THE “NEW POLITICS” IN LITHUANIA.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 131

Lithuania seems headed for one of those quadrennial political landslides which have become the norm in that country since its restoration. The governing Fatherland Union/Lithuanian Conservatives (FU/LC) led by Parliament Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, as well as the allied Christian-Democratic Party (CDP), have splintered in recent months and suffered massive losses in the countrywide local elections in March of this year (see the Monitor, January 11, March 8). Anti-incumbent sentiment and reform fatigue have penalized the outspokenly pro-Western, pro-market FU/LC and CDP, rewarding by the same token their populist, mainly left-of-center rivals. The parliamentary elections scheduled for October threaten to complete the right-wing parties’ rout and to produce a government less than fully committed to joining NATO and the European Union. Lithuania’s neighbors are concerned that the Baltic political cohesion might weaken.

President Valdas Adamkus is addressing those dangers in the runup to the electoral campaign, is trying to put together a coalition which could form a stable majority in the new parliament and a cabinet of ministers that would not modify the country’s Western orientation. Acting mostly informally and relying mainly on powers of persuasion, rather than on formal powers, the president is mediating the formation of an electoral bloc made up of the Center Union, the New Union/Social Liberals, the Liberal Union and the Modern Christian Democrats. These parties, which range from left- to right-of-center, certainly do not have much of a common denominator. Adamkus seeks to fashion an interparty consensus, which he dubs “New Politics,” in place of the one-party dominance until now typical in electoral cycles. It is an uphill effort.

The four parties hold only a few seats in the current parliament. The Center Union (CU), led by Romualdas Ozolas–one of the leaders of the 1988-91 liberation movement–has long been aligned with Adamkus. It was the CU which launched the Lithuanian-American Adamkus’ presidential candidacy in 1997. The party tends to espouse quasi-nationalist views on certain economic issues, and for which reason lost some of its influence with the president following the 1998 election.

The New Union/Social Liberals (NUSL) was created by Arturas Paulauskas, a left-of-center populist with a background in the pre-1991 nomenklatura whom Adamkus defeated in that presidential election by a 1-percent margin. NUSL placed first on a countrywide basis in this year’s local elections and is expected to repeat that performance in the parliamentary elections. Earlier this year, Paulauskas and his party objected to privatization of “strategic” state property by Western capital, advocated renewal of trade links with Russia and called for cuts in the defense spending, instead of raising it to the NATO benchmark level of 2 percent of the gross domestic product. In recent weeks, however, Paulauskas seems to have veered toward the political center, and, on July 3, NUSL signed a joint statement committing all four parties to implementing Lithuania’s NATO Membership Action Plan as a national priority.

The Liberal Union (LU) is a right-of-center, business-oriented party, allied until recently with the governing FU/LC. The LU’s new leader, Rolandas Paksas, is one of the country’s most popular politicians. An acrobatic pilot, former mayor of Vilnius and prime minister in 1999, Paksas disagreed with FU/LC’s decision to privatize the country’s oil sector on terms sought by the strategic investor, the U.S. company Williams International. He resigned as prime minister and switched to the LU, which similarly quit the government over the same issue. The Modern Christian Democrats, led by Vytautas Bogusis, split off earlier this year from the Christian-Democratic Party (led by the long-serving Foreign Affairs Minister Algirdas Saudargas). The Modern offshoot is trying, though unconvincingly, to distance itself from the mother party by describing itself as rigidly conservative.

FU/LC is down but not out. On July 4, it managed to push through a set of amendments to the electoral law, abolishing the runoffs in single-mandate electoral districts and lowering the voter turnout required for a valid first-round election in those districts. These changes should favor the FU/LC at the expense of smaller and of less ideologically committed parties. In spite of its minority status and of the approaching elections, the government led by Andrius Kubilius is not shrinking from some unpopular measures. It has accepted the European Union’s demand to close down the first power block of the Ignalina nuclear power plant by 2005; it is pressing for privatization measures which are being denounced as “sellouts” by other parties; it has quashed proposals to transfer funds from the defense to the education budget. Even if it loses the elections, the FU/LC will have completed its mission in a manner befitting its historic role (BNS, July 1, 3-4).

The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at [email protected], by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions