Adamkus vs. the rest

  • 2002-09-12
  • Geoffrey Vasiliauskas
Adding to an already strange election campaign, independent MP Julius Veselka threw his hat into the presidential election ring recently. On the same day, Conservative Party candidate Andrius Kubilius pulled out.

In what's shaping up to be the most boring election in Lithuanian history, the hard-headed - some might say hard-boiled - conservative MP, Kubilius, threw his negligible support behind the incumbent, Valdas Adamkus, who announced in the first week of August he had been forced to tender his candidacy so as not to disappoint a portion of the electorate and a group of "intellectuals" who had participated in a contrived assembly the week before, urging Adamkus to run. Adamkus made it official late last week.

The Soviet theatrics of the former American citizen weren't lost on the national press, which from the start have called this campaign season a done deal, made behind closed doors by the men currently in power.

It came as no surprise whatsoever that former President and current Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas announced over the weekend he wasn't a candidate.

Brazauskas was the only possible candidate with enough public support to give Adamkus a fair fight.

What happens next is also clearly understood: the Social Democrat-Social Liberal coalition will perform a song and dance and eventually offer either Social Democrat MP Vytenis Andriukaitis or Social Liberal Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas as their candidate for president.

The problem with back-room deals for presidents is that the electorate doesn't always like to be second-guessed, and could chose a dark horse candidate. In favor of the status quo this year is an absolute herd of dark horses jockeying for position in the weeks leading up to the official campaign period.

The election itself is set for Dec. 22.

Investigative journalist Vytautas Matulevicius and his brother, liberal MP Algimantas Matulevicius, are both vying for the post. The former Matulevicius' television show, named the "Vytautas Matulevicius Show," frequently featured commentary and interviews with Australian-Lithuanian Juozas Petraitis, a 44-year-old Cambridge-educated attorney. Petraitis announced his candidacy on June 19. The brothers Matulevicius and Petraitis have all been outspoken critics of official policy. Petraitis and the investigative journalist have made real enemies among the political elite by charging corruption in high places. More recently, Petraitis called for proceedings against Valdas Adamkus for his complicity in the Williams-Mazeiku Nafta affair, and for failing to keep his oath of office.

Former Vilnius Mayor and twice former Lithuanian Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas has positioned himself on the horizon as one of the darker of the dark horse candidates, keeping low to the ground and appearing more in entertainment programming than political debate.

His arch rival this season is none other than Eugenijus Gentvilas, the former Klaipeda mayor and leader of the Lithuanian Liberal Union, which Paksas adopted in 2000, brought to prominence on his coat-tails in parliamentary elections that fall and which then kicked him out without ceremony. Gentvilas has said he will wage a real campaign to the end, despite any back-room deals to the contrary. Public support for Gentvilas at this point isn't sufficient to bring him into a second run-off election against Adamkus.

Julius Veselka, the independent MP, or rather the sole member of his People's Union for a Just Lithuania, has the support of the almost unknown Lithuanian Republican Party already. In his favor, Veselka is a good public speaker, able to come up with a joke on the fly and to operate in hostile conditions. Veselka has also been a consistently loud voice against Lithuania's pandering to the so-called strategic investor Williams, which took over operations at Lithuania's Mazeikiu Nafta refinery in 1999, ran up record losses and then sold the company to Russia's Yukos in a secret deal earlier this year, leaving the state holding debts in the billions of litas. Veslka is best known for his opposition to Lithuanian NATO membership.

"Taking into consideration the unreliable and corrupt policy of the ruling parties from the day independence was announced, ... I'm ready to submit my candidacy for president of the Republic of Lithuania," Veselka said in the organ of the Lithuanian Republican Party.

Veselka has said he believes official neutrality is the best option for Lithuania.

Other possible candidates for president include former Prime Minister and New Democratic party MP Kazimira Prunskiene and former Parliamentary Chairman and Social Democrat MP Ceslovas Jursenas, although the latter is unlikely to announce his candidacy this time around and both MPs belong to the current ruling coalition.