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Tougher times for the ruling center-right

  • 2010-03-25
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

VILNIUS - On March 15, the Christian Party parliamentary faction, which was balancing between the ruling coalition and opposition, announced that it had become an opposition faction. Giving even more of a headache to the ruling center-right, the Christians also announced that Vidmantas Ziemelis, MP of the biggest ruling faction, the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats, is joining the Christian Party parliamentary faction. This means that the ruling center-right now has 70 out of 141 seats in the Lithuanian parliament, i.e. it lost the status of absolute majority in the parliament.

However, the ruling four-party coalition has an agreement with the opposition Peasants’ Popular Party, which has three MPs. This small party, representing the interests of farmers, promised support for the ruling coalition in case of a non-confidence vote to the government. The price of such an agreement was 380 million litas (110 million euros) of government support to farmers.
On March 16, Ziemelis also announced that he is leaving the party ranks of the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats. “Our colleague Ziemelis was elected from our party list. If he would be a man of honor, he should leave the parliament,” Andrius Kubilius, prime minister and leader of the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats, said during his press conference on March 15. However, Ziemelis did not melt from such rhetoric. Ziemelis’ businessman son, who was owner of the now bankrupt flyLAL-Lithuanian Airlines, is rumored to be a supporter of the Christian Party. It was a question of time when Ziemelis senior would take into account those ‘family values’ and join this newly established party.

At the same time, two MPs of the Christian Party came under fire in the parliament. On March 18, the parliament decided to create commissions which would consider the start of an impeachment procedure against two Christian Party MPs, Linas Karalius and Aleksandr Sacharuk. In January, during the parliamentary session, Karalius left for vacations in Southeast Asia without informing the parliament while Sacharuk, using the electronic card which was left to him by Karalius, voted 13 times, not only for himself but also in the name of Karalius - such actions are illegal. The impeachment procedure can involve dealing with the Prosecutor General’s Office as well as consulting with the Constitutional Court.

In 2008, both scandalous MPs were elected to the parliament from the election list of the National Resurrection Party, led by Arunas Valinskas, former host of TV humor and song shows. The National Resurrection Party was one of four parties that created the currently ruling center-right coalition. In July of last year, the party split into two factions. Sacharuk and Karalius are in the group which does not belong to the ruling coalition. Until recently their parliamentary faction, now having 13 MPs and balancing between the ruling coalition and opposition, was called the United Lithuania faction. At the end of January, the faction and the tiny Christian Conservative Social Union, until then having no MPs, established the Christian Party which is led by former Conservative Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius.

To initiate an impeachment process, MPs gathered 50 MPs’ signatures in a petition against Sacharuk and 53 signatures against Karalius. After long discussions, which could take months, the final vote for impeachment to succeed would require three-fifths of all MPs in the 141-seat Lithuanian parliament. In case they both would be impeached (which is, according to Social Democrat MP Julius Sabatauskas, rather unlikely due to the necessity to prove that they both broke the country’s constitution “roughly”) their places would be occupied by lawyer Andrius Burba and fur clothes’ shop owner Mecislovas Subelis, who both were on the election list of the National Resurrection Party. Burba and Subelis declared their loyalty to the Valinskas-led National Resurrection Party, not the Christian Party. This means that in case of good luck, the center-right ruling coalition, now having 70 MPs, can get two more MPs.
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Sacharuk states that he knows at least 12 MPs of other parliamentary factions who in the past have been “piano players,” i.e. voted with electronic cards of other MPs, and he will consider starting impeachment procedures against them. The impeachment procedure against Sacharuk and Karalius is supported by the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats as well as the opposition Social Democrats, but other opposition factions, the Order and Justice Party faction and the Labor Party faction, are not so decisive in their statements - they consider that the Christian Party faction can be useful in their political games.

The situation is so tough for the center-right now that the ruling parties demand from their government ministers, nine of whom are MPs as well (including Prime Minister Kubilius), to sit in the parliament instead of doing their work in the government and their ministries. Audronius Azubalis, foreign minister and MP of the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats, was forced to cut the time of his participation in the two-day long meeting of European Union’ foreign ministers and hurry back to the parliament after the first day of that EU meeting.

Mecys Laurinkus, former head of the Lithuanian State Security Department, former Lithuanian ambassador to Georgia and now columnist for the biggest Lithuanian daily Lietuvos Rytas, wrote in his column on March 20 that the best way for the Lithuanian parliament to escape from this mess of unclear ruling majority would be the creation of a coalition of now ruling four conservative and liberal parties with the Social Democrats. It would unite all intellectual powers of current Lithuanian politicians in a times of crisis, when thoughts about revolution come to heads of an electorate irritated by the mess in the parliament, Laurinkus wrote. Some months ago, a similar idea about a ‘rainbow coalition’, which would include the center-right Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats, the Liberal Movement and the Social Democrat Party, was publicly suggested by former Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus.

Laurinkus states that such a broad coalition would mirror the expectations of the electorate. “The electorate and Lithuania are Christian socialists,” wrote Laurinkus, adding that “A year before his death, John Paul II stated that he, like Christ, is socialist.” It is worth bearing in mind that Lietuvos Rytas does not hide its opposition to the ruling center-right coalition as well as the incredibly popular President Dalia Grybauskaite, while the daily shows sympathy to the opposition Social Democrats.

According to a social survey which was conducted by the Vilmorus social research company on March 5-14 and published by the daily Lietuvos Rytas on March 20, if a parliamentary election would take place now, 14 percent of votes would go to the Social Democrat Party, 12.5 percent to the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats, 9.3 percent to the Labor Party, and 8.8 percent to the Order and Justice Party while other parties would not get enough votes for getting their representatives in the parliament. Some 21.7 percent stated that they would not vote while 22.2 percent said that they have no idea if they would vote. Only 4.4 percent said that they trust in the current parliament while 78.1 percent said that they do not trust this institution now.