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Lithuanians deal blow to Social Democrats in first-round vote

Lithuanians have signaled they want change in first-round elections that centered on the economy and corruption. The results are a major blow to the ruling Social Democrats.

Lithuanian voters showed widespread dissatisfaction with the ruling leftists in the first round of parliamentary elections that witnessed the opposition centrists and conservatives surge, near full results showed on Monday.

The centrist Lithuanian Peasants and Green Union party (LPGU) and the conservative Homeland Union tied at 21.6 percent of the vote, with Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius' Social Democrats coming in third with just 14.44 percent.

The results are a major blow to the Social Democrats in the small Baltic state, where voters clearly signaled they were ready for a change in a country that has faced a series of scandals and continued economic woes.

"Obviously, people voted for changes and against the coalition that is knee-deep in scandals," Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said in a statement. "However, the election is not over yet - the electorate will make its final decision in the second round on who they trust to rule the country," said Grybauskaite, who is an independent.

Sunday's vote for 70 members of Lithuania's 141-seat parliament was based on proportional representation from party lists. The next round of voting on October 23 for the remaining 71 seats will be based on direct voting at the local level.

New coalition

In a further blow to the leftists, only one of the Social Democrat's governing coalition partners, the populist Order and Justice party, cleared the 5-percent threshold with 5.5 percent of the vote.

"Lithuanians want change. This is a severe loss for the ruling parties," said Homeland Union leader Gabrielius Landsbergis, who would like to form a coalition with the LPGU.

Analysts say the most likely coalition to form is between the Homeland Union and the LPGU, but final negotiations will have to wait until the next round of elections.

Voters concerned over economy

While possible Russian aggression in the Baltics has been a top NATO concern, the main issue in the election has been the economy and corruption.

Wage growth and job creation remain sluggish despite 2.5 percent economic growth expected this year.

The Social Democrats' role in adopting a new labor code that makes it easier to hire and fire employees was unpopular among voters.

The average wage in Lithuania is a little over 600 euros ($670) per month after tax, one of the lowest levels among EU members. Inequality and poverty remain relatively high.

Since Lithuania joined the EU in 2004, an estimated 370,000 people out of a population of 2.9 million have left the country to work in western Europe.

cw/tj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

 

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