Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
The killing blow to MEP and leader of Lithuania’s Order and Justice Party (TT), Rolandas Paksas, has come from the once stalwart of the party and now the honcho of the Labor Party, and also fellow MEP, Valentinas Mazuronis. Swarming behind him, a dozen of Labour lawmakers have shattered Paksas’ hopes to return to Lithuanian Parliament in 2016 and seek presidency in 2019 voting against the TT-spearheaded constitutional amendment that would have paved way for Paksas’ comeback.
Ousted president needs to wait for his chance
A failed vote will prevent the leader of the ruling Order and Justice Party at least for a year to again seek the removal of ban cordoning him off from the Parliament and President’s Office.
Impeached in 2004 and removed from the President’s Office for perjury, Lithuania’s Constitutional Court ruled subsequently that a person who has violated a constitutional oath should be banned from running for an elected office for life.
The hope, however, however, came from the European Court of Human Rights in 2011. The court ruled that a life-long ban was excessive and obliged Lithuania to change the law and allow Paksas to seek an oath-requiring office.
The amendment, if passed, would have reduced the ban on electing individuals who have been convicted of gross constitutional violations to the Seimas or to the president’s office to 10 years.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
The amendment was voted for by 37 Social Democratic Party members, 11 Order and Justice Party members, 14 Labour Party members, five Liberals, 8 Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania members, and 8 other members from a mixed parliamentary fraction. Eleven MPs voted against it and 13 abstained, meaning that the Seimas could not reach the 94 affirmative votes required to pass the constitutional amendment.
According to the Lithuanian Constitution, Constitutional amendments can be passed in the country when they are voted for by a two-third or more of the 141-seat Seimas during two separate votes held at least 3 months apart.
So to wrap it up, Paksas came nine votes short of the coveted legislative prize- get election participation right reinstated.
Betrayal or not?
Petras Gražulis, a member of the Order and Justice Party, pointed out after the failed voting that half of the Labour party had left the Seimas hall before the vote, which he considered as a betrayal.
«Today, the Labour party betrayed R. Paksas and the Order and Justice party,» he said to Delfi.lt, a Lithuanian news website. The Labour party has 29 members in the Seimas, and only 14 of them participated in the vote. The Conservative party’s members in the Seimas all either voted against the amendment or abstained
But Valentinas Mazuronis, the TT Party-deputy-chairman-turned-Labour-Party-leader, shrugged off the accusations, insisting that the fate of Paksas should be up to Lithuanian voters.
«I think that the question should be solved once and for all. Voters should decide whether politicians suit one or another office,» Mazuronis told.
He also emphasized his belief that such far resonating issues should not be put on the parliamentary floor a year ahead of an election.
«I know it from my experience that questions of this kind should be addressed not during an electoral campaign, which has virtually started already. If we speak throughout a political campaign about the Prize of Freedom (Seimas has voted against giving it to Vytautas Landsbergis, the architect of independent Lithuania-L.J.) and constitutional amendments, it does create unnecessary political tensions,» the Labour Party chairman reasoned.
He, however, denied that he had asked part of the fellow party members to abstain from the constitutional voting, which could have paved Paksas’ way to Lithuanian Parliament and possibly the President’s Office.
PM accused Labour Party leader of «shady behavior»
But Algirdas Butkevičius, the leader of Social Democrats and Prime Minister of the Lithuanian Government, refused to buy the Labour Party leader’s words.
«I think we saw a very shady behaviour. I think we see such results of the voting just because the Labour Party chairman has given instructions to some of the fellow labourists not to come to the Seimas Hall during the vote. I do have this kind of information from some members of the Labour Party fraction,» Butkevičius told.
Out of 29 Labour Party faction members, only 14 were present in the voting crucial to Paksas.
But Mazuronis insisted he had nothing to do with the voting results.
«I actually did not participate in the fraction sitting during which the decision was passed. The fraction members were asked to vote freely in the vote. I do not know where from the premier has gotten this kind of information,» the Labourists’ leader excused himself.
Paksas: let’s get over Christmas and New Year first
Following the blow, Paksas dismissed any far-reaching conclusions on the impact from the decision on the ruling Coalition and his own party.
«Now the decision is just too hot (to address it). First of all, we all need to cool down, calm down, decorate the Christmas trees, and await Christmas and perhaps New Year. Then we will gather and discuss how to react,» the TT Leader was quoted as saying by Lithuanian media.
Meanwhile, Mazuronis insisted that his led Labourists will continue working in the ruling Coalition with the members of the Order and Justice Party.
Approached by BNN, Vytautas Gapšys, a senior-tier Labour Party member and MP, told he was among those who voted for the constitutional amendment.
«I’d say it simply: we have a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which states clearly that Lithuania has been too restrictive with the 1994 constitutional amendment banning a transgressor of Constitution from an elected office for life».
He, however, defended the party leader, Mazuronis, saying that all the fraction members were allowed to vote freely during the vote.
Asked about the future of both parties, which electorate is virtually the same, Gapšys did not rule out a possibility of new efforts to have the two parties united.
«It is possible. In fact, I stand for it. But after the failed voting the Order and Justice Party will perhaps need some time to come to grips of what happened,» Gapšys told BNN.
Political analysts lack unanimity assessing fallout
Political observers, meanwhile, seemed to be split in assessing the damage that Paksas and his led TT party have undergone.
Speaking to Žinių radijas, political scientist Justas Šireika told he believes all remains in the status quo, where Paksas will continue to present himself as a political victim of the ruling elites.
«The result can be seen in two ways. On the one hand, parliament showed it was not willing to allow Paksas to stand for elections. On the other hand, parliament did him a favour by allowing him to keep his persona of a political martyr, victimized by the ruling elite which took away his right to run for office. Paksas has used this role very successfully before and will probably continue to do so. But of course, now the situation is such that the party leader cannot lead his party to the elections. It also causes certain difficulties for the Order and Justice party,» he said.
This will work in Paksas’ favour, insists Algis Krupavičius, a professor and political scientist at the Kaunas University of Technology.
«In the short term, we can see certain dividends. The other thing is that Lithuania will still need to solve this problem, because the court in Strasbourg ruled that the punishment was disproportionate. The question will still remain on our political to-do list. In this sense, the Seimas’ vote was useful for Paksas,» Krupavičius told.
Role of «political martyr» will carry on
Speaking to BNN, Vytautas Dumbliauskas, a political observer, tended to play down the importance of the vote, insisting that TT’s future remains «no less than bright».
«The Seimas, I reckon, has missed a very good opportunity to turn over the page for good. But instead it has boosted Paksas’ image as a political martyr and people still are buying it. He will remain as the high-hoisted flag of the party,» Dumbliauskas told.
Asked whether the TT grassroots might someday bristle against their «martyr» leader, he assured this is impossible.
«It would be equal to committing a suicide. Paksas is the founder of the party and all is hinged on him. Without him, it would fall into disarray,” the analyst emphasized. He added: «Paksas’ career would come to an end only if he, allowed to participate in an election, would fail in it. He still has potential of making quite big splashes on the political arena for years to come».
Like Vytautas Gapšys, the analyst also pondered that the Labourists and «orderists» might become a single party at some junction of time in the future.
«Their electorate is quite similar and, remember, both parties had already been in talks over merger,» Dumbliauskas reminded.
Weighing in on the record-high Social Democrats’ ratings, he maintained the popularity was all about the leader, Algirdas Butkevičius.
«He obviously has got something that others don’t. The party really holds good chances in the 2016 parliamentary election, especially that their electorate base is large and they are not very much ideologised as the other parties out there,» the observer told.
TT can be in tatters after Parliament election
Contrary to Dumbliauskas, Vytautas Bruveris, a senior journalist at daily Lietuvos Rytas and political analyst, believes that the future of the Order and Justice Party is quite opaque.
«In the next election, its future will be decided. If it manages to get some seats but remains out of a new ruling coalition, or does not pass the 5 percent party election barrier, then we might see it languishing to an end. Paksas’ end, too,» Bruveris told BNN.
The image of a «political martyr» still plays in Paksas’ favour, he agrees. Characteristically to the TT members, the electorate is very loyal to the party and its leader, Bruveris says.
«I’d say their electorate is one of the most devoted, but I am not sure whether the poll results purporting high support for the party and Paksas do properly reflect the real situation,» he said.