Linas Jegelevicius for the BNN
The nearer parliamentary election the hotter the Seimas becomes.
Summoned to the extraordinary session to decide on whether to launch an impeachment process against Labour Party MP Vytautas Gapšys, who had been sentenced in the party’s fraudulent bookkeeping case, the legislators left the Parliament hall after one hour after voting down the opposition Conservatives’ proposed agenda.
Lithuanian opposition becomes more combative
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė slammed the ruling Coalition, accusing it of blocking the opposition’s attempts to hold an extraordinary parliamentary session and shifting the focus away from problems faced by the incumbent government.
Shaking off the recriminations, the ruling Social Democrats claim all has been done according to the rules of the game and intend to gather now only for the Parliament’s spring session, which is scheduled for March 10.
But the combative opposition does not want to get rid of the idea of an extraordinary Seimas session and insists it has to be held next week. Led by the opposition leader, MP Andrius Kubilius, it wants to speak to the Parliament leadership about such a possibility.
After Social Democrat Algirdas Sysas, who, entrusted with the reigns of the extraordinary session, started singing national anthem right after the opposition-unfavourable results of the voting were announced, Kubilius sneeringly quipped: «That the chairing Algirdas Sysas decided to sing anthem in the middle of the sitting it does mean the session is over.»
All parliamentary sessions in Lithuania usually end with the lawmakers standing up and singing national anthem.
With 21 votes against the proposed agenda, 44 abstaining from the voting and 31 votes in favor of the agenda, the opposition fell short of votes necessary to have the contested agenda passed.
Visibly upset about the outcome, Kubilius asserted that the session has not been over and that it has to be continued next week.
Who is to blame for the short-lived session?
«After the disapproval of the agenda, the Seimas could send it back for improvement and go on with the session discussing issues that are not confirmed in the beforehand agreed agenda. But the aim of the ruling Coalition was to disrupt the session from its inception,» Kubilius claimed.
For first-hand «explanations» over the voting, the Seimas opposition leader has called out Algirdas Butkevičius, Prime Minister and chairman of Lithuanian Social Democrat Party, and Loreta Graužinienė, spokeswoman of the Parliament.
«The precedent we just have had is very dangerous for the evolution of democracy in Lithuania. We want to hear straight from the political leaders whether they approve of the behaviour of the ruling Coalition, which is breaking all the Constitutional principles. Or whether it was a random mistake of the presiding chairman,» Kubilius said.
Meanwhile, some MPs from the Coalition lashed out at the Conservatives’ former leader, asserting that not the Coalition members, but Kubilius’ fellow fraction members, who chose to go on business trips instead of turning up in the Parliament for the voting, were the ones to blame.
Shaking off this kind of criticism, Kubilius argued that the ruling Coalition MPs employ «primitive demagoguery.»
«They obviously knew in advance that they can ruin the extraordinary parliamentary session’s programme because of the majority they have,» Kubilius pointed out.
Speaking to Lithuanian media, Irena Šiaulienė, one of the senior-rank Social Democrats, underlined that the opposition leader «always» speaks about erosion of democracy and the ruling majority’s bulldozer when he loses temper.
«This is far from being true: we were ready to vote and we gathered in the Parliament therefore. But speaking of the reasons why the session failed they (Conservatives) missed the fact that over 15 initiators of the extraordinary session did not turn up for the voting. Among the absentees were also Conservatives,» Šiaulienė noted.
Labour Party fought off most accusations
Kęstutis Daukšys, of the Labour Party, believes that the opposition consisting of Conservative and Liberal MPs has called the session not only to initiate impeachment against his fellow party member Gapšys, but also dig into the party’s financial papers and cast a new shadow on it after a senior Lithuanian court exonerated the Labour Party and its founder Viktor Uspaskich for the most part.
In early February, the Lithuanian Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court’s prison sentence for Uspaskich on charges of tax evasion and fraudulent bookkeeping.
The well-known Lithuanian politician, who ahead of the ruling, announced of leaving the party, had to pay a fine of 6,800 euro for failing to include more than 24 million litas (6.7million euros) in income and 23 million litas (6.66 million euros) in spending in its bookkeeping books during 2004-2006.
His former deputy chairman and later the party’s chairman Vytautas Gapšys was fined 3,600 euro and former party bookkeeper Marina Liutkevičienė was imposed fine of 5,700 euro for improper accounting.
Three years ago, Vilnius Regional Court found Uspaskich guilty of the charges and sentenced him to three years behind the bars.
The Labour Party saga dates back to 2006, when the country’s special financial investigators busted the party headquarters in Vilnius and seized financial documents. The prosecutors alleged they were pinpointing to the shadowy bookkeeping.
Embattled Gapšys now says that he wants Lithuania’s Constitutional Court to give explanation whether he, with the unfavourable Appeals Court ruling, has right to keep his MP’s seat.
Although the agenda of the extraordinary Seimas session included only the single question on Gapšys impeachment, many experts believe that the opposition, which has become visibly louder lately, would have taken advantage of the limelight and grilled the Social Democrats’ leader and PM Butkevičius with awkward questions on the Cabinet members’ possible misdeeds.
Cabinet members in hot water
Scandals have embroiled several ministers over the last month. First there was Rimantė Šalaševičiūtė, who was forced to resign after admitting in a radio interview to having bribed long ago a doctor, who was about to operate on her close relative. Then, with Butkevičius on holiday in the Caribbean, the Labour party-led Ministry of Agriculture got in trouble after the revelation was made that the ministry had bought foods for the poor for the price twice bigger than that on the market. Besides, the foods were bought from a tin food plant owned by the Labour Party founder, MEP Viktor Uspaskich.
The last to get in hot water was Environment Minister Kęstutis Trečiokas, of the Party Order and Justice. He was accused of abusing his capacity while helping Ričardas Malinauskas, the Social Democrats’ deputy chairman and mayor of the resort town of Druskininkai, to legalize contested construction of manor house «Vijūnėlė» in the resort. Opponents alleged it was done unlawfully ahead of court’s unfavourable ruling for the estate.
PM Butkevičius chalked up all the accusations to the electoral campaign and even speculated that some opponents seek his ouster.
«I know there are people who have been long seeking to plot against me and make me leave the premiership,» he told Lithuanian media after coming back from holidays.
Lithuania will held parliamentary elections in late October.
Political life will get nastier
Linas Kojala, an analyst at Vilnius-based The Eastern Europe Studies Centre (EESC), a NGO, believes that the Government has missed a good opportunity to explain the recriminations facing the Cabinet members.
«With the extraordinary session finished like this, the question of the Government’s legitimacy is lingering in the air. The ruling Social Democrats’ high ratings of public approval are still there, but they will not necessarily reflect in the election results,» the analyst told BNN.
He predicts that with the political campaigning running in, the political life in the country will get only nastier.
«We will certainly see new accusations, but their substantiation might be a difficult thing,» believes Kojala.