Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 85

On April 30, Gediminas Vagnorius, bowing to President Valdas Adamkus’ insistent demands that he leave office, resigned as prime minister of Lithuania. In a televised address to the country, Vagnorius drew a balance sheet of the cabinet of ministers–composed of Vagnorius’ Fatherland Union/Lithuanian Conservatives and the Christian-Democrats–which Vagnorius headed since the Conservatives’ electoral triumph in late 1996. On the positive side, the outgoing prime minister listed a creditable overall economic performance in the Central European context [his chosen term of comparison, rather than the Baltic context], a realistic chance for Lithuania to be invited to pre-accession negotiations with the European Union by the end of 1999, coping well with the impact of Russia’s financial crisis, and strengthening Lithuania’s position in international affairs. On the negative side, Vagnorius admitted to the persistence of official corruption and abuse of power, bureaucratic red tape, the shadow economy and assorted ills responsible for “public frustration with the authorities, primarily with the cabinet of ministers.”

Pointing to current tensions between Russia and NATO, Vagnorius emphasized the value of internal political stability and acknowledged that Adamkus was better placed to consolidate that stability. The present cabinet is therefore withdrawing to make room for a new cabinet which would have the president’s trust, Vagnorius concluded. He pledged to cooperate with the president and the new cabinet and urged his supporters to do the same.

Vagnorius’ resignation ends a war of words between him and Adamkus which had escalated in recent months, mainly at Vagnorius’ initiative. Communications between the prime minister and the president ultimately broke down and were replaced by public polemics among their respective offices. The conflict was one of personalities, rather than policies. It reflected an incompatibility between the cultural baggage of the Lithuanian-American Adamkus and the locally reared Vagnorius–the former a consensus-oriented politician, the latter inclined toward confrontational tactics by virtue of his experience in the national movement during the final years of Soviet rule. Vagnorius’ critics portray him as authoritarian and abrasive.

Vagnorius, a trained economist, became prime minister at the age of 34 in January 1991, during the most critical days of the Soviet crackdown on the Lithuanian national movement. He served in that post until July 1992, launching the country on the path of economic reforms and absorbing much of the political fallout, as he did during his second term of office from December 1996 to date. Adamkus was elected president in a tight runoff in January 1998. During the intervening period, Vagnorius’ popularity has plummeted while Adamkus’ has soared.

Under the constitution, the resignation of the prime minister triggers the automatic resignation of the entire cabinet of ministers, which will carry on in a caretaker capacity. The president must, within fifteen days, nominate a candidate prime minister for approval by the parliament (Lithuanian Television, BNS, April 30, May 1; see the Monitor, April 21-22).