Lithuanians vote in face of economic disquiet

Parliamentary elections are taking place in Lithuania, with voters primarily concerned about double-digit inflation, the global financial crisis and relations with neighbour and former ruler Russia.


Lithuanians voted in a parliamentary election on Sunday troubled by double-digit inflation and fears their small economy could be swamped by the global financial crisis.

Some voters were also worried about a newly assertive Russia after the conflict with Georgia over South Ossetia. Lithuania, a European Union and NATO member, only threw off Moscow's rule in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed.

A new government also has to keep Lithuania on the road to adopting the euro, which analysts say could happen in 2011 or 2012.

"I have come to vote because I want to see a more just state, I want to see order and justice to prevail, because there are lots of problems," Algirdas, 45, among the early voters in Vilnius. He declinded to give his family name.

Another voter said he had lost hope for change.

"I expect nothing from these elections, same all boring faces runing for the parliament," said Ricardas, 57, who also declined to give his family name.

Lithuania is run by a Social Democrat-led four-party, centre-left government and a new coalition is likely as polls show no party will get a majority in the 141-seat parliament.

The centre-right Homeland Union-Christian Democrat Party, leading the polls, hopes to be in the driving seat but analysts say the Social Democrats could retain power.

Ex-President Rolandas Paksas, a stuntpilot and Europe's only leader to be impeached and removed from office, hopes for a good showing in the election as part of his efforts to make a political comeback and clear his name.

Russian-born millionaire Viktor Uspaskich, called the "Gherkin King" after one of his businesses, is running again after his party won the 2004 vote.

New party, National Resurrection, led by a TV talent show host, Arunas Valinskas, is also set to win parliamentary seats.

On Sunday people vote for party lists and single-mandate constituencies, then single-mandate run offs come on Oct. 26.

Inflation, which peaked at 12.5 percent in June before easing to 11 percent in September, is painful in a nation where the average pretax salary is a still low 2,237 litas ($888).

Economic growth was 5.2 percent in the second quarter, but economists see a sharp slowdown as likely, particularly after the global financial crisis and credit crunch.

The government has also set a referendum on Sunday on extending beyond 2010 a Soviet-era nuclear plant, which has the same type of reactors as disaster-hit Chernobyl. It fears energy shortages and increased reliance on Russian energy imports.

The government hopes a yes vote will persuade the European Commission to back an extension, despite its opposition so far.

Homeland Union leader and a former prime minister, Andrius Kubilius, has been most active in portraying Russia as a threat.

Paksas, head of the Law and Order Party, is seen as being more pro-Russian. His 2004 impeachment was based on allegations of favourable treatment for a Russian businessman aide.

Paksas cannot become a member of parliament, president or prime minister, but hopes a good election showing will help him clear his name and run in a 2009 presidential election.

He has backed what he calls pragmatic relations with Russia and says many Lithuanians agree with him.


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