Saturday, April 3, 2004

Lithuania joins NATO, the EU ... and, oh btw, seeks to impeachment their president. It must be springtime!

Lithuanian President Paksas faces a hostile legislature, freshly stoked with a court ruling that his actions constitute impeachable offenses. CNN tries and fails to give an overview of the president's situation. CNN (not shockingly) only scraped the surface. The short version is that Paksas did some backdoor negotiating - citizenship for a Russian mobster in return for $400,000 donated to his campaign (where's McCain-Feingold when you need it?). I guess the attention span of CNN devotees can deal with that brief version.

The longer version is a whole lot more interesting - start with this brief piece. Six allegations reduced to charges. Now that your mind is focused on what really is alleged, let's get a handle on local politics first.

The players are the parliament, the president, and the court.

Their parliament is a single body - called the Seimas. The Seimas has 141 members, and even though it is one body, it is like a combined American House and Senate. Seventy-one members are elected in local elections; seventy members in nationwide elections.

The major parties holding seats are (seats from local elections/seated from nationwide elections/total seats held): Lithuanian Liberal Union (18/16/34); The New Union/Social Liberals (11/18/29); Social-democratic Coalition (0/28/28); Democratic Labour (14/0/14); Social democratic party (7/0/7). That accounts for 112 of the 141 seats. The remaining seats are distributed among 13 parties. The "left-leaning" social democrats have an amalgamation of parties that have coalesced to form a majority. Click here for the specifics of the voting results.

Voting for president is based upon popular vote, not an electoral system like ours. The race was between Paksas and the incumbent in a runoff. Paksas easily and surprisingly won the second round (the first link tells you this, too, but the second link gives some analysis).

The Constitutional Court is a standing court that is the equivalent of the US Supreme Court, that is, a court of final jurisdiction.

Now, back to our story ...

The Motion for Impeachment from the Seimas is very detailed, although you need patience to get to the factual (not legal) allegations in the latter portions of the document.

The WSJ Europe provides a readable review of the allegations. Paksas is alleged to have been way too close to Russian organized crime and intelligence services. (Remember, the Russians tried to erase Lithuania's history ... btw, my family's history ... not something easily forgotten.) Through campaign donations and associations with arms dealers, Paksas is alleged to have opened himself up to blackmail.

And now, in a political move as inspired as a Kerry campaign theme, Paksas appoints a Russian central the case as an advisor. Blackmail manifested?

85 of the 141 Seimas members must vote for impeachment and there seems to be presently support by 110 members.

Ultimately, an impeachment is a political matter, not a factual one - or one of justice. The issue is one of being vulnerable to your political enemies. A detailed and apparently unbiased political assessment is not promising for Paksas. Clinton survived because of popular support in our country - we are allegedly split 50/50 between thinkers and non-thinkers. Lithuania is not so blessed. It is as many fledgling democracies - fractious. A lot of dispersed legislative power, a lot of dispersed public sentiment. Popular support for Paksas bottomed at 20% - not even Nixon dropped that far. It is up to 40%, but it is not a groundswell which would compel a legislator to consider his own political future when he votes for or against impeachment.

The legislature knows it has the backing of the Bush Administration (W canceled an Iraq-related meeting with Paksas in December; SecState Powell just told a Seimas delegation we supported a change in the presidency). The world is watching because of the recent membership in NATO and the impending (less than a month) membership in the EU. The proceeding has a grounding in factual misconduct. The judicial branch has concurred. The emotional historical ties to the Russians are in play. The social democrats never liked Paksas, and they hold enough seats in their coalition to satisfy the 85/141 (60%) requirement. The political storm has formed an eye wall. Paksas is toast.

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