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Second chances

  • 2008-12-03

The Lithuanian parliament has been forced to walk a very thin line, and if it slips too far in either direction it could set a very dangerous precedent for the country.
Lawmakers will have to decide whether or not to strip three of their own 's Viktor Uspaskich, Vytautas Gapsys and Rokas Zilinskas 's of legal immunity at the behest of the Prosecutor General's Office. The three freshly elected lawmakers were all standing trial up until their election.
Viktor Uspaskich is the poster child for this bizarre situation. Labor Party head Uspaskich was Economy Minister up until a scandal where he was accused of fraud in managing his party finances and of trying to mislead tax authorities. It forced him to leave his post as head of the party, Minister of Economy and finally as a lawmaker altogether.

Uspaskich then fled to Russia, ducking an Interpol investigation and several summons from the PGO, and waited for the next electoral cycle to roll around. He came back to Lithuania, took up his old post at the Labor Party and won a seat in Parliament. He is now the richest MP, with about 14 million euros to his name, and reaping the benefits of diplomatic immunity.
This puts Parliament in a difficult situation. MPs should clearly be privy to legal immunity 's otherwise they will either spend all their time dealing with a court case. Similarly, if they decide to (or are forced to) leave office it will open the floodgates for the opposition to make wild accusations to drive out rank and file members of the ruling coalition.

And yet in this situation, this ridiculous situation, if Seimas (Lithuanian parliament) decides not to remove the immunity then it will give popular politicians the green light to commit whatever atrocities they like, only to become absolved by taking a seat in the next elections.
It seems that the only way to avoid this is to deal with each case on an individual basis. And yet lawmakers are (in most cases) not professional judges, and ruling on an individual case is not their forte.
Unfortunately, it is doubtful that many parliamentarians see things this way. Many still think about what is best for themselves, or at best what is best for their party, before considering what is best for the country. Thus, the issue will probably end up being decided by who has the most to gain by these three politicians staying in power.

There is one more way out of this sort of mess, and it lies with the Lithuanian people. Ultimately it is the fault of the electorate that they chose to elect three possible criminals to make the country's laws.
Though this situation is an unusual one, these sorts of problems are bound to persist until the Lithuanian people stop overlooking past grievances and stop giving their politicians second, third and fourth chances.
In defense of the Lithuanian people, however, it seems they did not have much in the way of better options.