On June 22, five days before the Lithuanian presidential election runoff, the government’s Special Investigations Service (SIS) raided the offices of four political parties, seized financial and other documents, and announced “corruption” indictments against five politicians from those parties.
The four parties are: Social-Democrats, led by Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas; New Union/Social Liberals, led by Parliament Chairman and acting head of state Arturas Paulauskas; Liberal and Center Union; and Fatherland Union/Conservatives. The first two form the incumbent coalition government. The latter two are in opposition, but support the government’s policies on issues of democracy, market economics, NATO and US relations. These four parties have alternated in power for more than a decade. Of the five indicted politicians, three belong to the Liberal and Center Union that has close links to former President Valdas Adamkus. In addition, this party’s most popular figure, Vilnius mayor and Adamkus presidential campaign coordinator Arturas Zuokas, abruptly left on June 22 for Poland, announcing from there that he knew of SIS plans to arrest him for political reasons. Before any allegations made against parties and politicians can be proven, the political damage will have been done as intended by skewing the presidential election.
The SIS action clearly seeks to influence the election’s outcome and, with it, Lithuania’s international orientation. SIS has targeted the four parties that recently organized the impeachment and removal of President Rolandas Paksas (2003-2004). Paksas allowed Russians linked to intelligence services and organized crime to penetrate the presidential office. The targeted parties support the candidacy of former President Adamkus, a Lithuanian-American, in the June 27 election runoff. His opponent, Kazimira Prunskiene, has long-standing Russian connections. Paksas and allied left-leaning groups support Prunskiene in her bid for the presidential office, and have entered into an alliance with her party for the upcoming parliamentary elections as well. Valentinas Junokas, the SIS chief who ordered the actions against the pro-western parties, is a Paksas holdover and known personal sympathizer of the removed president.
Those four parties – along with Adamkus who served as president without party affiliation from 1998 to 2003 — led Lithuania into NATO and the European Union, as well as into a close relationship with the US. Political forces led by Prunskiene and Paksas made no contribution to those policies. Overtly or covertly, they opposed many aspects of those policies, capitalized on the social costs of market reforms to attack the pro-western parties, and looked to Russia for support. Latest opinion surveys show Adamkus holds 46 percent of voter support, Prunskiene with 36 percent of votes, with some 15 percent of voters undecided. Therefore, until June 22, political observers felt that Prunskiene could not win on the strength of the pro-Paksas and rural “protest vote,” and that Adamkus was headed for success, thus guaranteeing the continuity of Lithuania’s democracy and western orientation.
By virtue of its actions on June 22, the SIS seeks to propel the Prunskiene-Paksas alliance into the presidency now, and into Parliament in the September elections with a view toward forming a governing majority. SIS’ actions targeted the four pro-western parties, seeking to paint them with a broad brush of corruption and discredit them with voters on the eve of the presidential runoff. The SIS’ actions have stunned and confused the political establishment. State institutions are unable to react due to lack of information. Many politicians find it difficult to object to an operation that claims to prosecute corruption, as taking a stand against such an operation on election eve seems politically risky. The legal basis for the SIS operation is far from clear. The political authority under which the SIS acts is murky, and the mechanisms for democratic control over the agency are now found to be inadequate and dysfunctional. SIS chief Junokas gave ambiguous answers and withheld hard information from members of Parliament during June 22 hearings. Prosecutor-General Antanas Klimavicius, testifying alongside Junokas, failed to clarify the role of the prosecutor-general’s office in the affair, or the relationship between the SIS and the prosecutor-general’s office. Klimavicius seemed to passively condone the SIS actions, even complaining that politicians and the media were overreacting. The main question in these hearings concerned the timing of the SIS operation, just days before the presidential election runoff. Junokas and Klimavicius blithely conceded that the SIS action might have been mistimed.
In sum, Junokas and his team seem to be acting out of control; no political or state authority seems willing or able to effectively challenge the SIS actions. The presidential office is vacant, with Paulauskas serving as interim head of state until a new president is inaugurated. The parliamentary chairmanship also became vacant when Paulauskas became interim president. That parliamentary post is temporarily held by left-leaning Social-Democrat Ceslovas Jursenas, self-described as “ideologically close” to Prunskiene. Slightly more than half the Parliament’s membership took part in a June 22 vote to instruct the legislature’s security and defense committee to prepare a report on the SIS matter by June 24. On June 23, the State Defense Council instructed Klimavicius to probe the legality of SIS actions and present a report by June 25. Meanwhile, the State Security Department has a newly appointed and inexperienced leadership.
Few politicians seem willing to speak their minds at this juncture, although many undoubtedly agree with a statement made by Adamkus. “Lithuania’s democracy is in danger. This move cannot be viewed otherwise than as an attempt to influence voters in the presidential election, destabilize the situation, and undermine the country’s international standing. I hope that the state and appropriate institutions, including Parliament, will take urgent steps to establish what is behind these actions, whether laws were broken, and where these actions were initiated,” Adamkus stated (LNK-TV, June 23). From Poland, Zuokas stated, “These actions have been fully influenced by foreign intelligence” (Reuters, June 22).
As usual in litmus test situations, Fatherland Union/Conservative leader Vytautas Landsbergis, who was the first head of the restored state from 1990 to 1992 and served as parliamentary chairman from 1996 to 2000, presented a clear-cut political diagnosis. Landsbergis said, “A synchronized attack has been launched on all political parties that don’t back the Russian-preferred candidate Kazimira Prunskiene. Russia is playing its last card after Rolandas Paksas…The state has come under attack. The state must defend itself” (Reuters, Delfi web site, June 22).
Lithuanian mainstream media and think tankers view the Paksas affair, and now the Prunskiene candidacy in the context of Russian attempts to change Lithuania’s — and other ex-Soviet-ruled countries’ — western orientation by exploiting various internal economic or political vulnerabilities. In the case of Lithuania, and also Latvia, this is almost certainly the last chance for Moscow (LNK-TV, Radio Vilnius, Delfi web site, Lietuvos Rytas, BNS, Reuters, June 21-24).