Tue, Jun 15, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Lithuanian election heats up as nation readies for run-off

AFP , VILNIUS

Lithuania faces a dramatic run-off presidential poll after former president Valdas Adamkus and a rival backed by impeached president Rolandas Paksas emerged from the pack in Sunday's first round election.

Adamkus, a 77-year-old former US emigre who returned to head Lithuania between 1998 and early last year, won 30.85 percent of the vote, with some 99 percent of all ballots counted, the country's election commission said yesterday.

Adamkus, who entered the race as favorite, will contest the second round vote against 61-year-old Kazimira Prunskiene, expected to take place towards the end of this month.

The country's first post-Soviet prime minister, Prunskiene, who came in second place with 21.35 percent of the vote, was apparently boosted by her backing from Paksas after initially lagging in the opinion polls.

"The elections now are just starting and everything could happen," Rimvydas Valatka, columnist at Lithuania's largest daily Lietuvos Rytas told reporters.

"If one counts the votes and percentages, it would seem that Adamkus can easily win, but in reality it could be different," Valatka added.

The national daily Kauno Diena also stressed that for the first time in the former Soviet republic's short history of independance "the final of a presidential race will include a woman."

Paksas, a former stunt pilot, was impeached in April on accusations of corruption and breaching the country's constitution. He had come to power just 15 months previously. His removal from office prompted the early elections and plunged Lithuania into disarray ahead of its accession to the EU on May 1.

Last month, Paksas was barred from running for re-election by the country's constitutional court but left his mark on the election campaign as he enjoys wide support in the countryside.

Prunskiene, dubbed the "Amber Lady" during her time as prime minister, told reporters after her first-round success that she will count on Paksas' support in the second round which is expected to be held on June 27.

"I expect that Paksas and his party will support me more actively. They were busy with elections to the European parliament, now it's over and I hope for more attention," she said.

Adamkus, who enjoys support mainly from right-wing voters, was ousted by Paksas at the ballot box in 2002.

Valatka said Prunskiene could collect the absolute majority of votes cast for left-wing candidates Vilija Blinkeviciute and Ceslovas Jursenas, while it was not clear whether Adamkus could count on all the supporters of another right-wing candidate, Lithuania's former chief EU negotiator Petras Austrevicius.

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