Uspaskich makes return to Labor Party helm

  • 2007-11-21
  • By Kimberly Kweder
VILNIUS - Controversial political figure Viktor Uspaskich has resumed his position as the head of Lithuania's Labor Party, an organization he founded in 2003.
Uspaskich, who is currently under house arrest in Kedainiai pending a fraud trial, was elected party chairman during a Nov. 17 congress meeting held in the town.
Only 15 out of 893 delegates voted against him. Loreta Grauziniene, the only other candidate nominated, withdrew before the election.

The previous Labor Party chairman Kestutis Dauksys said that Grauziniene's decision not to compete was a wise political move on her part.
"I think she understands she cannot be at the same level of Uspaskich because he is too strong. The results would not be good for her. She wasn't in the competition and she's in a good phase today," Dauksys said.
Dauksys had resigned from his post last month, a few days after Uspaskich lost his bid for a seat in Parliament in the Alytaus district elections to Conservative Party candidate Kestutis Cilinskas.
Aine Ramonaite, a political sociologist at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science, said it's no big surprise that Uspaskich has retaken the leadership role in the party.

"The reason the party was popular is that he was the founder... the main hope of the party," she said. "It's not possible for the party to move forward into the parliamentary elections without him [as leader]."
Ramonaite said that it's also possible that a high number of delegates voted for Uspaskich as a sign of protest against his house arrest and the investigation into his affairs.
In May 2006 the party became the subject of a police investigation and Uspaskich fell under suspicion of committing fraud while managing the party's finances.
Uspaskich then fled to Russia where he remained for nearly 18 months before making a dramatic return to Lithuanian political life by announcing his candidacy in the Alytaus by elections. He turned himself in to authorities when he arrived in Lithuania in late September and is expected to remain under house arrest for the next four months.

Supporters have maintained that the investigation was politically motivated.
Just how much power Uspaskich gains as head of Labor is difficult to gauge. Though officially the party has 13,000 members, that number may be misleading, according to Ramonaite.
Two years ago Institute of International Relations and Political Science conducted interviews with some members on the party's recruitment process which revealed that people were afraid of losing their jobs and status if they did not sign up, Ramonaite said.
She pointed out that the founding members of the party were members of the Lietuvos Verslo Darbaviu Konfederacija (Lithuanian Business Employers' Confederation).
Dauksys said that despite the limitations caused by Uspaskich's house arrest, there are still many delegates who trust in the Labor Party and its progress.

"Members can still visit him in Kedainiai. Only Uspaskich has to stay in Kedainiai," said Dauksys. "A lot of things can happen in four months [during his house arrest] but we don't know what tomorrow will bring." he said.
At the congress, Uspaskich appointed seven deputies: MPs Grauziniene, Antanas Bosas, Vydas Gedvilas, Jonas Pinskus, MEP Ona Jukneviciene, former Deputy Minister for Education and Science Raimondas Mockeliunas and former Deputy Minister of the Social Security and Labor Ministry Mecislovas Zasciurinskas.