- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

VILNIUS, Lithuania Rolandas Paksas, a former prime minister who ousted incumbent President Valdas Adamkus in a surprise weekend election victory, vowed yesterday to keep the Baltic state on track to join the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
"I would like to assure you that Lithuania's foreign policy is not going to change. Membership of NATO and the EU and good relations with neighbors will remain Lithuania's foreign policy priorities," Mr. Paksas said at a news conference.
Mr. Paksas beat Mr. Adamkus by 54.91 percent to 45.09 percent according to provisional final results confirmed by the election commission yesterday.
Mr. Paksas, who is expected to take office on Feb. 26 according to the head of the election commission, will steer the Baltic country through the crucial period up to its EU and NATO membership in 2004, including through a referendum on EU membership expected in May.
Analysts said they expected Mr. Paksas to stay on the foreign policy line laid down by his predecessor.
"Lithuania is already deeply set in international waters and it is hardly imaginable that with the change of president the main foreign policy goals will also change," analyst Raimundas Lopata said.
While his opponent had campaigned on his successes in integrating the former Soviet republic with the West, Mr. Paksas campaigned actively on a platform of change and notably domestic issues like corruption and law and order.
"When Lithuania was striving to receive invitations to the EU and NATO, national and regional policies were put far aside and Paksas' victory is the result of such policy," said Mr. Lopata, who heads the Vilnius Institute of International Relations.
However, unlike Mr. Adamkus a 76-year-old returnee from the United States who speaks with an American accent Mr. Paksas does not speak a foreign language.
"The only thing which could change is the role and influence of president in Lithuania, as Paksas does not have moral authority enjoyed by Adamkus with his U.S. experience and ability for compromise," said Rimvydas Valatka, a columnist at the biggest Lithuanian daily, Lietuvos Rytas.
Under the Lithuanian constitution, the president's main responsibility is foreign policy but he also has considerable influence over the courts and could play a role in domestic policy.
Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas said yesterday he was ready for productive cooperation with Mr. Paksas and did not rule out the possibility of changes.
"The elections showed the will of the people and we have to take it into account and live with it," Mr. Brazauskas told reporters.
The government has to resign formally after the new president takes office; the president then has 15 days to appoint a new prime minister and another 15 days to form a new government.

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