The center-right coalition regains majority

  • 2010-11-24
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

IS ANYBODY HOME?: According to non-impeached Christian Party MP Aleksandr Sacharuk, the parliament would be left almost without MPs if all the MPs missing a parliamentary sitting, or voting with another MP’s electronic card, were impeached.

VILNIUS - One Christian crucified, another survived – that’s the result of the scandalous impeachment in the Lithuanian parliament. The world’s first impeachment of an MP for missing parliamentary sittings and allowing another MP to use his electronic voting card took place on Nov. 11, when the Lithuanian parliament voted on the impeachment of two opposition Christian Party MPs, Linas Karalius and Aleksandr Sacharuk. For the impeachment to succeed, it requires three-fifths of all MPs, i.e. 85 votes in the 141-seat Lithuanian parliament. The Lithuanian parliament voted in favor of the impeachment of Karalius, but it left Sacharuk in the parliament.

In the case of Sacharuk, it is the first time that the parliament ignored suggestions made by the Constitutional Court. On Oct. 27, the Lithuanian Constitutional Court ruled that two opposition Christian Party MPs, Karalius and Sacharuk, committed fraud, which was in “gross violation” of the Constitution.

There were 130 MPs present in the parliament on Nov. 11. Eighty MPs voted for the impeachment of Sacharuk while the rest chose various forms of saying ‘no’ to his impeachment: 24 MPs voted against, 13 MPs abstained and 13 MPs pretended to be mentally disabled and painted crosses or stars making their paper ballots invalid. The paper ballots were used for this particularly extraordinary procedure (voting in the parliament is usually done electronically).

In favor of the impeachment of Karalius were 89 MPs, while 16 MPs voted against, 13 MPs abstained, and another 13 MPs spoiled their ballots. In January, Karalius traveled as a tourist to Thailand and other countries in Southeastern Asia, missing five parliamentary sittings, when Sacharuk voted eight times, not only for himself, but also in the name of Karalius using Karalius’ electronic card for voting, which is illegal, though such practice is quite common in the Lithuanian parliament as well as parliaments worldwide. The Italians even have a special term for MPs voting for other MPs - they call them “pianists.”

In the morning of Nov. 11, both accused MPs showed up in the parliament with their lawyers. The impeachment day looked like a court procedure. Parliament Speaker Irena Degutiene read the accusation text, the defense lawyers gave their speeches, and MPs questioned Sacharuk, Karalius and their lawyers.
“According to the Constitution, the impeachment is possible but not obligatory,” Vygantas Barkauskas, the lawyer for Sacharuk, said. Barkauskas emphasized that in the past, Sacharuk was a brave policeman. “In 2003, during a police operation against carriers of illegal migrants, he was injured and he still feels the consequences of that injury,” Barkauskas said.

“In the name of Lithuania, I was going to meet bullets and knives, but what I’ve seen in the parliament surprised me,” Sacharuk said. He said that Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, Defense Minister Rasa Jukneviciene (both of them are MPs of the ruling center-right) and Kubilius’ adviser Virgis Valentinavicius are among the organizers of his impeachment. “Henrikas Daktaras [the now imprisoned godfather of the Kaunas mafia in 1990s] is a saint in comparison with them,” Sacharuk said, although the main organizer of the impeachment procedure, according to Karalius, was Arunas Valinskas, former speaker of the parliament.

“There would be no impeachment process if we would have stayed in the ruling coalition. On March 10, our faction announced that we are joining the opposition and on March 16, the signatures of the ruling coalition’s MPs appeared under the appeal to the Constitutional Court. If all MPs, who were committing the same wrongdoings of which we are accused now, would resign, only some 14 MPs would stay in the parliament,” Sacharuk said.

Christian Party MP Zita Uzlyte tried to soften the hearts of MPs - she stated that Sacharuk’s girlfriend lost a baby on March 16 (after a three month-long pregnancy) suggesting that this accident could have been caused by the nervous atmosphere due to the start of the impeachment process.
Valentinas Stundys, MP of the ruling Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats, was not impressed by Sacharuk’s defense. “The conclusion by the Constitutional Court makes impossible any speculations about some political insinuations in this case,” Stundys said.

“Now I’ll be free to speak what I think,” Karalius, a former rap singer known under the nickname Ezopas, said, smiling after he was impeached. He also joked that he will establish the Ezopas Travel Agency, which will be able to save on advertising. Karalius also said that he will continue his activity in the Christian Party. In fact, he is more a follower of a mixture of Buddhism and Hinduism than Christianity, but the party seems to be a very tolerant political project.

It seems that the Karalius-promoted vegetarianism and abstention from alcohol are not enough for success – football and basketball are necessary as well. It is widely believed that Sacharuk avoided Karalius’ fate because Sacharuk, unlike Karalius, is the member of the MPs’ football and basketball teams and brothers-in-sports were not willing to vote against him.

Although the ballot was secret, according to political analysts, the majority of 69 MPs of the ruling center-right coalition voted in favor of impeachment as well as some bigger part of the opposition Social Democrats, while the majority of the opposition Order and Justice Party and the Labor Party voted against impeachment.
According to Vidmantas Ziemelis, leader of the Christian Party’s parliamentary faction, 49 MPs of this parliament missed five parliamentary sittings (like Karalius) without justification for their absence and voting for other MPs is widespread.
According to Sacharuk, he informed the parliamentary commission for ethics and procedures that in April, he noticed how Kubilius was voting for the absent Jukneviciene, but no reaction followed from the commission.

According to political analyst Vladimiras Laucius, the parliament’s decision on Sacharuk and Karalius is weird from the moral point of view because Sacharuk committed a bigger wrongdoing than Karalius. He also wondered how an MP who violated the constitution can continue to work in the parliament.

On Nov. 12, the Labor Party called for dissolving the parliament and organizing a new parliamentary election, stating that the parliament is demoralized and not capable of continuing its work. However, this populist proposition on new parliamentary elections got no approval from the necessary 85 votes in the parliament.

Karalius was elected from the list of the Valinskas-led National Resurrection Party, which later split into two factions (one stayed in the ruling coalition while another moved to the opposition). Andrius Burba, who was behind Karalius on Valinskas’ party list, replaced Karalius in the parliament. Burba joined the ruling center-right coalition. MP Laimontas Dinius, showing his dissatisfaction with the non-impeachment of Sacharuk, moved from the opposition Christian Party’s parliamentary faction to the Liberal faction (it belongs to the ruling coalition) and, therefore, the ruling center-right regained its absolute majority in the parliament, i.e. 71 seats in the 141-seat parliament.