Coalition talks set for Lithuania

October 13, 2008 12:00 am

, VILNIUS, October 13 – Lithuania’s parties were on Monday facing gruelling coalition talks, after no clear winner emerged in a general election, although results showed the opposition Conservatives on top.

The Conservatives won 18.5 percent of Sunday’s vote, ahead of the National Resurrection Party with 15 percent, the populist Order and Justice Party of impeached ex-president Rolandas Paksas with 13 percent, and the ruling Social Democrats with 12 percent.

The near-final figures from the national election commission also showed that the populist Labour Party, run by ex-minister Viktor Uspaskich, a gherkin entrepreneur who has faced a fraud investigation, won 10 percent.

Two rival Liberal parties and a movement representing Lithuania’s Polish-speaking minority also narrowly cleared the five-percent hurdle required for seats in parliament.

"We are of course satisfied, but only to some extent," Conservative leader Andrius Kubilius, whose campaign centred on economic reform and strict family values, told AFP.

Seventy lawmakers are elected by proportional representation from party lists and 71 in single-member constituencies where run-off rounds are due on October 26.

"The second round is as important as the first … It’s too early to talk about a coalition," Kubilius said.

"But we’re not going to negotiate a ‘coalition of chairs’, where it’s just about numbers and no clear agenda," he said.

Coalitions have become the norm in Lithuania, a Baltic state which joined the European Union in 2004, 13 years after independence from the crumbling Soviet Union.

Prior to Sunday’s vote, Kubilius had told AFP of "big doubts" about governing with the populists, and "with the kind of Social Democrats we have now".

Sources said the Conservatives and Social Democrats were nonetheless in talks on an anti-populist "rainbow coalition".

Another potential ally appeared to be National Resurrection, founded only this year by reality TV producer Arunas Valinskas in what he called a bid to restore faith in lawmakers. Parliament is one of the least popular institutions among Lithuania’s 3.4 million people.

Valinskas said he did not favour a coalition with the populists.

Conservative Vytautas Landsbergis, the architect of Lithuanian independence, said things were "not promising".
"First I’m expecting the others to try to build a coalition against us," he told AFP.

The Social Democrats have ruled since 2001, building coalitions before and since the 2004 election.

Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas, who became Lithuania’s 11th premier since independence in a 2006 reshuffle, led a five-party government, but barely controlled parliament.

None of his erstwhile centre-left and farmers’ party allies kept their seats Sunday, results showed, and analysts said he could also try for a coalition with the populists.

Kirkilas put out feelers late Sunday.

"Obviously it’s better if their manifestos are similar to ours. At a time of crisis, we need social justice," he said, in an apparent nod to the populists.

Order and Justice and Labour’s pledges include tax cuts, wage and pension hikes and efforts to battle rising prices, striking a chord with voters as an economic boom tails off in the face of rampant inflation and global woes.

The Social Democrats also promised to raise pensions and the minimum wage.

Paksas, meanwhile, told AFP he was aiming to work with anyone who had the support of the people.

"We’ll have to find a compromise. I’m not ruling anyone out," he said.

Paksas, also a former prime minister and ex-stunt pilot, was elected president in 2003, but a year later became Europe’s first head of state to be removed by impeachment after he was embroiled in a corruption scandal.

He has always denied any wrongdoing and is trying to overturn his impeachment, which bars him from any office requiring an oath.

Sunday’s turnout among Lithuania’s 2.7 million voters was around 48 percent, up from 47 percent in 2004.


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