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Life After Paksas?

"From this day, 6 April 2004, Rolandas Paksas, by decision of the parliament, is dismissed from the post of president of the republic." Vytautas Greicius, head of the Supreme Court, read out that statement last week, ending a saga that had started last fall. It was the first time a European head of state had been successfully impeached.

The votes of 86 of the 141 parliamentary deputies were needed to remove Paksas from office, according to the constitution. Only 116 took part in the final impeachment session, which approved three charges, by very narrow margins. A total of 86 deputies voted against Paksas for unlawfully granting Lithuanian citizenship to Borisov; 86 voted against Paksas for leaking classified information (informing Borisov that the VSD was taping his telephone conversations); and 89 voted against Paksas for meddling in private business affairs (the president, via his advisers, pushed shareholders in a road-building company to sell their shares to businessmen who were Paksas' close friends).

The low turnout during such a crucial debate and the close vote led to speculation among the media and some members of parliament that the pro-presidential Liberal Democrat Party had "bought" the votes of other parliamentarians with promises of prestigious posts (if Paksas survived) or support during future election campaigns. But no proof has surfaced of those allegations. More likely is that those who were elected in the rural areas where Paksas is still popular were already thinking about the parliamentary elections that will take place this fall.

Parliamentary chairman Arturas Paulauskas, one of Paksas' political rivals, took over as acting president after the impeachment.

However, life after Paksas might not mean life without Paksas. His last speech in the parliament just before the impeachment vote sounded like a campaign speech aimed at his electorate, largely composed of the inhabitants of impoverished provincial small towns and country villages.

Portraying himself as a victim, Paksas said: "I do not feel guilty. I ask you, are my few mistakes enough to impeach a president? This is all the system's revenge against me. This is a vendetta for my efforts to fight corruption in this country."

After the impeachment, Paksas met with his supporters from the Liberal Democrat Party, the party he founded, in the presidential office. After the meeting, parliamentary deputies from the Liberal Democrats told journalists that Paksas would run for the presidency again in the early elections scheduled to take place at the same time as elections to the European Parliament on 13 June. Lithuania will join the European Union on 1 May.

While Paksas has yet to announce his plans, the Liberal Democrats say he is optimistic. "Paksas invited us to his inauguration," Vladas Zalnierauskas, a member of parliament, told journalists outside the presidential office on 6 April.

The Lithuanian political elite, both the left-center ruling parties and the right-center opposition, will seek a common candidate who can beat the populist Paksas. Three names are mentioned in these discussions: Algirdas Brazauskas, the current prime minister, leader of the Social Democrat Party, and a former president who served from 1993 to 1998; Valdas Adamkus, president from 1998 to 2003 before losing to Paksas 15 months ago; and parliamentary chairman Paulauskas. All say that they are ready to sacrifice their own personal presidential ambitions and support the candidacy of one of the others.

(TOL 13.iv.04)

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