Showbiz mastermind Arunas Valinskas has long been a fixture on the small screen in his native Lithuania.
Now the 41-year-old reality show producer and host of the local version of the game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire has stormed onto the political scene.
The National Resurrection Party, founded by Valinskas earlier this year, looks set to play a crucial role in the formation of a new government in this Baltic state, after a startling general election performance which left it second behind the opposition Conservatives.
Ahead of run-off polls this Sunday, Valinskas was already talking like a statesman, and playing down the idea that he is a kingmaker.
“Our victory wasn’t a reason to party, but a sign that we need to keep up our work,” Valinskas said in an interview.
“Our driving force is our desire for change,” he said.
Dozens of singers, actors, musicians and fellow TV stars joined Valinskas in setting up National Resurrection, in what he said was a bid to raise the curtain on a new political era in this former Soviet republic and restore faith in lawmakers.
“Being a showman is an advantage. We know how to speak the language of the people,” Valinskas said.
Graft scandals and frustration at lawmakers’ horsetrading have made parliament one of the least popular institutions among the 3.4 million people of Lithuania, which won independence from Moscow in 1991 and joined the EU in 2004.
Lithuania has a complex electoral system under which 70 lawmakers are elected by proportional representation from party lists in a first round and the remaining 71 in head-to-head battles in constituencies, usually after a second, run-off round of voting.
National Resurrection came second in the first round on Oct. 12, winning 13 seats, while the Conservatives took 18.
The Conservatives are also expected to perform best in today’s run-off, bringing their total to close to 50, meaning the support of Valinskas’ party and smaller liberal groupings will be crucial to create a majority coalition.
“It’s clear that the ball would be squarely in the Conservatives’ court. We’ll be there to help them along the way,” Valinskas said.
But there have been suggestions that the ruling Social Democrats, who came fourth in the first round with 11 seats, could also try to bring Valinskas on board — the party has held onto office since 2001 by cooking up a string of coalitions.
“National Resurrection is a party without any ideological principles or programme,” Vilnius University political scientist Alvidas Lukosaitis said.
“So it has complete freedom to join either side,” he said.
Lukosaitis said he doubted that National Resurrection’s newly-elected lawmakers could hold together as a united parliamentary bloc, claiming showbiz tempers would get in the way.
Valinskas rejected claims that the party is a publicity stunt, reaffirming that it will still be around for the 2012 elections.
“Television isn’t the be all and end all for me. That’s something I’ve often said,” he said.
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