Lithuania’s Central Electoral Commission issued on January 9 the final returns of the presidential runoff held on January 4. Lithuanian-American conservative Valdas Adamkus received 50.37 percent of the vote, narrowly edging out his left-of-center opponent, Arturas Paulauskas, who received 49.63 percent. The numerical difference between the two was only 14,250 votes, out of the total of 1,922,000 valid ballots. The turnout was 73.7 percent. Paulauskas, who had hinted that he might contest the returns, conceded defeat.
Adamkus is to be inaugurated on February 25, when the powers of incumbent president Algirdas Brazauskas expire. Brazauskas’s support for Paulauskas had been a major factor in the latter’s good showing. However, Brazauskas is now actively cooperating with Adamkus to ensure a quick and smooth transition, and has invited the president-elect’s staff to begin operating out of the presidential residency ahead of schedule.
In his first post-election statements, Adamkus has announced that he will: pursue accession to NATO as the uppermost goal of foreign policy; set the year 2005 as the target date for accession to NATO and the European Union; visit Estonia and Latvia with a view to strengthening Baltic solidarity; and cooperate closely with the conservative parliamentary majority and its leader, chairman of parliament Vytautas Landsbergis, whose support enabled Adamkus to overtake the front-runner Paulauskas in the runoff. (See Monitor, January 6) Adamkus and the conservative prime minister, Gediminas Vagnorius, are planning to reduce the number and size of ministries while increasing the representation of the Center Union, which had supported Adamkus from the outset, in a slimmed-down government.
Adamkus has selected Lithuanian-American businessman Raimundas Miezelis as chief of the presidential administration. According to U.S. ambassador Keith Smith in a press interview, Adamkus’s election will redound to the advantage of U.S.-Lithuanian relations because "Adamkus better than anyone knows the U.S. government structures and how they work."
The president-elect is calling for a substantial reduction of Russian forces in the neighboring Kaliningrad region; but has at the same time disavowed some Lithuanian groups that advocate international steps toward ending Russia’s sovereignty over that region (the formerly German Koenigsberg). Russia’s Foreign Ministry was quick to acknowledge Adamkus’s stand on the matter as "constructive." While the continuation of Lithuania’s Western orientation had been a foregone conclusion, Adamkus is at the same time stressing continuity with the quest by Brazauskas for normal relations with Russia. (BNS, Russian agencies, January 6-10)
Belarus Cracks Down on Border Trade with Poland.