VILNIUS, Lithuania – Lithuanian politics were in turmoil Monday after the president moved to block three opposition parties from forming a new government because one of them is accused of vote buying and fraudulent financing.
The unexpected development complicated coalition talks after Sunday's parliamentary election, which saw the center-right government punished by austerity-weary voters in the recession-scarred Baltic nation.
The main opposition Social Democrats won the vote and announced plans to form a left-leaning government with the Labor Party, which finished third, and the fourth-placed Order and Justice party.
But President Dalia Grybauskaite, a former EU budget commissioner, told reporters she couldn't accept a government that included Labor due to the fraud allegations against it.
Lithuanian prosecutors and election officials have accused at least two Labor Party members of vote buying, with one allegedly purchasing votes from prison inmates. In addition, Russian-born party leader Viktor Uspaskich is under criminal investigation for his alleged role in fraudulent party financing.
"I believe that a party suspected of serious electoral law violations should not be allowed to participate in forming a new government," said Grybauskaite.
Uspaskich, who had to resign as economy minister in 2006 for a conflict-of-interest case involving business in Russia, was indignant.
"This is a democratic country and no one has the right to spit on the people's choice," Uspaskich, a member of the European Parliament, told reporters.
Before the election, he hinted that he could step down as party leader if it would help Labor's political fortunes.
However, the party's problems run deeper now and could prove a stumbling block for Algirdas Butkevicius, the Social Democratic leader and probable next prime minister.
The president said she was ready to ask the Social Democrats to form a government, but without Labor it would need to find another coalition partner to secure a majority in Parliament.
That could open the door for Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius' conservative party, which finished second in the election. Kubilius has suggested to reporters that his party was open to coalition talks with the Social Democrats.
The Social Democrats, however, have vowed to undo some of the austerity measures imposed by Kubilius' government and have criticized plans to build a new nuclear power plant, which Kubilius sees as crucial to ensuring the country's energy independence.
Grybauskaite, who has limited powers as president, may ultimately have no choice but to approve the three-party center-left government, which would control 78 seats in the 141-member legislature.
Associated Press writer Gary Peach in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.