Pre-election monologues banned

  • 2000-09-07
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - The official parliamentary election campaign starts on Sept. 8, though the unofficial one has been going on already for a couple of months. Elections are scheduled for Oct. 8. The official campaign for the vote of the average Lithuanian first of all means a lot of talking heads on public television.

Parliament has decided that candidates should discuss issues and will not get to deliver monologues a la William Shakespeare's "To be or not to be."

On Aug. 31 Parliament passed amendments to the law governing parliamentary election campaigns on public TV and radio. It will make this campaign different from previous ones.

There are 40 political parties in Lithuania. Some are going into the elections separately with their own list of candidates for Parliament. Some have created coalitions and common lists of candidates with other parties. Each list has the right to equal time on public TV.

In previous campaigns most parties chose to deliver long monologues on public TV, criticizing their competitors and glorifying themselves. According to the amendments, all political forces are obliged to participate in discussions in the slots provided to them by the state. There will be no more soliloquies.

The amendments regulate only special election programs on public television and radio. Parliament cannot regulate other political programs, where journalists can invite whomever they wish, or the contents of advertising time bought by political parties. And, of course, the Parliament amendments do not dictate the actions of private television and radio, which enjoy full political freedom.

"During special TV parliamentary election programs, each political force is obliged to find a rival for public discussion. TV employees, with the help of a lottery system, can also appoint the rival in case the political party does not find one. Now they're obliged to discuss," said Zenonas Vai-gaus-kas, chairman of the General Election Committee that organizes and observes all elections in Lithuania.

In the past, each political party or coalition participating in the elections had 90 minutes airtime on public TV. Now they just get one hour.

The amendments were passed after a meeting between President Valdas Adamkus and Parliament Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis. According to the president's advisers, Adamkus told Landsbergis that parliamentary candidates need to discuss issues on public TV because election monologues are boring for TV viewers.

According to surveys, some 2 percent to 3 percent of TV viewers watched the previous election campaign, said Adamkus, urging the parliamentary chairman to make changes in the law on public TV and candidates to Parliament.

Lithuanian voters cast two votes: One vote for a political party and another for a candidate from the voter's constituency. Half the Lithuanian MPs are elected from lists of parties or coalitions of parties and the other half individually from constituencies.

During the previous political campaign, each individual candidate had the right to seven minutes on public radio and five minutes on public TV. Now he or she will only be granted five minutes on public radio.

Vaidotas Zukas, director general of public TV and radio, expressed his joy over the amendments. "Now we are obliged to devote less air- time to the election campaign. It will save money for us. And TV watchers will not get tired," Zukas said.