VILNIUS - Lithuania's Social Liberal Party announced on Jan. 14 that it will join the nation's ruling political coalition. The decision was a surprise to many observers as it came after several days of wavering and strong statements that the party would stay in the opposition camp.
The party's presidium upheld the move to join the coalition in a Jan. 15 vote, however as The Baltic Times went to press a required decision by the party council and the signing of a formal agreement on the deal were still pending.
The merger is crucial as the Social Liberals' 10 seats will give the coalition a majority in the 141-seat Seimas (Lithuania's parliament). The ruling bloc currently consists of the Social Democrats, the National Farmers' Union, the Liberal Centrists and the Civil Democracy Party, which together hold a total of only 62 votes.
Lithuanian press reported that negotiations held Jan. 11 - 14 resulted in the coalition members granting the post of Environment Minister, left open after the Jan. 7 resignation of Arunas Kundrotas, to Social Liberal party chairman Arturas Paulaskas. The party also gains some key positions on parliamentary commissions.
The decision to become a member of the coalition seems to contradict the position, taken just days earlier, by party officials.
Paulauskas on Jan. 8 refused the invitation to join the ruling minority bloc, saying that his party would rather stay in "constructive opposition" than work under what he called the "2K program," an allusion to the current political dynamic between backers of Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas and the opposition Conservative's leader Andrius Kubilius.
Paulauskas insisted that a coalition could work only if it was formed anew, and noted that the party presidium's decision to stay out of the present coalition was almost unanimous.
"If there was a need, the coalition would have to be formed from scratch," Paulauskas told BNS on Jan. 9.
Prime Minister Kirkilas, who leads the Social Democratic party, responded that such a move wouldn't be possible and suggested instead "more forms of potential cooperation," with the Social Liberals, BNS reported on Jan. 10.
Spokesman for the Social Liberal party told The Baltic Times that an agreement to join the coalition still needs to be approved by the party council, which will have a sitting on Jan 19. The agreement also has to be confirmed by the party factions within the ruling bloc.
Reacting to the news of the bloc's expansion, Kubilius, chairman of the opposition Homeland Union party (Conservatives), said he understood the "survival" strategy of the Social Liberals and Social Democrats, but warned about the new alliance's adopting the attitude that "when you have the power, there's no need for reason," the Delfi news portal quoted on Jan. 14.