Freedom in the World
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Presidential elections in December 2002 led to the first-round victory of incumbent Valdas Adamkus, who will face a second-round runoff in January 2003. In the domestic energy sector, Russian companies moved to gain control over key Lithuanian energy facilities, while the Lithuanian government agreed to close the second reactor of its Ignalina nuclear power plant in 2009. At the end of the year, the European Union (EU) and NATO both invited Lithuania to join their organizations in 2004.
Lithuania merged with Poland in the sixteenth century and was subsequently absorbed by Russia in the eighteenth century. After gaining its independence at the end of World War I, Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 under a secret protocol of the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact. The country regained its independence with the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1991.
Following the 1996 parliamentary elections, the Homeland Union/Lithuanian Conservatives (HU/LC) and Christian Democrats formed a center-right coalition government with Gediminas Vagnorius of the HU/LC as prime minister. In January 1998, the Lithuanian-American independent candidate, Valdas Adamkus, was narrowly elected president over former Prosecutor-General Arturas Paulauskas.
Growing tensions between Adamkus and Vagnorius over political, economic, and personal issues eventually led to the resignation of Vagnorius, who was succeeded by Vilnius mayor and HU/LC member Rolandas Paksas on May 18. However, Paksas stepped down just five months later in protest over the controversial sale of part of the state-owned Mazeikiu Nafta oil complex to the U.S. energy firm, Williams International. HU/LC member and parliamentary First Deputy Chairman Andrius Kubilius succeeded Paksas as prime minister in November.
Faced with the public's dissatisfaction over its economic austerity policies, the ruling HU/LC experienced a resounding defeat in the October 2000 parliamentary election. The Social Democratic Coalition, which united four leftist parties, including the Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party (LDDP), the successor to the Communist Party, secured the most votes. The Coalition, led by former Lithuanian Communist leader Algirdas Brazauskas, had campaigned on a platform of greater attention to social issues and increased support for the country's agricultural sector. However, the informal New Policy electoral bloc, composed of the ideologically diverse Liberal Union, New Alliance (Social Liberals), Center Union, and Modern Christian Democratic Union parties, bypassed the Social Democratic Coalition to form a bare-majority centrist government. Paksas was chosen again to be prime minister.
After only eight months in power, the unstable national ruling coalition of right- and left-wing parties collapsed in June 2001 following disagreements over the budget and privatization plans for the country's energy sector. Prime Minister Paksas was replaced in July by Brazauskas, the chairman of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP), which was created in January from the merger of the LDDP and the Social Democratic Party. The more ideologically compatible LSDP and New Alliance (Social Liberals) subsequently formed a new ruling coalition government. Brazauskas dismissed critics' charges that he would slow down economic and social reforms necessary for EU and NATO membership.
In presidential elections held on December 22, 2002, President Adamkus received 35 percent of the vote, not enough for a first-round victory, which requires a candidate to receive more than 50 percent. Adamkus will face Paksas, who was the second-place winner with 20 percent of the vote, in a January 5, 2003, runoff. Voter turnout during the first round was estimated at 53 percent. In concurrent local elections, a coalition of the Liberal Union and Modern Christian Democrats finished first in Vilnius, while the LSDP was the most successful party nationwide.
Russian energy companies moved to gain control over key Lithuanian energy facilities during the year. In September, the Russian oil company, Yukos, obtained a controlling interest in the Mazeikiu Nafta oil complex after Williams International announced that it would sell its 27 percent share in the company to them. One month later, Lithuania's cabinet formally named Russian gas giant Gazprom as the potential buyer of a 34 percent stake of Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas).
In June, Lithuania agreed to close the second reactor of its Ignalina nuclear power plant in 2009 with EU financial assistance to pay for the decommissioning costs. The government had already pledged in 1999 to shut down the first reactor by 2005. A commitment to close Ignalina, regarded as one of the world's most dangerous nuclear power facilities, removes a major obstacle to Lithuania's membership in the EU. According to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Lithuania is the world's most nuclear-dependent country, with Ignalina producing over 70 percent of the country's energy needs.
Lithuania achieved two of its long-term foreign policy goals when it received formal invitations in November from NATO and in December from the EU to join in 2004.
Lithuanians can change their government democratically. The 1992 constitution established a 141-member parliament (Seimas), in which 71 seats are selected in single-mandate constituencies and 70 seats are chosen by proportional representation, all for 4-year terms. The president is directly elected for a five-year term. The 1996 and 2000 national legislative elections and the 1997-1998 presidential vote were conducted freely and fairly. All permanent residents are allowed to run and vote in local government elections.
The government generally respects freedoms of speech and of the press. There is a wide variety of privately owned newspapers, and several independent, as well as state-run, television and radio stations broadcast throughout the country.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by law and largely enjoyed in practice in this predominantly Roman Catholic country.
Freedom of assembly and association is generally respected. Workers have the right to form and join trade unions, to strike, and to engage in collective bargaining. However, ongoing problems include inadequate or employer-biased legislation, management discrimination against union members, and the court system's lack of expertise in labor-related issues.
While the judiciary is largely independent from the executive branch, there is a severe lack of qualified judges, who consequently suffer from excessive workloads. There have been credible reports of police abuse of suspects and detainees, and overcrowding in prisons and pretrial detention facilities remains a serious problem. A massive outbreak of the HIV virus among inmates was discovered in May 2002 at the Alytus penitentiary; senior prison officials were subsequently dismissed.
To help combat corruption, Lithuania and the United Nations Development Program signed a two-year anticorruption project in October 2002 that envisages a long-term education program for university students, public opinion polls, and comprehensive studies of corruption.
The rights of the country's ethnic minorities are protected in practice. In 1992, Lithuania extended citizenship to all those born within its borders, and more than 90 percent of nonethnic Lithuanians, mostly Russians and Poles, became citizens. Women are underrepresented in upper-level management positions and earn lower average wages than men.