previous elections," Vaigauskas said.

But some politicians disagree.
Valentines Mazuronis, deputy chairman of the Order and Justice Party in a statement released March 5 said that the Central Electoral Committee's decision was based on political grounds.
Mazuronis also said that his party will appeal the decision in court and that members of the Electoral Committee should cover the expenses for the new elections if the court finds that the Feb. 25 elections were indeed legal.
New elections in Pagegia and Svencionys are to be held in three months time, Vaigauskas said.