Parliamentary election derby starts in Lithuania

  • 2000-09-14
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - The Central Electoral Commission announced recently that 27 political parties presented their applications to run for seats in Parliament set for Oct. 8.

Fifteen electoral lists will compete in the elections. Some parties are united in coalitions and some presented their individual candidates only for elections in constituencies and did not present lists of candidates. Lithuanian voters cast two votes. Half of the Lithuanian members of Parliament are elected from parties' or coalitions' party lists, while the other half are elected individually in constituencies.

For the average Lithuanian citizen the official election campaign means political posters in the streets and hot debates between candidates on TV.

Algirdas Brazauskas, the former president and leader of the Social Democratic coalition, and Vytautas Landsbergis, the first head of state after Lithuania regained independence and the current chairman of Parliament and the ruling Conservative Party, attracted a lot of personal publicity recently. Both published their memoirs.

Last week, on the eve the official campaign kicked off, two powerful political forces, the ruling Conservative Party and the left opposition Social Democratic coalition, held their forums.

The Conservatives stressed the country's achievements during four years of rule by the Conservative Party and their partner, the Christian Democratic Party.

"A lot of good things happened during these four years. The number of students in Lithuanian universities doubled. Lithuania is ahead of such countries as Latvia, Poland, Ireland and Greece in terms of the number of private cars per 1,000 inhabitants. Of course, the Russian economic crisis in 1998 had some negative impact on Lithuania and unemployment numbers jumped to levels rivaling those in the former East Germany," Landsbergis said.

The Conservatives have formed an informal coalition with the Lithuanian Union of Political Prisoners and Deportees and include their 19 candidates on the Conservatives' party list.

The Social Democratic coalition highlighted their similarity with the countries of the European Union, stating that Leftists rule most of Western Europe now. "It's a pity that Social Democratic ideas are not as popular in Lithuania as they are in Sweden or Germany at the moment. However, I think, Lithuania is ready for changes," Brazauskas said.

His Social Democratic coalition unites two big parties - the Democratic Labor Party and the Social Democratic Party. The coalition also includes two smaller parties - the Russian Union and the Party of New Democracy (former Women's Party) of Kazimiera Prunskiene, who was the first prime minister after reestablishment of independence, from March 1990 to January 1991. These four parties agreed to provide a common election list for the ballot.

The Democratic Labor Party led by Ceslovas Jursenas consists mostly of members of the former Lithuanian Communist Party, which decided to break away from Moscow and support Lithuania's independence at the end of 1980s. Vytenis Andriukaitis and Aloyzas Sakalas led the Social Democratic Party. Both men are former anti-Soviet activists and political prisoners.

"I had some doubts about such unification in the past. However, now I think that a unified party would create a powerful Social Democratic force in the country," Sakalas said.

The Social Democratic coalition stated that Brazauskas would be appointed to the post of prime minister if the leftist coalition wins the elections.

Brazauskas, currently not a member of any party, already has experience in government. He was deputy prime minister in the government of Prunskiene after the restoration of Lithuania's independence in 1990 and during the economic blockade imposed on Lithuania by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev the same year.

Four middle-of-the-road parties belong to the New Policy bloc. This loose coalition consists of the New Union (Social Liberals), the Center Union, the Liberal Union and the Modern Christian Democratic Union. They are negotiating cooperation in the formation of the new government after elections. However, they will compete against each other in the elections.

Only the Modern Christian Democratic Union of former Soviet dissident Vytautas Bogusis will not have its own election list of candidates. The New Union, the Center Union and the Liberal Union have allowed three leaders of the Modern Christian Democrats to assume the 11th position on their candidate lists.

At the moment, surveys show the majority of voters prefer the New Union of Arturas Paulauskas, the first prosecutor general of Lithuania after it reestablished its independence on March 11, 1990.