Ex-Communists far ahead of independence movement in Lithuanian vote

October 27, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Lithuanians turned their backs yesterday on the political movement that steered the country to independence and voted heavily in favor of the former Communist Party slate in elections to parliament.

Results that came in yesterday from Sunday's vote showed the former Communists running well ahead of the candidates from the Sajudis movement of President Vytautus Landsbergis. They could, in the end, control the government outright.

The Communists -- now renamed the Democratic Labor Party -- apparently capitalized on discontent over poor handling of the economy and the government's increasing rigidity and inability to compromise with other political forces in the country.

The Lithuanian Communists have long been the most progressive in the former Soviet Union, but they based their campaign this fall on a pledge to slow down and reconsider the direction of economic reform.

The Sajudis coalition, which under the leadership of President Landsbergis once enjoyed overwhelming popularity, yesterday took just 20 percent of the national vote, according to late figures from the parliamentary press office. Their Democratic Labor opponents won 44.9 percent.

"The Communist threat is hanging over" Lithuania, Antanas Tjarlatskas, the leader of the Lithuania Freedom League, said on Vilnius television last night.

"The people have been duped," said Zenonas Junkiavicius, the acting minister of justice.

But Algirdas Brazauskas, the Democratic Labor leader, a huge man built like a football linebacker, said his party was interested in compromise and pledged to stand firmly for continued Lithuanian independence and the withdrawal of Russian troops.

Mr. Brazauskas broke with the Moscow Communist Party in 1990, and his Lithuanian Communists then supported independence.

But Sajudis swept to power in elections that year, stood up to bullying by Moscow in January 1991, when troops attacked the television center in Vilnius, and then enjoyed full independence in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Communist regime last year.

Since then, the movement's popularity, and that of its prickly leader, have ebbed away.

In an interview before the election, Mr. Landsbergis said Sajudis was losing support because of Lithuanian opportunists and Russian influence.

He accused the Russians of trying to affect the election by cutting off oil, which had plunged Vilnius homes and offices into near-freezing conditions.

Mr. Landsbergis himself was wrapped in a heavy sweater during the interview. His ministers conducted business at their desks with their overcoats on.

Indeed, his opponents tried to capitalize on the oil cutoff. They charged that Mr. Landsbergis and his allies harbored such hatred and distrust of the Russians that it had become impossible for the government to do business with them even though Russia is an unavoidable fact of life for Lithuania.

But Mr. Landsbergis' assertion that Russia was using oil to upset the election -- which he hinted at again last night -- was dismissed as "baloney" by one Western diplomat. He said the only problem was Lithuania's unwillingness to renegotiate what was in effect a sweetheart contract.

Sajudis has spent the last few months turning inward. The ranks of defectors in parliament increased as Mr. Landsbergis' inner circle grew more and more closed off. Recently, a parliamentary commission to root out KGB collaborators has begun publishing documents in the press accusing opposition politicians of working for the former Soviet secret police.

Meanwhile the economic reform program was drawing increasing criticism for mismanagement and bad timing. There was a long feud between the government and the central bank.

Lithuanian voters signaled their displeasure in Sunday's election.

But how the new government will actually be formed is not clear. Of the parliament's 141 seats, 70 will be filled by proportional representation based on the nationwide vote. Democratic Labor, for instance, took 33 of those seats.

The other 71 seats will be elected by individual districts.

In Sunday's vote, the Democratic Labor candidates won 10 such district seats outright. Sajudis won just one, and three other small parties each won one as well. In 57 districts, no candidate achieved a majority and runoffs will be held, sometime before Nov. 8.

Those runoff elections, in other words, will actually determine which, if any, party can control parliament and so form a government.

With 10 winners in the district vote and 33 in the proportional vote, Democratic Labor would need to win 28 of the runoff contests to control the parliament, or Sejm, outright.

Sajudis and its partner, the Christian Democratic Party, would need to

win 41 of those district elections to control the Sejm.

If neither party wins a majority in the parliament, then negotiations would begin with the minor parties to form a coalition government.

In the current parliament, 35 percent of the seats are held by Democratic Labor, and 49 percent by Sajudis and its small allies.

The preliminary results would appear to spell the end of Mr. Landsbergis' presidency. However, voters also approved a new constitution yesterday which calls for a directly elected president.

That vote should take place sometime in January, and the two top contenders are clearly Mr. Landsbergis and Mr. Brazauskas.

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