BHHRG

About BHHRG

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
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions

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Presidential and European Elections in June, 2004
HITS: 1918 | 8-09-2004, 13:22 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
 (Votes #: 0)

BHHRG’s representative was present in Lithuania for the presidential election held on 13th June, 2004. Elections to the European parliament were held simultaneously. 5 candidates stood in the presidential poll while 12 parties contested the European election. By holding the polls on the same day Lithuania avoided the embarrassment of a spectacularly low voter turnout such as that registered in other ‘New European’ countries that day – for example, in Estonia, Poland and Slovakia. The reason for the different levels of participation was the greater interest engendered in Lithuania by the presidential election, although politicians themselves were keen to participate in the Euro poll, registering to stand as candidates in unprecedented numbers. No doubt, they were encouraged by the agreeable set of perks offered to Euro MPs by Brussels.
Presidential election: The 2004 presidential campaign proper only properly took off after the Constitutional Court banned Rolandas Paksas from standing as a candidate on 25th May. Whatever the legal niceties put forward for removing him from the race, if he had he been allowed to run he would have probably won convincingly, maybe even in the first round of voting. Had the authorities resorted to manipulating either the conduct of the poll or the counting of the votes (or both) the government in Vilnius was all too aware that Mr. Paksas had become something of a lightening rod for the thousands of Lithuanians who felt abandoned by the cosy power structures that run the country. Beyond a certain point, election fraud becomes too difficult. Better remove the problematic candidate from the race altogether.
With Paksas out of the way, pre-election polls still put former president Valdimir Adamkus in the lead. Adamkus, we were told, had abandoned the previous ‘hands-off’ approach to campaigning which had led to his ignominious defeat in the 2003 poll. Now, he was touring the country meeting voters in what was trumpeted as a ‘blossom of hope’ campaign. How far his ‘meet the people’ activities extended is debatable – in polling stations he visited in and around Vilnius, BHHRG’s representative learned that there had been no sightings of Mr. Adamkus in the region.
Commentators were now quite open in their categorization of Lithuania as a divided society where the ‘haves’ wanted the kind of pro-Western, reform policies espoused by Adamkus while ‘the rest’ demanded a more socially inclusive head of state. According to local pundit Lauras Bielinis, “Most people in Lithuania have a low level of political culture”.[1] These commentators and their echo chamber in the local media effectively wrote off those they considered to be poor and uneducated, even though the disadvantaged probably account for at least 80% of the population. In a demonstration of their disgust with the local elites, thousands of ordinary Lithuanians had attended town hall meetings across the country held by disgraced President Paksas in the months leading up to his impeachment – BHHRG was present at one such packed meeting in February 2004. It also accounts for the fact that nearly half the electorate does not bother to vote at all any more.
The apparat’s decision to re-anoint Adamkus as its candidate was perverse. At 77 years of age and with recent health problems, the elderly American-Lithuanian will be 83 when his term of office ends. Even youthful, pro-Western Lithuanians told BHHRG on 13th June that they thought Mr. Adamkus too old to be president. The Group also learned that even the political class in Lithuania had resented the clique of American advisors who had surrounded the former president during his first term in office. However, it is likely that the Americans had been profoundly humiliated by the 2003 result and determined for it to be put right as a matter of national (US) honour. This meant pushing Mr. Adamkus forward again and forcing him down the throats of the weary Lithuanian public. According to Stephen Mull, US Ambassador to Lithuania, “the [impeachment] process has shown the strength of democracy and democratic institutions in Lithuania”.[2]
There were many other younger, reform-minded types who would have happily stood on the same pro-NATO, pro-reform agenda. What about Viktor Uspaskich who, with his much-touted popularity and personal wealth mysteriously failed to declare his candidacy? Adamkus’s chances of success should also have been reduced when the rightwing Homeland Union-Conservatives refused to endorse him and put up their own candidate, Petras Austrevicius, Lithuania’s former chief negotiator with the EU.
There were five candidates in the race. Apart from Adamkus and Austrevicius, they were Vilija Blinkeviciute, Ceslovas Jursenas and Kazimira Prunskiene. Blinkeviciute, Minister of Social Security and Labour, was nominated by the Social Liberals. Ceslovas Jursenas, nominated by the ruling Social Democrats, is deputy speaker of parliament and had been one of the main ideologists of Paksas’s impeachment. Kazimira Prunskiene was the best-known face among the opposition to Adamkus having been an early promoter of Lithuanian independence and prime minister from 1990-91.
During the 1990s Prunskiene headed the left-wing Farmers and New Democracy Party. She stood as a candidate in presidential elections in 2002 when she was forced to acknowledge that she had been investigated for collaboration with the KGB. Even though such connections were officially disproved she was ordered to append the allegations to her campaign literature. In 2004, no such demands were made of Mr. Jursenas who, from 1973 - 75 and later between 1983 - 88 had been a consultant at the Department of Ideology in the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party.

Results of the first round of voting:
Valdas Adamkus ………….30.18%
Kazimira Prunskiene ………20.60%
Petras Austrevicius ………. 18.7%
Vilija Blinkeviciute ………. 15.9%
Ceslovas Jursenas …………11.49%
Turnout: 48.40%

As no candidate received 50% of the vote, Prunskiene and Adamkus went on to contest a second round held a fortnight later on 27th June. Although Paksas’s advisors had urged voters to write in the former president’s name in the first round of voting, they decided to support Prunskiene on 27th June.
While voting proceeded calmly on 13th June, BHHRG’s representative noted various unsatisfactory aspects to the poll. Firstly, large numbers of people were registered in many polling stations, in some places nearly 5000 - an unheard of number in most Western countries. This meant that polling stations often gave the appearance of being hives of activity even though only c. a quarter of those registered actually voted in many places during the day. Voters had not only to show identity cards or passports to receive ballot papers, they also had to produce a polling card (or, ‘certificate’ as it was called). Apparently, these certificates were to be delivered in person by a member (or members) of the commission. However, BHHRG also heard that some commission members had left the cards in peoples’ letter boxes. Undelivered voting cards were kept in polling stations for collection by those who had somehow missed the delivery process and were handed out on presentation of identity documents.
Also exceptional was the large number of postal votes recorded during both rounds of voting – 171,350 in the first round, 223,288 on 27th June. In central Vilnius, polling station No. 1, for example, 1166 out of 2443 of those registered voted by post. The commission chairwoman said that c. 300 people had voted that way in the past. BHHRG had noted large numbers of empty, obviously vacated properties in central Vilnius during long walks around the city in early June 2004. Who could be sure that the ‘ghost’ inhabitants of such properties were not still on the registers? As usual, the reason given - and accepted - for such large numbers of postal votes was that people were away in the country, although BHHRG noted that it was raining hard on 13th June. Commission members were also required to be present to oversee the postal voting, something that prima facie compromises the secrecy of the ballot. In both rounds, Mr. Adamkus received the largest number of postal votes.
As Adamkus was the candidate of the elite one has to speculate as to why such people cannot manage to attend a polling station on election day? Unlike the ‘poor and uneducated’ they are likely to be car owners. The argument that they are all on holiday or at their weekend dachas doesn’t hold water either as Adamkus also received the largest number of postal ballots in mid-winter 2002-3 when no one was likely to be holidaying in the countryside. More intriguingly, in his first shot at the presidency in 1998, Mr. Adamkus narrowly won the election by a mere 14,256 votes. His opponent at the time, Arturas Paulaskas, was well ahead in the first round with 46% of the vote. However, according to reports at the time “votes cast by post helped Adamkus achieve the edge he needed”.[3]
As recent events in the UK have demonstrated, postal voting is a recipe for fraud. It provides all kinds of opportunities for inflating the turnout at elections as well as removing that most precious element in the democratic process - secrecy of the ballot. However, while there was publicity and alarm raised in the UK over abuse of the postal voting system leading up to the 10th June European elections, no one in Lithuania seemed troubled by their own postal voting system. Even Rolandas Paksas and his advisors thought it ‘normal’ for large numbers of people to vote this way even though polling day is a Sunday and voting usually takes place in easily accessible local schools.
The involvement of electoral commissions in delivering the voting invitations and supervising the conduct of the postal voting process gives cause for concern that the secrecy of the ballot could have been compromised.[4] As BHHRG has pointed out in the past, many Lithuanians with tenuous holds on scarce jobs and resources will be easily pressurised by the authorities. Older voters know what it means when ‘The Party’ requires them to behave in certain ways. According to Article 54, ballot papers shall “be delivered by a postman to voters who are not able to arrive for voting at a post office or at a polling district on the polling day due to health reasons”. The Group’s observers were told that postmen had pressurised such people to vote for Mr. Adamkus in the presidential election of 2002-3.
As it happened, the polls in Lithuania once again turned out to be wrong, this time for failing to anticipate Prunskiene’s strong showing. As the second round approached, polling data now put the two candidates almost neck to neck. The media started to smear Mrs. Prunskiene as a crypto-Communist candidate with “connections (like her partner in crime, Rolandas Paksas) “to the east”[5] someone “who stands for a drift back to socialist, even Soviet stagnation”[6] Such people never reveal the strong, ongoing connections between Lithuania’s political elite and Moscow. On 8th July, in explaining the likely fall-out for Lithuania from the Yukos affair[7], Prime Minister Brazauskas “told journalists that he sees no tragedy if the Yukos stake passes to the control of the Russian state”.[8] The truth is the opposite of the media hype: it is politicians like Brazauskis, not Mrs. Prunskiene or Rolandas Paksas who have strong links with Russia, particularly with companies, like Yukos and Gazprom.
In the run off held on 27th June, Adamkus won but unconvincingly with 52% of the vote against 47% for Prunskiene. While Prunskiene won in many of the more socially deprived areas she (the left-wing candidate) also picked up votes from Austrevicius ( right-wing) in Kalvarijos. Meanwhile, Adamkus won in the Sakiai district, an impoverished region where Rolandas Paksas seemed to have a strong following as observed by BHHRG in February 2004. Mrs. Prunskiene challenged the final results, arguing that the number of completed ballots had mysteriously increased after the conclusion of the count in 46 Kaunas precincts.[9] Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city, has always been touted as the main centre of Adamkus support. It has also suffered inexplicable power cuts during the tallying of the votes at election time. However, her complaints have been rejected by the Central Election Commission and there is no indication that the matter will be taken any further.
On 22nd June, six days before the second round of voting, agents of the Special Investigation Service (SIS) had raided the premises of several political parties, all supporters of President Adamkus. The raids were part of a wide-ranging corruption inquiry into allegations of bribe taking by certain politicians from the Vilnius central heating company, Rubicon.[10] Even the mayor of Vilnius, Arturas Zuokas, fled to Poland fearful of arrest. He returned the next day, but this was peculiar behaviour from someone who claimed to have nothing to hide. It was suggested that the timing of the raid was politically motivated and that the lead investigator was a Paksas supporter who was seeking to influence the outcome of the vote on 27th June.
In fact, despite the regime’s seeming stranglehold on all levers of power in the country, including politicians of both right and left, it is possible that many lower rank police and security personnel resent the cosy sharing of the spoils and are genuinely determined to clamp down on corruption. As the election campaign unfolded, the Vilnius District Court was in the process of investigating 3 politicians for malfeasance connected with the sale of Lithuania’s Mazeikiu oil refinery to the US firm, Williams International in 1999.[11] As Adamkus had played a leading role in securing and promoting this unpopular deal, it has to be asked how he won back the presidency on 27th June while reports coming out of the courtroom only served to remind voters of how he helped give away the family silver, literally for nothing?
However, although BHHRG concluded that ordinary Lithuanians despised the Western-favoured political class and accepted former President Paksas’s credentials as a fighter against corruption, Paksas and his Liberal Democratic Party are unlikely to benefit from any exposures of scandal among the elites. Those who pull the strings are always one step ahead of the game and they have decided who will emerge victorious when the Augean stables have been cleansed – that is, if they ever are.


[1] “Dismal political culture, but Lithuania is learning” The Baltic Times, 1st-7th July, 2004 www.baltictimes.com,
[2] Arnas Lazauskas “The Head of State is Impeached” Lithuania in the World Vol.12 No.2, 2004.
www.liw.lt It is interesting to note that this publication is Lithuanian Airlines give-away publication. It must be the first glossy magazine of its kind to contain such blatantly political material,
[3] Paul Goble “A Defining Election”
www.lithuanian-american.org/ bridges/issue1/election.html,
[4] See, Article 54, Law of Election of President for the rules covering postal voting. Election legislation can be found at
www.vrk.lt/index.eng.html,
[5] Vladimir Socor “Lithuania’s Election-Eve ‘Coup de Theatre’ ” Wall Street Journal, 25th- 27th June, 2004,
[6] “Elites,gherkins and sugar-beets” The Economist, June 26th 2004 ,
www.economist.com,
[7] Williams International sold its share in the Mazeikiu refinery to Yukos in 2002,
[8] “No tragedy if Russian govt. gets Mazeikiu shares – PM”
www.interfax.com 8th July, 2004,
[9] Steven Paulikas “Adamkus triumphs, Prunskiene appeals” The Baltic Times, 1st – 7th July, 2004
www.baltictimes.com,
[10] “Lithuanian MPs took bribes worth almost 100,000 euros”
www.laisvaslaikrastis.lt , 29th June, 2004. This web site has a number of useful articles detailing corruption within Lithuania’s political class,
[11] “Ghost of Mazeikiu sell-off continues to haunt politicians” The Baltic Times, 27th May-2nd June 2004,
www.baltictimes.com.

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