Who would be Lithuania's next president?

  • 2004-02-05
  • By Steven Paulikas
VILNIUS - With the threat of dethronement looming over Rolandas Paksas, the Vilnius rumor mill has already begun to churn out a preliminary list of names as to what the potential field of candidates in a new presidential poll might look like.

While no politician has stepped forward to announce his desire to stand for election should the impeachment procedures in the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) prove successful, an article in the Jan. 30 edition of the daily Respublika reported that several political parties had already held meetings to plan their strategies for an election.
According to the paper, the Liberal Centrist Party decided it would back former President Valdas Adamkus, a hallowed figure of the center-right who lost to Paksas just over one year ago.
Audrius Penkauskas, Adamkus' assistant, would neither confirm nor deny the octogenarian's plans.
"I have no information about [Adamkus'] plans to run for the presidency. I can say that he has made no official decision," Penkauskas told The Baltic Times.
Penkauskas also claimed that Adamkus, who will be in the United States for most of February, had not officially met with the leadership of the Liberal Centrist Party.
Surprisingly, the same Respublika report revealed that the right-wing Homeland Union party was planning to throw its support behind Social Democratic Prime Minister Algirdas Bra-zauskas, one of Homeland Union's archrivals.
Brazauskas' aides said that the prime minister would refrain from making a decision on running for the presidency until the conclusion of the impeachment process, and that the Social Democrats, who fielded a different candidate in the 2003 race, had yet to hold an official meeting on the matter.
Brazauskas served as Lithuania's first post-independence president from 1993 to 1998 and was succeeded by Adamkus.
Still, according to insiders, the possibility of either a Brazauskas or Adamkus candidacy is anything but certain. As analysts have pointed out, the Homeland Union's alleged decision to endorse a left-wing candidate is evidence of a fear that Adamkus' age and poor performance in the previous election may make him unelectable.
"The Spanish call it refrito. Basically, he'd be kind of like warmed-up leftovers," said one analyst who wished to remain anonymous.
Brazauskas, on the other hand, would be faced with the decision of either returning to the somewhat purely ceremonial life of the Presidential Palace or retaining the greater governmental powers he currently enjoys as prime minister. He would also have to sacrifice the opportunity of leading his party to another victory in the parliamentary elections in October this year.
Aside from these obvious potential candidates, conversations among the capital's political elite have generated a colorful list of dark-horses who may gain greater popularity if Paksas is removed from office.
One such figure is Dalia Grybauskaite, the tough-as-nails finance minister who transformed the country's economy from Baltic laggard to Baltic tiger (see story on Page 13) and has been nominated as the country's European commissioner.
Grybauskaite's aides declined to comment on the idea of a presidential bid.
"She never answers a question that begins with 'if,'" said Terese Staniulyte, the finance minister's press secretary.
Another unknown who could throw his hat in the ring is Pranas Kuris, who served as Lithuania's representative judge in the European Court of Human Rights for the past 10 years.
According to analysts, figures like Grybauskaite and Kuris, who maintain no party affiliation and have maintained a lofty status above political conflicts, may offer a refreshingly neutral face to voters weary of scandal and infighting.
Regardless of the actual names that would appear on a hypothetical presidential ticket, political observers predict that unexpected switchovers, such as Homeland Union's stumping for Brazauskas, will intensify as the country's political mainstream unites to defeat the one person who would run in a new contest: Rolandas Paksas. Nothing in the constitution prevents an impeached president from running in a new poll.
"All of these parties are thinking about what the consequences would be if Paksas were given a new term after being impeached, that it would be a disaster for Lithuania's membership in NATO and other organizations, that it would destroy the country's image abroad. And they'll do what they can to make sure it doesn't happen," said the analyst.