Lithuanian president rejects coalition over fraud claims


LITHUANIA’S PRESIDENT has stunned the Baltic state’s political world by denouncing a proposed new coalition government due to claims of corruption against one of its members.

Dalia Grybauskaite said she could not accept a ruling alliance that included the Labour Party led by Viktor Uspaskich, a Russian-born former pickled gherkin magnate, because it was accused of vote-buying in a two-round parliamentary election that concluded on Sunday.

Mr Uspaskich is also on trial for alleged tax fraud. He and his party deny all wrongdoing.

“A party that during an election is suspected of being at the root of the largest number of cases of electoral fraud, which is suspected of tax fraud and the leaders of which have been charged in a criminal investigation cannot be involved in forming a government,” Ms Grybauskaite said yesterday.

“I will only back a political grouping that can form a majority government without Labour, which is in the dock.”

Labour came third in the election and appeared poised to take power in a colourful coalition with the victorious Social Democrats and the populist Order and Justice Party led by former president Rolandas Paksas, who was impeached and ousted from office in 2004.

With the backing of one independent deputy, the opposition alliance would have 79 seats in the new parliament, well ahead of the ruling Conservatives, which claimed 33 seats and could probably count on the support of a smaller party with 10 seats.

The Conservatives, led by prime minister Andrius Kubilius, looked doomed to lose power after being punished by voters for imposing a regime of biting austerity on Lithuania, which suffered a brutal recession and a sharp increase in emigration after the crisis.

Ms Grybauskaite’s intervention gave Mr Kubilius a chance of remaining in government however, possibly in a “rainbow” coalition with the Social Democrats. She will nominate a prime minister and has the power of veto over the appointment of ministers.

“The principle of the presumption of innocence must be kept to,” insisted Mr Uspaskich. “The will of the people must not be spat upon.”