Turmoil in Kaunas
On Tuesday, 56-year-old Kaunas Mayor Gediminas Budnikas, a member of the right-wing Freedom Union, announced his resignation from the post. Recently the mayor complained about difficulties and intrigues in working with coalition partner Conservatives, who, many analysts believe, want to replace the Freedom Union with another party.
The Freedom Union maintains that the resignation of their mayor does not mean a move to the opposition, as it wants to maintain a high profile in Kaunas politics. For potential partners, it is now looking at the New Alliance (Social Liberals); however, the two already had a coalition agreement, which collapsed after the October 2000 Seimas elections. The New Alliance replied, saying that they will look at the possibilities, having since asked potential partners to answer a questionnaire. If negotiations proceed, the New Alliance will demand the mayor's post for their party, according to reports.
In related news, Freedom Union leader and flamboyant MP Vytautas Šustauskas is in hot water over statements, which many have deemed as anti-Semitic, made on Swedish television. Šustauskas has a history of making anti-Semitic remarks.
Merger on the left
On 27 June, the merger of the Democratic Labour Party (LDDP) and the Social Democratic Party produced the biggest political party in Lithuania, with some 15,000 members. The two parties decided to unite the efforts and experience of the left and elected ex-President Algirdas Brazauskas to head the new merged party, the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party. He will be assisted by ten deputies, five from each merged entity.
According to the new party's leader, the main priority now is to prepare a shadow government programme and influence laws in the parliament. Brazauskas also sees the power of the new party at local levels in which the merged party has control.
The first communiqué from the merged party strongly criticised the government for amateurism, the inability to fulfil election promises and a disregard for state interests. Reactions from other parties were ambiguous. Seimas Chairman Artūras Paulauskas (New Alliance) claimed that the merger poses no challenge to the ruling coalition, while the leader of the Modern Christian Democrats, Vytautas Bogušis, called for a similar consolidation of parties on the centre-right in response.
Minister sues over reputation damages
For the first time in Lithuanian politics, an official is filing suit against the Civil Service Ethics Commission. Agriculture Minister Kęstutis Kristinaitis announced that he will go to court over the Commission's decision against him in a corruption probe. He is demanding LTL 10,000 (USD 2500) in damages.
The chairman of the New Alliance (Social Liberals), Seimas Chairman Artūras Paulauskas, said that he supports the claim made by Kristinaitis, saying he has the right to defend his honour and dignity.
The Ethics Commission, which examined the case at the request of Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas, earlier ruled that Kristinaitis behaved unethically in the sale of profitable land near Trakai. He did not formally violate any laws because the corresponding decrees prohibiting such behaviour were enacted only later.
Hope in the East?
The government finally issued a go-ahead for power utility Lietuvos Energija (Lithuanian Energy) to sign a co-operations agreement with Russia, Belarus and other Baltic countries over its joint power grid. The previous attempt by the company to sign such an agreement in 1999 was halted and resulted in a political scandal, as opponents deemed it a sale of Lithuania's independence.
Conservatives leader Vytautas Landsbergis, whose government halted the 1999 deal, warned that this is Russia's strategy to exert influence in Lithuania through its gas, oil and energy sectors.
Compromised minister remains in office
It appears that Economics Minister Eugenijus Maldeikis will retain his office following a decision by the Civil Service Ethics Commission clearing him of recent corruption charges. The Ethics Commission said that during his visit to Moscow, Economics Minister Maldeikis did not breach laws concerning the mixing of private and public interests but did conclude that Maldeikis breached some government regulations on conducting official meetings.
The Liberal Union, to which Economics Minister Maldeikis belongs, announced that it stood behind him and desired that he retain his office. However, coalition partner the New Alliance did call for Maldeikis to step down. The Liberal Union lost one of its ministers, ex-Transport Minister Gintaras Striaukas (see last week's news review for more on both cases), last week after another corruption probe.
Hopes in Strasbourg dashed
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg declined to consider two complaints from Lithuania, both linked to the criminal underworld. In the case against Sigitas Gaidjurgis, the court upheld that the preventive detention of the accused corresponded to European human rights norms. In the case of Kestutis Jurša, the court declined to consider a similar complaint, since Jurša has not exhausted all legal appeals in Lithuania. The decisions could help in similar cases pending in Vilnius at the moment.
In the meantime, notorious mobster Henrikas Daktaras is protesting the verdict of the Constitutional Court against him, citing that the legal system violated the presumption of innocence in his case. In October 2000, the Strasbourg court ruled that damages be paid to Daktaras for legal costs, as the Constitutional Court violated the principle of impartiality, but dismissed his claim that the court violated a presumption of innocence.
Debacle or joke from Clinton official?
An off-the-cuff remark by Jake Siewert, spokesman of outgoing US President Bill Clinton, caused an uproar in Lithuania. The spokesman, while answering a question about the future plans of President Clinton, suggested that a film about terrorists from Lithuania may be among them. He noted that the film would be done by Steven Spielberg's company, DreamWorks.
An official at the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington said it expressed, via its own channels, dissatisfaction at such comments from officials.
And in other news...
- Last year, the port in Klaipėda broke records on its activities. The port's reloading capacity has grown by approximately 30 per cent.
- It was reported that former MP Egidijus Bičkauskas had a car accident in Vilnius and fled from the scene.
- Preliminary figures by the Statistics Department show 2000 GDP growth at a paltry 2.9 per cent, supported by a strong fourth quarter growth of 4.7 per cent year-on-year.
Inga Pavlovaitė , 2 February 2001
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