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Lithuanian Communists Regain Control of National Legislature

By Eleanor Randolph
The Washington Post

MOSCOW

Stung by higher prices, lack of fuel and mounting problems with market reforms, Lithuanian voters this past weekend overwhelmingly supported the return of former Communists to parliamentary control of the tiny Baltic state that two years ago led the way in demanding independence from the Soviet Union.

The vote for the Democratic Labor Party, headed by former Communist Party leader Algirdas Brazauskas, does not necessarily mean a return to the system that existed before the breakup of the Soviet Union a year ago. But Brazauskas is expected to slow down the economic reforms set in motion by the present parliamentary chairman, Vytautas Landsbergis, and mend fractured relations with Russia.

After the final round of elections that began last month, the Democratic Labor Party holds 80 seats in Lithuania's 141-seat parliament. An alliance controlled by Landsbergis' party, Sajudis, holds about 40 seats.

Landsbergis Monday conceded defeat and told reporters that his rival's party "will now be responsible for the future of the Lithuanian republic."

The Democratic Labor Party, which was formed in 1990 by a group of Communists who broke away from the Soviet Communist Party because they supported their country's independence, won full control of parliament, including the right to form a government and oust Landsbergis as chairman.

Landsbergis has said that he plans to run in Lithuania's first presidential election, which is to be held in the next few months. His opponent in that race is expected to be Brazauskas.

The loss of parliamentary power by Landsbergis, who led tiny Lithuania to independence in September 1991, apparently was the price he paid for pushing reforms as quickly as possible in the former Soviet republic.

After the vote, Brazauskas said that one of his primary tasks would be to rebuild relations and honor agreements with Russia "on principles of mutual profitability."

That comment apparently referred to trade agreements between Lithuania and the former Soviet republics, particularly Russia, which have helped keep the tiny nation afloat.

Lithuania, like its sister Baltic states, Latvia and Estonia, has faced mounting fuel costs as Russia has begun demanding world prices for oil and gas, which had been heavily subsidized in the Soviet years.

Without cheap fuel, Lithuanians face the possibility of a winter without heat in their apartments and office buildings. Hospitals and kindergartens already have lowered their thermostats to 50 degrees Fahrenheit in an effort to save fuel.

Some industries have forced workers to take vacations; industrial output plummeted by 48.5 percent in the first 10 months of the year.

Landsbergis had argued that Russia used economic pressure against Lithuania to swing the vote in favor of someone who would provide more concessions to Moscow. "Its economic and political presence was felt," Landsbergis said earlier.