Lithuania risks sliding into full-blown crisis

By bne IntelliNews November 7, 2012

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Lithuania lurched closer to full-blown political crisis on November 6 as attempts to reach a compromise on the formation of a new government flopped. The worry is that the current stalemate could snowball should it roll into territory uncharted by the constitution.

In a bid to push past President Dalia Grybauskaite's veto on his planned coalition, Algirdas Butkevicius, leader of the Social Democrat Party which took the most seats in the recent parliamentary elections, promised at a meeting that the Labour Party officials at the center of vote-rigging allegations, including its leader, will be denied high office.

Far from finally agreeing to allow the Social Democrats to form a government with Labour and the populist Order and Justice, Grybauskaite insisted instead that the country's constitutional court must investigate fresh allegations of election fraud against Labour that emerged following the two round vote in October. The left-leaning party already has two members facing charges for activities earlier in the campaign, while leader Viktor Uspaskich is still on trial on charges of tax evasion by the party in 2004-2006.

"Until there is a final judgment on the election in the constitutional court the president will not consider the possibility of creating any coalitions," presidential spokeswoman Daiva Ulbinaite said, according to Reuters. The court has 72 hours to make a ruling following Grybauskaite's request.

The president, who has worked closely with the incumbent conservative government on its tough austerity programme and bid to secure greater energy independence from Russia, made the surprise move to veto the planned coalition on October 29. She stopped just short of demanding that Butkevicius - who is set for the PM's chair - form a coalition with the centre-right Homeland Union, which heads the current administration.

Grybauskaite's refusal to compromise increases the risk that Lithuania could slide into a political quagmire. While the president formally names the prime minister, parliament votes the government into office. Analysts are unclear on who would win a constitutional tussle. In the meantime, the current center-right government remains in office. "It is very likely that the constitutional Court will rule that the elections were legitimate... There were similar election violations before, so it is highly unlikely the results will be cancelled," analyst Vytautas Dumbliauskas told AP. "If the high court rules that elections were not legitimate, Lithuania would find itself in a very complicated political crisis since the constitution does not specify how to proceed in such a situation," he added.

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