Leftists win power in austerity-weary Lithuania
VILNIUS – Lithuania's leftwing and populist opposition parties moved on Monday to form a coalition government after the austerity-weary Baltic state became the latest European nation to evict the centre-right at the ballot box.
"We have agreed to form a three-party coalition, with the post of prime minister going to the Social Democrats, and to begin drawing up our government programme," Algirdas Butkevicius, leader of the centre-left Social Democrats, said after Sunday's parliamentary election results rolled in.
"We don't have any points of disagreement," he added, following a closed-door meeting with the leaders of the leftwing populist Labour party and rightwing populist Order and Justice movement.
The trio had begun informal coalition talks after the left came top in a first round of polling on October 14.
"We plan to sign our coalition deal once the Central Election Commission has certified the results," Butkevicius said on Sunday.
The first sitting of the new parliament must be held within 15 days of the election, and the new premier nominated by President Dalia Grybauskiate by the end of November.
Labour leader Viktor Uspaskich said Butkevicius was "certain" to become the European Union nation's next prime minister.
The potential coalition's combined clout in Lithuania's 141-member parliament is 79 seats. Half of the republic's lawmakers are elected from party lists in the first round, while run-offs are held in single-member constituencies.
The final tallies were 38 for the Social Democrats, 30 for Labour and 11 for Order and Justice.
Uspaskich, who said Labour was eyeing the culture, transport, agriculture and economy portfolios, is a controversial figure.
The Russian-born ex-minister, member of the European Parliament and businessman – who made his fortune importing gas and producing gherkins – is locked in a long-running party funding probe by Lithuanian prosecutors and tax authorities.
Labour is also facing a vote-buying inquiry that voided one constituency's results, forcing a re-run in coming months.
Order and Justice, meanwhile, is run by impeached ex-president Rolandas Paksas.
The defeated Conservatives, who had been pushed into third place in the first round, made up some ground on Sunday, garnering a total of 32 seats. "We are among the leading parties in parliament," underlined outgoing Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius.
In power since 2008, he paid the price for draconian spending cuts imposed as the nation of three million was battered by one of the world's deepest recessions. The remaining seats were shared between the Conservatives' governing ally the Liberal Movement, with 10 parliamentarians, an ethnic-Polish party with eight, and the newborn anti-corruption Way of Courage movement with seven.
In a sign of frustration with Lithuania's fractious politics – Kubilius is the only premier to survive a full term since the country seceded from the Soviet Union in 1990 – Sunday's turnout was around 35 per cent, well below the first-round's 53 per cent.
The Social Democrats and Labour pledge to mend ties with Soviet-era master Moscow and raise the minimum wage, while the Social Democrats aim to introduce a progressive income tax.
But Butkevicius, a former finance minister, cultivates the image of a prudent economic steward, and analysts say sweeping change are unlikely.
"Taking into account financial markets, EU membership and the EU's excessive deficit procedures, the room for manoeuvre would be limited," said Ramunas Vilpisauskas, director of the Institute of International Relations and Political Science in Vilnius.
"A few symbolically-important pledges may be implemented. But I guess that a major part will stay on paper," he added. -- AFP