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Lithuanian opposition scents victory in run-off vote

Andrius Sytas
·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Lithuania's Homeland Union leadership, Ingrida Simonyte and Gabrielius Landsbergis, speak to reporters in Vilnius
FILE PHOTO: Lithuania's Homeland Union leadership, Ingrida Simonyte and Gabrielius Landsbergis, speak to reporters in Vilnius

By Andrius Sytas

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Lithuanians returned to the polls on Sunday for the second round of a parliamentary election where the centre-right opposition expects victory as unemployment and debt hurt the government.

Voting was scheduled to end at 1800 GMT, with results reported a few hours later.

The Baltic Sea state of less than 3 million people has fared relatively well in the coronavirus crisis, though cases have spiked of late as elsewhere around Europe.

But Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis has faced criticism for failing to create more jobs and stop debt mounting.

The opposition Homeland Union, with roots in the 1980s anti-Soviet independence movement, led the proportional vote of the first round with 24.8%, versus 17.5% for the Farmers and Greens party (LVZS), an agrarian group leading Skvernelis' coalition.

Under Lithuania's hybrid system, the other half of the 141-member parliament is elected in run-off votes in constituencies on Sunday.

Ingrida Simonyte, who would lead a Homeland Union government, told local media she was confident the party and its two likely coalition partners were on track towards a majority in the parliament.

She was finance minister in a previous Homeland Union government, which lost power in 2012 after one of Europe's harshest austerity programmes, which caused a collapse in GDP of about 15% in 2009.

The party failed to regain a footing in 2016, when LVZS, led by a wealthy businessman Ramunas Karbauskis, won over many Lithuanians worried about sluggish economic growth.

Karbauskis acknowledged his party might be heading out of government as none of his coalition partners reached the 5% of votes needed to secure seats in parliament in the first round.

Election officials asked voters to mark ballots with their own pens to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Lithuania has reported 9,578 coronavirus infections, including a record 474 new cases on Saturday, and 129 deaths.

Lithuania's economy shrank 4% year-on-year in the second quarter of 2020, the second best result in the European Union. The central bank attributed that to a prompt and short lockdown, generous state support and relatively unaffected trading partners.

(Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Susan Fenton)