Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius’s Social Democrats were pushed into third place in parliamentary elections as voters voiced disquiet over pay and opportunities in the tiny Baltic nation that seven years ago became a trailblazer for European Union austerity. Sunday’s national vote left the Peasants & Green Union and the Homeland Union-Christian Democrats neck and neck on 21.6 percent with almost all ballots counted. The Social Democrats had 14.4 percent, with support for the ruling coalition they lead sinking on persistent emigration, sluggish salary growth and a procurement scandal that worsened already frosty ties with President Dalia Grybauskaite. “The dominant scenario is that the Peasants and Homeland will form the basis of a new center-right coalition,” Ramunas Vilpisauskas, director of the Institute for International Relations and Political Science at Vilnius University, said Monday by e-mail. With a second round of voting in single-mandate constituencies to come on Oct. 23, the “big intrigue” is which party will have a better bargaining position to nominate the next premier, he said.
Lithuania, a euro-area and NATO member that borders Russia and Poland, won plaudits for its response to one of the continent’s worst recessions after the 2008 crisis. But the recovery hasn’t stemmed an exodus of workers or triggered the kind of wage growth seen elsewhere in the region. Campaigning, rocked by graft scandals at parties including the Social Democrats, has focused on pledges of future prosperity, though tight fiscal policy is set to stay.
Three other parties surpassed parliament’s 5 percent entry barrier, including Order & Justice, a junior coalition partner, and the Liberal Party, which may join the new government. Nevertheless, Order & Justice Chairman Rolandas Paksas said he’d step down, as did Valentinas Mazuronis, leader of the Labor Party, which missed the threshold to enter the legislature.