On October 8, Lithuania is holding parliamentary elections which are certain to result in the replacement of the conservative-led government with one dominated by left-of-center forces. Those forces form the centerpieces of two blocs, in potential competition with each other. One is the New Politics bloc, favored by President Valdas Adamkus–whose aides have had a hand in putting this bloc together. The other is the Social-Democratic Alliance, chaired by former President Algirdas Brazauskas, who seems to have his hopes pinned on the prime minister’s post in the event of an electoral victory.
New Politics is made up of four components. The New Union/Social Liberals (NU/SL) was created by Arturas Paulauskas in 1998 (one year after he had lost the presidential election to Adamkus by a 1 percent margin) and is, in essence, his personal vehicle. Paulauskas himself typifies those ex-Communist nomenklatura members who kept their distance from the national-democratic movement before 1991, and spent most of the ensuing decade carving out a niche in business or trying to regain political posts.
Paulauskas, a former prosecutor general, cast himself as an anti-establishment “outsider” to gain popularity after 1998. His amply financed party placed first on a countrywide basis in the April 2000 local elections, and is generally expected to repeat that performance in a close contest with the Social-Democratic Alliance in these parliamentary elections. Paulauskas’ record thus far is that of an opportunistic tactician, prepared to enter–as he has–into alliances at one and the same time with the president in Vilnius and with the quasi-Nazi, anti-Western Mayor Vytautas Sustauskas in the second-largest city, Kaunas. Similarly in the fourth-largest city, Siauliai, NU/SL has openly courted the local, tiny and unlawful National-Socialist Party. Paulauskas himself is running for parliament in Siauliai’s single-mandate district. Meanwhile, last month, Paulauskas’ law firm partner was revealed in the course of lustration proceedings to have been a KGB officer and had to withdraw as a parliamentary candidate.
During the early stages of the electoral campaign, NU/SL sponsored a legislative initiative to cut defense spending by 30 percent. The measure, if enacted, would have doomed Lithuania’s goal to raise the defense budget to 2 percent of the GNP as a key qualification for NATO membership. The Conservatives in parliament managed to quash that initiative. Later in the course of the campaign, however, Paulauskas adopted an almost pro-NATO stance as he moved toward accommodation with the president and the right-of-center parties in the New Politics bloc.
The Liberal Union (LU) is a right-of-center party, a staunch advocate of free-market economics and unreservedly pro-Western. The businessmen who run it have recruited a highly popular party leader, Rolandas Paksas, former multiple champion of acrobatic flying and current mayor of Vilnius. Paksas was a nonpartisan prime minister of the Conservative-dominated government last year, but resigned that office after a few months, as did the LU ministers in that government. They disagreed with the terms conceded by the Conservatives to the American strategic investor Williams International for the privatization of Lithuania’s oil sector. Paksas ultimately joined the LU as the party’s top vote getter. LU controls the municipality of Vilnius and that of Klaipeda, the country’s main seaport.
The Center Union (CU) is led by Romualdas Ozolas, who was one of the leaders of the 1988-91 liberation movement. The CU has been aligned with Adamkus since well before the president’s final return to his native country from the United States. It was the CU which launched Adamkus’ presidential candidacy. Unlike the president, however, the party tends to espouse quasi-nationalist views on economic issues.
The Modern Christian Democrats, led by Vytautas Bogusis, are the smallest component of the New Politics bloc. This group split off earlier this year from the Christian-Democratic Party, junior ally of the Conservatives in the government. The “Modern” splinter depicts the mother party as overly conservative.
The Social-Democratic Alliance consists of five groups. The Democratic Labor Party (DLP) is the successor to the Lithuanian Communist Party’s pro-reform and nationally minded wing led by Brazauskas. The DLP governed Lithuania from 1992 to 1996–a term almost coinciding with Brazauskas’ 1993-1997 presidency. As president, Brazauskas resigned the party leadership in keeping with the constitution, but retained close informal links with the LDP. Unlike Brazauskas, however, the party compiled a poor record in office. It stalled privatization and other reforms, provided a cover for extensive corruption, and ultimately collapsed amid political and business scandals. Most of the tainted officials of that period have since been dropped from the party’s leadership.
Ceslovas Jursenas, the chairman of the 1992-96 parliament, is the LDP’s current leader. Povilas Gylys, foreign affairs minister of that period, would probably return to that post if the LDP does well in these elections. While in office, Gylys–like Brazauskas–actively promoted Lithuania’s quest to join NATO and the European Union.
The Social-Democrat Party (SDP), led by Vytenis Andriukaitis, is positioned somewhat to the left of the LDP. The SDP’s objections to privatization of “strategic” state property have an ideological tinge which is not often present in the LDP’s more pragmatic-sounding pronouncements. Both parties, however, favor the retention of state control over electrical power plants, railways, airports, other infrastructure assets and possibly even the oil sector. During the campaign, the LDP and SDP–in common with the NU/SL–have not been above using “social justice” slogans in combating the Conservatives’ economic policies.
The New Democracy Party is the renamed Women’s Party of former Prime Minister (1990-91) Kazimiera Prunskiene, who has been struggling for the past nine years to achieve a political comeback. The Polish Electoral Action and the small Russian Union of Lithuania are also components of the Social-Democratic Alliance.
The Lithuanian parliament has 141 seats, seventy of which are allocated to party slates according to the proportional system, and seventy-one adjudicated in single-mandate constituencies on a “first-past-the post” basis in a single round of voting. Opinion surveys uniformly show the New Union/Social Liberals and the multiparty Social-Democratic Alliance leading the field, each with 16 to 18 percent of voter support, followed by the Liberal Union with some 10 percent, Fatherland Union/Conservatives with 6 to 7 percent, the Center Union with some 5 percent, and the Peasants’ Party surprisingly with only 3 percent of voter support. The polls also show, however, that up to 30 percent of the electorate keeps its options open. This large bloc of undecided voters may turn out to be the source of some surprise returns. Fundamentally, however, these elections seem likely to produce a parliamentary majority of left-of-center parties, and a coalition government which will include a part of the center-left in tandem with a right-of-center minority element (Survey based on the BNS and ELTA news agencies’ coverage of the campaign; see the Monitor, March 28, July 6, August 4, 11).
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