The Kubilius government survives major opposition attack

  • 2010-05-19
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

Eligijus Masiulis, minister of transport and communications, survived the impeachment plans cherished by the parliamentary opposition.

VILNIUS - On May 13, the opposition in the Lithuanian parliament had its decisive battle: it tried to impeach Eligijus Masiulis, minister of transport and communications. He is leader of the Liberal Movement and his removal from the post could have meant the end of the current four-party ruling coalition. The opposition hoped that the Liberal Centrists, who are members of the ruling coalition and who have rather tense relations with the Liberal Movement, would support the impeachment. However, the parliament instead adopted a resolution supporting Masiulis with 73 MPs in favor of that resolution, 49 against it and 14 abstentions. Although the battle showed the weakness of the opposition, Masiulis and Andrius Kubilius, prime minister and leader of the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats, started to speak openly about plans to broaden the ruling coalition seeking to avoid such days as the battle in the parliament of May 13 was.

The debates in the parliament were boiling on that day. The pretext for the impeachment (or “interpellation,” to use the exact Lithuanian parliamentary vocabulary) was the arrest of Andrius Urbonas, director general of the Lithuanian Post, which belongs to the Ministry of Transport and Communications. His arrest in March had nothing to do with his work in Lithuanian Post: in the past he worked for Swedbank, and after leaving his job at the bank and before his employment at Lithuanian Post, in 2009, he was proposing to Swedbank clients his services, promising to arrange cheaper credit from Swedbank, or to postpone the return of the credit to the bank, according to Swedbank, which was the initiator of legal proceedings against Urbonas due to this kind of illegal activity. Urbonas was immediately removed from his post in Lithuanian Post.

Knowing that it would be difficult to relate Urbonas with Masiulis, the opposition attacked the minister with more general accusations.
“The Liberal Movement got 500,000 litas (145,000 euros) from road building companies. It would be less surprising if they would finance the Liberal Movement also before Masiulis took his post of minister,” Petras Grazulis, MP of the opposition Order and Justice Party, said, although, in fact, road building companies financed the Liberal Movement’s parliamentary election campaign in 2008 quite generously, when Masiulis could only dream about that post.
“A truck driver who spends some four or six months carrying cargo abroad gets only 1,024 litas per month, while a truck driver who delivers cargo inside Lithuania gets 2,000 litas,” Social Democrat MP Algirdas Sysas said, as if the Ministry of Transport and Communications has something to do with wage policies of private truck companies.

The main motive of other opposition speakers was the fact that Masiulis replaced the old nomenclature in Lithuanian Railways, Klaipeda port and other EU-funds-consuming administrations with his own people. The ruling coalition’s MPs were replying that the opposition cries because people tied with Algirdas Butkevius, leader of the Social Democrat Party and minister of transport and communications in the former Social Democrat-led government, are removed.

“The impeachment’s task has nothing to do with the quality of work of the minister,” Kubilius said in the parliament, suggesting that the impeachment’s goal was to overthrow his government. Indeed, Masiulis is considered by observers as one of the best ministers in the Kubilius government. His latest achievement is the beginning of construction of a European-gauge railway between Kaunas and Poland this month - this railway line is expected to be finished by the end of 2013 and will be the part of the EU-financed project Rail Baltica, which should connect Warsaw with Tallinn if Riga and Tallinn show more enthusiasm about this European gauge project.

During the vote on May 13, Masiulis was supported not only by the ruling coalition, but also by two out of three MPs of the small Peasants’ Party, which has an agreement with Kubilius’ party to support the government on the main issues. Masiulis also got votes of support from Valerijus Simulik, the opposition’s one and only member of the Social Liberals, and Valdemaras Valkiunas, millionaire businessman and independent MP.

After the unsuccessful demarche of the opposition in the parliament, Masiulis made an open call for broadening the ruling coalition. “We’ll get other attempts to overthrow the ruling coalition. It is why all parties of the ruling coalition agree that we need to broaden our coalition,” Masiulis said during his briefing in the parliament after the failure to impeach him.

It seems that the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats are trying to invite the Order and Justice Party to join the ruling coalition, although Masiulis would prefer to invite the Christian Party or the Labor Party. A couple of weeks ago, Kubilius met with Rolandas Paksas, leader of the Order and Justice Party and member of the European Parliament. Kubilius was refusing to confirm the fact of such talks, but Paksas confirmed them, not specifying the talking points of the meeting. The Order and Justice Party is ideologically the closest party to the Kubilius’ party, but their alliance after the election of 2008 was not supported by Vytautas Landsbergis, ideological godfather of the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats, due to the extremely controversial personality of ousted President Paksas. Now Landsbergis is less allergic to an alliance with the Order and Justice Party, but he states that Paksas should stop talking about the conspiracy in 2003-2004.

On April 28, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg started examining the lawsuit initiated by Paksas: Paksas complains that a parliamentary amendment to the electoral law was arbitrarily intended to exclude him from running again in the presidential elections, and that his lifelong disqualification from becoming an MP of the Lithuanian parliament constitutes a denial of the very essence of free elections. Kubilius and Landsbergis supported impeachment of Paksas from his presidential post in 2004. Landsbergis and Paksas are now members of the European Parliament.

According to some leaks to the media, leaders of the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats, the Liberal Movement, the Liberal Centrists, and the National Resurrection Party, during the ruling coalition’s meeting of May 17, decided to try to convince four Christian Party MPs to join the ruling coalition offering them the post of minister of culture. Vidmantas Ziemelis, head of the Christian Party’s parliamentary faction, expressed no joy over such an attempt of ‘stealing’ from his 12 MP-strong faction.