VILNIUS - The prospects for the upcoming presidential elections gained little clarity in the aftermath of the removal of Rolandas Paksas, while the former president continued to butt heads with officials across the spectrum of the Lithuanian government.
Expectedly, Paksas was nominated on April 17 by his Liberal Democratic Party to stand for the office he had lost only 11 days before, when the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament) made him the first sitting European president to be kicked out of office.
Following a unanimous vote in which not one party delegate cast a ballot against the former president, Paksas accepted the nomination.
However, his nascent campaign was immediately delivered a blow on April 19, when the Central Election Commission refused to register his candidacy pending a ruling on its legality.
The following day the Lithuanian Central Commission on Service Ethics ruled that a previous decision by the Constitu-tional Court that Paksas had failed to separate public and private interests disqualified him from holding a government position for three years.
While seemingly damning for Paksas' bid to regain the presidency, the commission's decision is expected to be appealed either in the Supreme Administrative Court or to the Constitutional Court itself for further clarification.
"Whether the decision falls on the side of pro-Paksas or anti-Paksas forces, I'm sure it will be appealed," said Zenonas Vaigauskas, chairman of the Central Election Commission, following Paksas' attempted registration.
Another black cloud hanging over Paksas was his lack of willingness to cooperate with prosecutors, who are conducting a pretrial investigation into Yuri Borisov, head of the AviaBaltika company and the former president's main financial supporter.
Arriving at the office of the general prosecutor in Vilnius on the morning of April 19, Paksas refused to provide testimony upon learning that his comments would be videotaped, a condition prosecutors later said should have posed no barriers to his testimony.
Paksas had failed to make earlier appointments with prosecutors using the excuse of ill health.
Journalists later filmed the former president playing tennis in the resort town of Palanga during his purported convalescence.
Legal troubles aside, Paksas entered an already crowded field of contenders for the nation's top political spot, as he was accompanied on April 19 by three other presidential hopefuls who successfully registered their candidacies.
Acting Parliamentary Chairman Ceslovas Jursenas, who was anointed by the leadership of the ruling Social Democratic Party as their presidential candidate following Paksas' removal, was first in line to hand over his documents to the commission.
But Jursenas' candidacy has been blasted by other traditional parties, who claim it was the instigating factor in a political rift that may prevent anti-Paksas forces from uniting behind one candidate that could defeat the former president in a two-way race.
Upon emerging from the election committee's meeting room, Jursenas defended his decision to run.
"Is there a massive threat to national security? Is this the end of the world? If he [Paksas] is registered, he will be a candidate just like I am," Jursenas told reporters.
Yet onlookers cast Jursenas' in a negative light, accusing him of opening the door to the potential for political pandemonium.
"I don't see any reason why this decision had to be made so quickly. Any decision that alienates one side or the other, at this point, isn't constructive," said Audrius Siaurusevicius, host of the political talk show Spaudos klubas (Press Club).
Also registering to run were Kazimira Prunskiene, leader of the Farmers' Union and New Democracy party, and Algirdas Pilvelis, the eccentric owner of a daily newspaper.
Yet with the period of registration remaining open until May 8, analysts have yet to rule out the possibility of other major political figures entering the race.
Former president Valdas Adamkus, whom Paksas defeated last January in the second round of presidential elections, has yet to officially state his intentions, while acting President Arturas Paulauskas has also remained silent on the issue.
"All possibilities are still open. Adamkus and Paulauskas are giving themselves some space to sit back, survey the situation, and make the decision that will be best for them," said Siaurusevicius.
All candidates for the presidential elections, which will be held concurrently with European Parliament elections on June 13, must collect at least 20,000 signatures in their support before their names appear on the final ballot.