MPs: Paksas returning faith and hope

  • 2004-03-04
One of President Rolandas Paksas' political hallmarks has been his tight-knit group of advisers and supporters, from whom he has demanded and received nothing less than unconditional backing before and during the presidential scandal. As chairman of Paksas' Liberal Democratic Party, MP Henrikas Zukauskas has been one of the party's most visible members since Paksas founded it in 2001. Steven Paulikas talked to Zukauskas and MP Jonas Lionginas, a fellow Liberal Democrat, about their perspective on the unprecedented political crisis the party has found itself in.
What is the ideological platform of the Liberal Democrats?
Jonas Lionginas: If you look at the ideological basis for most political parties, you're not going to find much of a difference. They're mostly all the same. A separate issue is if these parties have good enough teams to enact their agendas. For this we say that we have a great team. The most important thing is that there be a strong team and good ideas.

President Paksas has been in office for one year now. What policies has he implemented in this time?
JL: According to our constitution, the president doesn't have that much power. But this president has been very active-perhaps he's even pushed too hard for his program. He's been trying to bring order. And he's said from the very beginning that a person should be responsible for his actions.

So who's responsible for this scandal?
JL: Good question. Of course, people on either side of the barricade think they're right. But I would say that the people who initiated the scandal should take responsibility for it. If we look at things chronologically it's unbelievable that when [State Security Department Mecys] Laurinkus presented his dossier [to Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas] last autumn, it was immediately taken to be 100 percent true. That's not normal in a democratic state.

So Laurinkus is responsible?
JL: I'd say not just Laurinkus. I don't want to talk about specific names-in this case, I'll leave it to the president to name names. Laurinkus gave the file, and the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) initiated the impeachment process.

Does your party have any connections to the Russian political consulting firm Almax?
Henrikas Zukauskas: None. These rumors began in the media. Whoever was in need of these types of accusations found a way to make them. We have absolutely no contact with Almax or its representatives. It's a shame that some people can't believe that they didn't win the election, so they look for some bizarre explanation as to why they're not in power.

Why hasn't the party distanced itself from Yuri Borisov?
HZ: What do you mean "hasn't distanced?" We want everything that happens in Lithuania to happen lawfully. According to a court decision, he lost his Lithuanian citizenship, and someone who isn't a Lithuanian citizen can't belong to a party, so he is no longer a party member.
JL: All evidence against him is based on recorded phone conversations. And keep in mind that a person who is undergoing psychological stress is more likely to say something controversial, especially on the phone. And regardless, there's such a thing as the presumption of innocence, which many, especially the press, have ignored.
In your opinion, is the impeachment process being implemented according to the constitution and national laws?
HZ: There's only one article in the constitution pertaining to impeachment, and this is being followed. As far as procedural matters go, this is up to the Seimas' procedures and ethics committee, whose members are four anti-Paksas MPs, so it's obvious what their decisions are going to be.
But already some prosecutors believe that it's fine to violate laws. It's fine for Paulauskas to violate laws. If I thought that Paulauskas had acted lawfully, I'd be on his side. But if the law is applied unequally. What's to stop someone from writing a dossier about you, publicizing it and ruining your career?

Do you think the president has made mistakes?
JL: He himself has admitted this. Maybe his relations with the Seimas and the government should have been better. He's also said he should have chosen his advisers differently. In some places he's been too aggressive, acting above his constitutional powers. And he probably wanted to get things into order too much.

President Paksas' campaign slogan was "I want to return hope and faith." Do you think he has done this - or at least begun to do this?
HZ: This process has begun. I have no doubt the president will remain in his post, and then people will have hope and faith in the justice system. If we allow the current situation to continue we will live in a police state, and no one will be free.
JL: I think he has begun returning faith and hope. But to see it best you have to go to the countryside. People used to think that things wouldn't change, and the only result of that feeling is alcoholism and drug abuse. And, as I said, there was no order. Paksas has said there should be order, and in this case order has begun to be brought from the highest level.

But what does Paksas have to do with any of this?
JL: He's demanded responsibility from leaders.

Henrikas Zukauskas

-born 1951
-trained architect, member of Lithuanian
Architects' Union
-environment minister 2000-2001 under Paksas
-former member of Homeland Union
and Liberal Union parties

Jonas Lionginas

-born 1956
-worked in public finance since 1983
-served as finance minister in 1999 and 2000-2001 during Paksas' terms as prime minister
-member of parliamentary budget
and finance committee