The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
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Elections in Lithuania 2004: Case for the Prosecution
HITS: 2102 | 8-09-2004, 12:42 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
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On 25th May, the Lithuanian Constitutional Court issued a wide-ranging ruling banning any impeached person from holding public office for life. In other words, it went far beyond the retroactive law. Since the Constitutional Court’s lengthy ruling has yet to be translated into English, Mr. Šukys kindly explained his understanding of the Court’s decision and its reasoning to the BHHRGs observers a few days after it was announced.
On the day of its judgement the Constitutional Court’s chairman, Egidijus Kuris, and spokesperson, Ramune Sakalauskaite, were widely quoted in the international as well as the Lithuanian media saying that "The Constitutional Court found that the amendments to the law on presidential elections, under which people impeached from their posts cannot be elected for five years, does not run counter to the constitution," [1]
"The law, banning an official removed from office via the process of impeachment, does not violate the constitution," court president Egidijus Kuris also told a hearing broadcast by public television. "The process of an impeachment is an instrument of self-defence. With this instrument society can protect itself from officials who breach the Constitution and deny the principles of the rule of law," The Court also ruled that an " under the constitution an impeached president can never again be elected president". [2]
On 26thMay, 2004 The Russian Journal Daily News reported: “Lithuanian presidency closed to Paksas forever” and its account gave a clear guide to the breadth of the Court’s ruling. Far from endorsing the retroactive law, Lithuania's Constitutional Court decreed a whole raft of new rules on banning would be candidates: “Lithuania’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday barred any person, having been impeached from their office by the parliament, from taking another position that requires swearing an oath. In accordance with this decision of the Court, no person, after breaking an oath once, can swear an oath again. This affects the president, members of parliament, judges, and other officials who must swear an oath before beginning their duties in office.
The Constitutional Court discussed this question in reaction to complaints submitted to the main administrative court by supporters of the ex-president regarding the decision of the Seym [sic.] which dictated that any office holder who has been impeached does not have the right to hold a position at the head of the government. The administrative court subsequently turned to the constitutional court, which gave its conclusions on Tuesday.”
The Russia Journal went on to quote the Chairman: “'An oath is not just a formality or a symbolic act. It is a commitment before the people. Repeating an oath would be fiction,' declared the Constitutional Court's chair, Egidijus Kuris. Consequently, ex-president of Lithuania, Rolandas Paksas, will be stripped forever of his right to contest for the position of president, member of parliament or any other high ranking government position. The chair of the main election commission, Zenonas Vaigauskas, announced today that Rolandas Paksas should cease his pre-election campaign, and that his name will not be listed among the presidential candidates.” [3]
Not since Louis XIV used his power of mercy to “commute” the sentence of banishment on Nicolas Fouquet in 1664 to life imprisonment in solitary confinement in an Alpine fortress had an appeal had such a severe consequence for the appellant. The Constitutional Court’s imaginative interpretation of what the drafters of the Constitution must have meant to include as a punishment for impeached persons but completely failed to mention was a masterpiece of jurisprudential invention. By definition, it is the Constitution - for the moment. But by taking upon itself such a dramatic power to interpret unwritten clauses (N.B. not poorly drafted ones) the Court has arrogated to itself a constitution-writing power. Even Mr. Šukys admitted that it was unfortunate that the drafters of the Constitution failed to anticipate an impeached person seeking re-election, and, by implication, having a good chance of being re-endorsed by the electorate.
An important aspect of the controversy surrounding the Constitutional Court’s invention of the otherwise unwritten penalties for breaching an oath of office is that the Constitutional Court seems to have taken upon itself the role of other courts as the dispenser of justice by pronouncing judgement. Mr. Šukys seemed to suggest that Rolandas Paksas could put his case for standing as a candidate for the presidency to the Administrative Court. However, since the Constitutional Court has made a binding ruling (according to Mr. Šukys and other legal experts) such an appeal to the Administrative Court had no chance of success. In practice the Constitutional Court has ruled on a specific case not just a general question. Is that constitutional? Only the Constitutional Court can decide!
By taking up this political hot potato and determining the matter is such a categorical and politically controversial way, the Lithuanian Constitutional Court may have served the politicians who nominated its members well but may have damaged its standing in the eyes of many citizens.

Common Sense versus the Common Man?

The essence of the prosecution case as endorsed and enlarged by the Constitutional Court is that Rolandas Paksas violated his oath of office. This violation was proven by the Seimas’s vote to impeach him. According to this argument, the violator of an oath cannot be trusted to keep the same vow again. Once an oath-breaker, always a perjurer is the view of Mr. Paksas’s opponents as reinforced by the Constitutional Court’s lifetime ban.
The problem with that view lies not so much with its logic as with its credibility with the public. The common sense view that a perjurer cannot be trusted to abide by an oath once broken in the future clashes with the apparent view of a large part of the public in Lithuania that does not accept the moral authority of the Seimas’s verdict. Apparently, the majority of Lithuanian MPs do not have much moral standing in the eyes of their own electorate. Financial scandals and cronyism (even, allegedly, including judges) have pock-marked Lithuania’s brief post-Soviet history. Many Lithuanians find it odd that politicians whose “misjudgements” have cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars go unpunished, and are even promoted while Rolandas Paksas is banned for life before any allegations against him or concrete damage to the public purse have been proven.
Spokesmen for the establishment ignore the cynicism of the man in the street. Anti-Paksas “experts” were found to inform the media that the Court’s ruling was definitive in the political as well as the legal sense. For instance, "This is the end of Paksas' political ambitions, his final destiny after his previous unexpected rebirths," Lauras Bielinis, a political analyst at the Vilnius Institute for International Relations and Political Sciences, told the AFP news agency.[4] But Lithuanian voters remained far from convinced that the palate of candidates decreed as suitable for them to choose from by the Court or the applause of the establishment was what they really wanted, or respected.
For all the alleged left-right split in Lithuanian politics between the ruling ex-Communists and the nationalist (and in the older generation sometimes ex-Nazi) Conservatives, in practice Lithuanian politics since 1991 has settled down into a cosy game of taking turns to run the country. What elsewhere might well be called a Red-Brown alliance viewed with horrified distaste, the emergence of Rolandas Paksas presented a threat to the comfortable web of “you turn a blind eye to my privatisation deals and I’ll look away from yours.” Few in Lithuania doubt that Mr. Paksas had trodden on the toes of powerful vested interests. At worst he was trying to promote interests outside the closed circle of the post-Communist elite cemented since 1991, and at best he was genuinely seeking to investigate corrupt practices. Either way, he had to go for challenging the elite and its patrons in business or even in the mafia.
The instinctive dislike of genuinely competitive elections among the Lithuanian establishment was expressed by the country’s first post-Soviet president, Vytautas Landsbergis, when he welcomed the banning of Paksas for life because “This otherwise calm election could become raucous and awful,” as he told Ziniu radio.[5] Yet, Dr. Landsbergis enjoys very low poll ratings despite his standing as the Father of Lithuania’s re-born independence. To many Lithuanians, he inaugurated not an era of freedom and prosperity but a downward spiral of poverty and scandal which continued even after he lost the presidency in 1993.
With Paksas banned by the Court, the candidates to replace him enjoyed little enthusiastic backing. The West’s clearly favoured candidate, the one-term president, Valdas Adamkus, lacked the popularity which his boosters in the English-language media claimed. Any lustre his years in America (after fleeing with Hitler’s troops in 1944 as a teenager) had given him had worn very thin by 2004. For instance, on 3rd June 2004, Rosbalt reported: “Lithuanian Voters Don't Like Any Presidential Candidates”: “Voters dislike all five Lithuanian presidential candidates. This news was revealed in the results of a survey taken by the company Spinter, published in the Thursday edition of Respublika. Even the most popular candidate in the survey, former president Valdas Adamkus, is disliked by almost three-fourths of the country's citizens. The remaining four candidates for the Head of State position get a negative rating from over 85% of voters”.
It is striking how far Mr. Adamkus’s official poll ratings fell once Paksas was removed from the race. It seems that not even the pollsters and their selected respondents could make the effort to pretend that he enjoyed the affection of the vast majority of Lithuanians who had, after all, ejected him in favour of Paksas after only one term in office. Maybe Mr. Adamkus remained the favourite to win, but he was hardly the popular choice.
It is precisely because the political class in Lithuania enjoys very low levels of respect that its verdict on Paksas carries much less weight with the common people than might have been expected. However, the Lithuanian establishment is not alone in its isolation from public opinion.

The South Korean Model?

Eight time zones away, there are significant comparisons between the impeachment crises in both South Korea and Lithuania. In each case a president faced a hostile parliamentary majority elected at a different time. Both Roh Moo-hyun and Rolandas Paksas had offended their country’s main ally, the United States - Roh by pursuing a conciliatory “sunshine policy” towards North Korea and Paksas by defeating a long-term US citizen, Valdas Adamkas, while criticising privatisation deals with American companies.
On 15th May 2004, the South Korean Constitutional Court voted to reverse the impeachment pronounced by the country’s National Assembly on 12th March. President Roh Moo-hyun had faced a hostile majority in the Parliament who had charged him with breaching his presidential oath to serve the whole nation by appearing to favour one party. The president had also come under fierce attack from the parliamentary majority, outraged by his lack of support for the Iraq War. Hadn’t America saved South Korea from totalitarianism in the 1950s and thereby earned an eternal bond of gratitude and service?
But few people thought that the technical basis of the impeachment was the real motive for the attempt to remove President Roh from office. Roh’s election to the presidency had antagonised the dominant political class who saw him as an upstart and interloper. All impeachments are political processes. Under the guise of court proceedings a political battle is fought out. But the South Korean electorate thought differently. In the April, 2004 general election the pro-Roh, Uri Party, swept away the 196 – 2 anti-Roh majority in the outgoing parliament. So overwhelming was the victory of the President’s supporters that the South Korean Constitutional Court backed away from confirming the outgoing parliament’s vote of impeachment.
Of course, after the 12th March vote to impeach Roh, Seoul was convulsed by mass demonstrations in favour of the president. 70,000 students and others rallied to his cause. Lithuanians have proved much more reluctant to demonstrate their political views in public. A number of people told this Group’s observers in Lithuania in late May 2004 that threats had been made against known sympathisers of Rolandas Paksas warning them that they might lose their jobs if they publicly backed him. Whatever the truth of these charges, BHHRG’s observers recalled how reticent voters had been to state their views in the presidential elections 18 months ago, despite the fact that many must have voted for Mr. Paksas. For all its post-Soviet hype, Lithuania remains a country marked by the politics of fear. Caution is not a characteristic of the genuinely free citizen.

[1] See,,
[2] See,,
[3] See,
[4] Quoted on 25th May, 2004,



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