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Lithuania - Politics

left political groups
Lithuanian Social Democratic Party233817
Labour Party10 29.
Order and Justice17 11.
right political groups
Homeland Union - Christian Democrat433331
Liberal and Centre Union11.
Liberals Movement1110.
Other political groups
Electoral Action of Poles-8.
Way of Courage -7.
Christian Party7.
Peasant and Greens Union-154
Non-affiliated members17 3.

For the first 9 years of its post-Soviet independence, voters in Lithuania shifted from right to left and back again, swinging between the Conservatives, led by Vytautas Landsbergis (now headed by Andrius Kubilius), and the Labor (former Communist) Party, led by former President Algirdas Brazauskas. This pattern was broken in the October 2000 elections, when the Liberal Union and New Union parties won the most votes and were able to form a centrist ruling coalition with minor partners. President Valdas Adamkus played a key role in bringing the new centrist parties together.

The leader of the center-left New Union Party (also known as the Social Liberal Party), Arturas Paulauskas, became the Chairman of the Seimas, and the leader of the Liberal Union Party, Rolandas Paksas, became Prime Minister. The new coalition was fragile from the outset, as the Liberal Union was pro-business and right of center, while the New Union had a populist and leftist orientation. The government collapsed within 7 months and, in July 2001, the center-left New Union Party forged an alliance with the left-wing Social Democratic Party and formed a new cabinet under former President Algirdas Brazauskas.

The new government tightened budgetary discipline, supported market reforms, and passed the legislation required to ensure entry into the European Union. Several years of solid economic growth helped to consolidate the government's popularity, despite discontent within two of its core constituencies--unskilled urban workers and farmers--who had expected more generous funding of social and agricultural programs. The government remained firmly in control, and by mid-2004 it was the longest-serving administration since the recovery of independence.

In an unexpected political development in January 2003, Rolandas Paksas defeated the incumbent Valdas Adamkus in the second round of the presidential election to become Lithuania's third President since 1992. Paksas' tenure as president was short-lived, following alleged political funding and conflict-of-interest irregularities, including allegations that he had ties to organized crime. In December 2003, an ad hoc parliamentary commission found that President Paksas' vulnerability to influence constituted a threat to national security. On April 7, 2004, the Seimas removed President Paksas from office. Paksas' impeachment and removal from office came in proceedings that rocked the nation and tested the democratic institutions of the young republic, and left Lithuania the dubious distinction of being the only European democracy to have removed its head of state. The process was bumpy, but largely transparent and democratic.

In the aftermath of the impeachment, Lithuania played out a highly charged contest for the presidency that pitted the centrist Adamkus against a candidate whose populist agenda promoted increased social spending, reconsideration of Lithuania's participation in Iraq, and, most notably, decreased U.S. influence in Europe. Valdas Adamkus won the second round of presidential elections in June 2004. Adamkus cast his victory in this contest as confirmation of a foreign policy agenda that highlighted the importance of the U.S. presence in Lithuania and Europe. Lithuania inaugurated Valdas Adamkus on 12 July 2004 as its fourth president since the restoration of independence in 1991. Adamkus, a former American citizen, previously served as president from 1997 to 2002, when he lost his bid for reelection to populist Rolandas Paksas.

Brazauskas remained prime minister after the 2004 parliamentary elections, but the government collapsed in late May 2006 after the New Union and Labor parties withdrew from the coalition. The Labor Party Presidium recalled its five Cabinet ministers and withdrew from the ruling coalition on May 31. President Valdas Adamkus's public statement on May 30 that he had lost confidence in two Labor Party ministers precipitated the move. Labor was affronted by the President's "intolerable" remarks after it had taken what it considered the constructive gesture of suspending the political responsibilities of its erstwhile leader Viktor Uspaskich, who remains beset by ongoing investigations of alleged wrongdoings. Although the Labor party was never overtly hostile to U.S. interests, its shadowy connections to corruption and Russian interests were a constant distraction.

A new minority coalition government headed by Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas, a Social Democrat, took office on July 18, 2006, and retained the support of the opposition Conservative party on the major issues until September 2007. On January 28, 2008 the Social Liberal party joined the coalition, giving it a bare majority.

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