Paksas ousted from presidency

  • 2004-04-08
  • By Steven Paulikas
VILNIUS - Rolandas Paksas was removed from the office of president on the afternoon of April 6, ending a five-month-long political battle that had paralyzed the country and tested the resilience of a young Lithuanian democracy.

With 115 of 137 members of the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) participating in the ballot, two impeachment charges collected 86 votes each, while 89 parliamentarians voted to remove the president on the third charge.
The vote ended up being closer than many had predicted, given that a minimum of 85 votes on any one charge was necessary to strip Paksas of his office. (See chart on Page 3 for list of accusations.)
A group of 600 pro-Paksas protesters that had gathered in front of the Seimas early on the morning of the vote shouted "Shame, Shame" and "Down with Paulauskas" upon hearing the results. No incidents were reported.
Paksas' term in office officially ended at 4:22 p.m. when Supreme Court Chairman Vytautas Greicius, who acted as chairman of the Seimas during the impeachment hearings, announced the results of the vote.
"More than three-fourths of the members of Seimas have voted to remove Rolandas Paksas from office. I hereby declare the impeachment process closed," said Greicius.
Within moments, the crimson presidential flag was lowered in front of the Presidential Palace and the special presidential emblem that formerly graced Paksas' limousine was removed and replaced with a standard license plate.
Minutes after the results of the historic vote were announced, the Seimas adopted a resolution appointing Parliamentary Chair-man Arturas Paulauskas as temporary president as stipulated by the constitution.
A subsequent resolution placed former Vice Parliamentary Chair-man Ceslovas Jursenas in Paulauskas' previous position.Following the ballot changing the head of state, for which 100 parliamentarians voted in favor, Paulauskas declared his intention not to move his office to the Presidential Palace.By the evening of April 6, he was being guarded by presidential security agents.The dramatic end to Paksas' tenure as president marked the close of a scandal that had shaken Lithuania since late October, when State Security Department director Mecys Laurinkus first shared with Paulauskas classified information on investigations into Paksas' actions. Since that time, Paksas survived innumerable calls for his resignation from practically every political camp, while his powers as president were effectively neutralized.
Nonetheless, the former president defended his decision to stay in office up until the very last few hours that he occupied the Presidential Palace.
On the evening of April 5, television stations broadcast a taped statement from the president in which he lashed out at his accusers, arguing that he was a victim of a corrupt system.
"If my advisers and I had not attempted to destroy the corrupt system, this scandal would never have occurred. Today I am paying a high price for my attempt to resist the system, which I was supposed to be a part of, but which I did not tolerate," said Paksas.
"None of my decisions or actions have caused any damage to Lithuania or to the interests of our people," he said in the address.
While MPs had originally hoped to hold the historic vote on April 5, the parliamentary agenda was stalled when Paksas' team of six lawyers filed dozens of motions, all of which were rejected. Also at issue was Paksas' appearance in the Seimas itself. Paksas informed the parliamentary leadership on April 5 of his intention to come to the Seimas, the same day Parliament had invited him to appear.In order to allow the president to speak on his own behalf, the vote was moved to April 6, at which time Paksas was allowed to address the men and women who would, hours later, decide his political fate.
"Are we not destroying the state by using the secret services for political purposes?" Paksas asked in his last speech as president.
While politicians behind the impeachment rejoiced in their success, Paksas' supporters pointed out the razor-thin margin by which the vote was won.
Following Paksas' decision to make Borisov a presidential adviser on March 25, analysts had expected a landslide vote in favor of removal."I don't think this [close] vote is anything special. If 100 would have voted to remove, then we would have lost," said
Henrikas Zukauskas, leader of the Seimas' Liberal Democrat faction, which Paksas founded when he was an MP.
The 16 Liberal Democrats in the Seimas boycotted the ballot on Paksas' removal.
The tiny margin of victory also seemed to take the initiators of the impeachment by surprise.
"There could have been more votes to remove-it seems that certain fractions and Seimas members changed their minds," said Aloyzas Sakalas, who chaired the first special commission that recommended Paksas' impeachment.
"But all that was needed was 85 votes. The president has been removed," Sakalas told The Baltic Times moments after the ballot.
According to the constitution, the state elections commission has until April 16 to set a date for new presidential elections.