Vol 0, No 31
26 April 1999
T H E A M B E R C O A S T:
War of Words Explodes
Many political analysts expected this to happen sooner or later. The ongoing rift in Lithuania between the office of President Valdas Adamkus and the ruling Conservative Party entered its most dramatic phase this past week when the President essentially called on the Seimas (Parliament) to dismiss Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius. The latest troubles between the President and the government have been brewing for some time, and it has apparently come to this most dramatic stand-off.
As discussed in previous columns of The Amber Coast, there is a tense relationship between the "powers" in Lithuania - namely the presidency, the government and the Seimas. For years, the three offices of President, Prime Minister, and Seimas Chairman competed over their authority. Though the Constitution is generally clear about such matters, it does not regulate how the use of a mandated power by one could in fact infringe upon the mandated power of another. This is an inherent fault in all constitutional democracies, of course. Look at the US and the ever-present argument between Congress and the President over the War Powers Act.
For months, the Conservative Party, which controls both the government and Seimas leadership, played President Adamkus off in various ways. When Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis fails to get his laws passed without the "interference" by the veto and review power of the President, the Seimas Chairman lashes out verbally at President Adamkus. Clearly the tension between the two arose during the trouble with the recently-passed lustration law which Landsbergis championed and Adamkus sent to the Constitutional Court for review.
Though, for a time, the Vagnorius-Adamkus feud was on the back burner, it did not disappear. For months there has been tension, ranging from cabinet sackings last year to current appointments of the President being shot down almost automatically. The unbelievable failure to find a government Ombudsman is the prime example. The President twice nominated Kestutis Lapinskas to take that role, and both times, the Conservative Party shot it down in the Seimas. Though both votes were close, the Conservatives got their way. The third try was no charm - the candidate, Audrius Rudys, was withdrawn by the President before it went to a vote. The candidate was a member of the Social Democrats, which is in opposition to the present Conservative-Christian Democrat government.
Following this row (the result of which, there is still no new Ombudsman), the President and Prime Minister exchanged words on the "infringement" or "usurping" of power by the other. The Prime Minister accused the President of wanting to take control of the government's responsibilities while the President suggested the Prime Minister was becoming authoritarian in his approach. And when the Prime Minister held back the head of the Customs Office from a meeting with the President, this public humiliation was all President Adamkus could take.
President Adamkus made a 15-minute address on 19 April carried on all TV stations - a rarity in Lithuania. In the speech he stated that he had lost his trust in the Vagnorius government and that the Seimas should do something to resolve this. He basically called for responsible parties in the Parliament to sack and reshuffle the government. Hinting on other issues, including the corruption scandal in the Ministry of Economics over several energy concerns, the President made his point clear.
Vagnorius, not known to hold his punches, stated that he would offer to resign for the sake of state stability. In the same note, however, he attacked the President by suggesting that he would return if the President wanted to take up all the responsibilities. In this way, he suggested that Adamkus wanted a presidential state.
On Wednesday, 21 April, a secret ballot in the Seimas confirmed its confidence in the Prime Minister. The vote, 77 to 46, was not a surprise since the governing coalition holds a firm majority of also 81 seats (out of 141). In the aftermath, the President issued a statement suggesting he was disappointed with the result and that he had given the Conservatives the chance to do what is right for Lithuania. In a rebuttal, a ranking Conservative hinted that there might need to be serious discussions on the powers of the presidency, as defined by the Constitution. Clearly, this is not over by any means.
Through all this, it is clear that the people back the President. His popularity rating is the highest in the country at 43 per cent, with 82.9 of respondents saying they trusted him the most of all politicians. At the same time, members of the government are generally looked down upon, with the three least trusted individuals being Seimas Chairman Landsbergis, Prime Minister Vagnorius and Economic Minister Vincas Babilius. With general elections due next year, this could effectively seal the fate of the Conservatives for the next cycle. That could mean the end for Landsbergis (age) and Vagnorius (two failed chances at running the government), which would mean a whole new Conservative Party. If the Christian Democrats jump ship - though they have not indicated such a desire just yet - they may win a few points and possibly hop into the next governing coalition. But they will need to hurry as they are falling close to the five percent threshold in the polls. If the ruling coalition, especially the Conservatives, were to wise up a little, then they would find a more suitable person to lead the government. Maybe then they would be able to salvage a bit of their popularity going into the next elections.
Mel Huang, 26 April 1999
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