Tue, Oct 16, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Austerity-weary Lithuania elects leftist coalition

AFP, VILNIUS

Lithuania’s left-wing and populist opposition parties yesterday moved swiftly to form a new government after austerity-weary voters evicted the Baltic state’s Conservative-led coalition in a general election.

As the results of Sunday’s parliamentary polls rolled in, the leaders of Labor, the Social Democrats and Order and Justice parties held a closed-door meeting in Vilnius.

“We’re creating a working group to start consultations on a coalition,” Labor leader Viktor Uspaskich told reporters after the talks.

In power since 2008, the Conservatives drove through biting spending cuts amid one of the world’s deepest recessions, but failed to reap the electoral rewards of economic recovery.

Data from the national elections commission released early yesterday, covering 1,237 of the country’s 2,017 polling stations, gave the left-wing populist Labor party almost 23 percent of the vote.

The center-left Social Democrats followed with close to 20 percent, ahead of the Conservatives on almost 13 percent.

Less than half the constituency seats tend to be decided in the first round. Yet in past votes, the final balance of forces has been sufficiently clear after the first round to enable the formation of a government to begin immediately — even if who gets which job is only announced after the second round.

Uspaskich, a Russian-born ex-minister best known for his gherkin business, is a controversial figure who is subject to a party funding probe, and is highly unlikely to become prime minister.

Social Democrat leader Algirdas Butkevicius is tipped to take the helm, but would not be drawn.

The right-wing populist Order and Justice party — run by impeached former president and ex-stunt pilot Rolandas Paksas — scored just over 9 percent.

Three other parties were shown clearing the 5 percent hurdle required for seats in parliament: the new anti-graft Way of Courage movement with 7.04 percent, the Conservatives’ Liberal Movement governing allies with 6.44 percent, and the Lithuanian Peasants’ and Greens’ Union with 5.14 percent.

The left-leaning parties pledge to raise the minimum wage and introduce a progressive income tax, but former Lithuanian finance minister Butkevicius has played on his prudent credentials. He quit in 2005 when a Social Democrat-led government failed to close the gap between spending and revenue.

Kubilius — the only prime minister to survive a full term since Lithuania seceded from the Soviet Union in 1990 — ousted the Social Democrats in the 2008 election.

His message then was that the Social Democrats let growth stoked by credit and wage hikes get out of control, leaving the nation of 3 million people ill-prepared for hard economic times.

In 2009, as Lithuania’s economy shrank by 14.8 percent, Kubilius’ government undertook a tough austerity drive well beyond those of Western members of the EU, which Lithuania joined in 2004.

Growth returned in 2010, at 1.4 percent, before hitting 6 percent last year, but analysts say too few voters have felt the benefits.

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