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
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.
“If our citizens allow Paksas’s political corpse to be raised again, Lithuania will face the gloomy prospect of becoming a black hole on the outskirts of Europe.” Lietuvos Rytas (7th April 2004)
BHHRG has followed the progress of Lithuania’s political travails closely since the surprise election of Rolandas Paksas as the country’s president in January, 2003. The Group visited Lithuania in February 2004 as Paksas fought off allegations of corruption and compromising the country’s security by going over the heads of his parliamentary opponents to appeal directly to the people in a series of nationwide town hall meetings. BHHRG concluded that much of the information disseminated in the West about Mr. Paksas was biased and uninformed. The roots of the crisis fundamental to any democracy were never fully explored, namely, who gives a politician legitimacy ? Is it the voters or non-elected bodies like the constitutional court?