VILNIUS - The much-anticipated inception of the parliamentary impeachment trial against President Rolandas Paksas turned out to be wildly anticlimactic, as the first meeting on March 8 lasted all of 13 minutes.
MPs needed that long to decide that proceeding with the trail would make little sense without the expert conclusions from the Constitutional Court on the six accusations leveled against the president.
Both prosecutors and the president's lawyers agreed that calling witnesses to testify in the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) while the Constitutional Court was holding its own inquiry could be perceived as pressure on the court.
"With the consent of both sides, I announce a break in the impeachment process until the Constitutional Court gives its ruling," Chairman of the Constitutional Court Vytautas Greicius announced March 8 before Parliament.
Lawmakers agreed with the decision and later added that it would be problematic for lawyers and witnesses to shuffle between two hearings.
Still, it is not expected that the hiatus will prolong the overall impeachment process. The Constitutional Court is to start its inquiry on March 16, and the Seimas is still planning to hold its decision vote in April.
To ensure that the trial would not get dragged out and interfere with EU accession on May 1, Parliament has even affirmed an intense working schedule throughout the impeachment, planning some sessions for up to 11 hours per day.
To those MPs who questioned the gravity of the imminent workload, Parliamentary Deputy Chairman Ceslovas Jursenas said that in 1990 parliamentarians had worked "in even more intense circumstances, and most of them survived it."
Besides, rulings from the Constitutional Court would simplify the parliamentary trial and provide lawmakers with the necessary legal clarifications on the six counts of violating both oath and constitution that Paksas is being accused of.
"Members of Parliament are seeking clearly formulated judicial conclusions," political scientist Lauras Bielinis said.
Political analyst and journalist Arturas Racas stressed that Lithuania was in unfamiliar legal territory and that legislators wanted to avoid misunderstandings and repetition.
"The Seimas intends to transfer responsibility on the Constitutional Court's shoulders. Once [the court has] decided, the Seimas won't hesitate," said Racas.
Nevertheless, many MPs fear that Paksas' team of lawyers will do everything possible to drag out the trial. To prevent this from happening, some legislators are considering amendments to the Seimas' statutes that would give the Constitutional Court's conclusions on the accusations equal weight with rulings in criminal court cases.
The final decision on the president's removal, however, will remain with lawmakers.
"The Constitutional Court decides on guilt but not dismissal," Social Democrat Julius Sabatauskas said.
Meanwhile, the impeachment continues to split society. According to the last poll by the market analysis and research group RAIT, about 42 percent of Lithuanians would perceive an unsuccessful impeachment as a failure of democracy, and 51 percent - as proof of the complete vindication of President Rolandas Paksas.
Impeachment supporters tended to live in cities and have a higher education and incomes, according to the poll, while those respondents having only a basic education would see a failed impeachment vote as proof of the president's innocence.
Wanna' bet on it?
Lithuania's betting shop Orakulas started taking bets last week on whether Rolandas Paksas will still be president on May 15. The bets are currently three-to-one that the president will not be removed by mid-May.
Those who place on Paksas staying in office have a chance to triple their stakes. For those who feel that Paksas will get the boot, the rate is fixed at 1.02.
Strangely enough, Orakulas has been taking bets on whether Pasksas would resign since Nov. 3, just days after the scandal broke.
The company currently runs 26 betting shops across Lithuania and expects to expand its chain to 30 shops by the end of March. It also owns a bingo hall in Vilnius.