23rd May 2019

Conservatives ahead in Lithuanian elections

  • The Ignalina nuclear plant is set to close by the end of next year (Photo: wikipedia)

An opposition conservative party is ahead after Sunday's (12 October) parliamentary election in Lithuania, exit polls have shown, but high results for two populist groups pave the way for tricky coalition talks ahead.

The opposition center-right Homeland Union Party was leading with almost 18 percent of the votes, while two populist parties – Order and Justice of Lithuania's impeached former president Rolandas Paksas (13 percent), and the Labour party (10 percent) led by Russian-born millionaire Viktor Uspaskich – got a combined 23 percent in the elections, the Associated Press reports quoting exit polls.

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"We are ready to take responsibility and expect the president's offer to start forming a new cabinet," Homeland Union Party's leader Andrius Kubilius said after the announcement of the first results.

The Social Democrats of Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas – in power since 2001 – received some 12 percent, but the surprise came from the National Revival Party of reality TV presenter Arunas Valinskas, which got some 15 percent of the votes.

Mr Valinskas hosts a "Music Idol" style talent show and only entered Lithuanian politics a few months ago.

The turnout in the elections was around 46 percent and official results are expected later today.

Russia policy may soften

If a populist coalition led by Mr Paksas and Mr Uspaskich is formed as a result, it is likely to be one that would adopt a tougher stance on the EU and aim to improve relations with neighbouring Russia.

Mr Paksas – who in 2004 became the first European head of state to be impeached and removed from office for having violated the Constitution and abused his powers by favouring a Russian businessman who was his aide – said he was prepared to accept any partners in coalition talks.

"If I had a choice, we would not work together with the conservatives or Social Democrats, who are responsible for this disorder in Lithuania," he said, according to the Associated Press.

"But if voters decide those parties deserve to be in government, we may be negotiating with those parties," he added.

Ignalina debate

The vote in the Baltic state came amid increasing economic decline and took place simultaneously with a non-binding referendum on whether or not to leave the country's nuclear plant Ignalina open longer than planned.

As part of its deal to join the EU in 2004, Lithuania agreed to close Ignalina by the end of 2009. But both politicians and the public fear that this would increase Vilnius' dependence on Russian energy and be catastrophic for the national economy, as a replacement for Ignalina is unlikely before 2015.

However, the popular vote on the nuclear plant could be invalidated, as it did not seem to have scored the required 50 percent turnout, Reuters reports.

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It's one of the biggest democratic exercises in the world with over 400 million eligible voters. National rules apply, and national parties run, but the stakes are at European level.


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