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Lithuanians Vote for New President Under Cloud of Scandal - 2004-06-27


Lithuanians are voting in the final round of a presidential election that is taking place in the midst of a political scandal.

Lithuanians are heading to polling stations all across the country to choose the successor to Rolandas Paksas, who was impeached and removed from office in April after he was found to have violated the constitution.

Seventy-seven year-old former president Valdas Adamkus has led opinion polls in the run-off vote against former prime minister Kazimira Prunskiene, who is backed by Mr. Paksas.

But the election campaign was thrown into turmoil last week when anti-corruption police raided the offices of several parties that favor Mr. Adamkus. Investigators later said some members of parliament may have been involved in bribery.

While the police say none of this has anything to do with this election, critics say the raids were an attempt to at least create confusion in the minds of voters.

Analysts say the impeached Mr. Paksas casts a long shadow over the election, despite his alleged links with Russian organized-crime figures.

At the Baltic Research Center in Moscow, Andrius Butkus says the impeached president's support for Ms. Prunskiene and the office raids may tip the balance against Mr. Adamkus.

"She is the worst opponent of Adamkus, and his possibilities have declined significantly," he said. "Moreover, she can expect broad support from citizens, especially from supporters of ex-president Paksas who could not take part because of the impeachment."

Complicating matters further were comments from Lithuania's electoral commission that the political scandal may result in a challenge of the results of Sunday's election by whichever party loses. In response, Ms. Prunskiene accused the commission of trying to undermine the election.