Lithua­nia op­po­si­tion eyes power in run-off elec­tion

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Lithua­ni­ans fed up with low wages and a la­bor ex­o­dus from their Baltic euro­zone state be­gan vot­ing yes­ter­day in a run-off elec­tion ex­pected to dis­lodge the left­ist gov­ern­ment. The first round of the poll, held on Oc­to­ber 9, gave the con­ser­va­tive Home­land Union the slimmest of leads with 21.70 per­cent of the vote (22 seats). The cen­trist Lithua­nian Peas­ants and Green Union party (LPGU) won 21.53 per­cent (21 seats).

The rul­ing left­ists fin­ished third with just 14.42 per­cent (10 seats), a huge blow for Prime Min­is­ter Al­gir­das Butke­vi­cius’s So­cial Democrats. Six­tyeight of the 141 seats in par­lia­ment are up for grabs yes­ter­day. Three small po­lit­i­cal par­ties are also in the race, sig­nal­ing com­pli­cated coali­tion talks in the days ahead. Can­di­dates have fo­cused on wage growth and job cre­ation in the coun­try of 2.9 mil­lion peo­ple, which has been plagued by an ex­o­dus of work­ers seek­ing higher wages. Since Lithua­nia joined the Euro­pean Union in 2004, an es­ti­mated 370,000 peo­ple have left-nearly half to Bri­tain, where con­cern over im­mi­gra­tion from east­ern Europe was seen as a key fac­tor in the shock Brexit vote to leave the bloc.

Jobs are key

Tipped as the next prime min­is­ter, Home­land Union leader Gabrielius Lands­ber­gis has pre­sented him­self as the face of change. The 34-year-old grand­son of Lithua­nian in­de­pen­dence icon Vy­tau­tas Lands­ber­gis has vowed to fight em­i­gra­tion by cre­at­ing jobs, re­form­ing ed­u­ca­tion, boost­ing ex­ports and for­eign in­vest­ment. He has ral­lied sup­port among dis­il­lu­sioned young vot­ers like Jonas, a bio­chem­istry stu­dent in Vilnius.

“I’d like a coali­tion led by the con­ser­va­tive Home­land Union... The So­cial Democrats blew their chance over the last four years,” he told AFP, de­clin­ing to re­veal his sur­name. Butke­vi­cius promised fur­ther hikes in the min­i­mum wage and pub­lic sec­tor salaries. But an­a­lysts say a new la­bor law mak­ing it eas­ier to hire and fire em­ploy­ees, cou­pled with al­le­ga­tions of po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion, have alien­ated vot­ers al­ready bit­ter over low wages and the la­bor ex­o­dus to western Europe.

Lithua­nia’s econ­omy shrank by nearly 15 per­cent dur­ing the 2008-9 global fi­nan­cial cri­sis but quickly re­cov­ered and is slated to ex­pand by 2.5 per­cent this year. Even so, the av­er­age wage of just over 600 eu­ros ($670) per month after tax is one of the EU’s low­est, and in­equal­ity and poverty re­main com­par­a­tively high.


An­a­lysts also tip the farmer-backed LPGU-cur­rently out­side par­lia­ment and led by pop­u­lar for­mer na­tional po­lice chief Saulius Skver­nelis-as key play­ers after the vote. Skver­nelis, 46, has said his party was open to coali­tion talks with both the con­ser­va­tives and the So­cial Democrats. With the Home­land Union and LPGU likely to stay neckand-neck in round two, Vilnius Univer­sity an­a­lyst Mazvy­das Jas­tram­skis points to a pos­si­ble im­passe ahead. “It won’t be good if both par­ties win equal voter sup­port. Both will want to spear­head talks” to lead the next gov­ern­ment, he told AFP. But he added that non-aligned Pres­i­dent Dalia Gry­bauskaite could “in­vite cer­tain party lead­ers she would like to see in the coali­tion to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.” Gry­bauskaite has crit­i­cized Butke­vi­cius while mak­ing it known she fa­vors “changes”.

Rus­sia’s de­ploy­ment ear­lier this month of nu­clear-ca­pa­ble Iskan­der mis­siles to its Kalin­ingrad ex­clave two weeks ago jan­gled nerves in neigh­bor­ing Lithua­nia. But re­as­sur­ance pro­vided by NATO’s beefed up re­gional pres­ence-a move that all ma­jor par­ties ap­prove-means that vot­ers are more worried about their wal­lets than se­cu­rity. A to­tal of 2.5 mil­lion cit­i­zens are el­i­gi­ble to vote. Of­fi­cials pegged turnout at 50.6 per­cent in round one. Polls opened at 0400 GMT and close at 1700 GMT, with an early in­di­ca­tion of the vic­tors ex­pected within hours. — AFP

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