A nationalist party riding fears about mass migration to Europe appeared set Sunday to become the big winner in Swiss legislative elections, projections showed, capping a shift to the political right in the small Alpine nation. The anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party appeared set to gain 11 seats and the pro-business Free Democratic Party another three in the lower house of parliament, the National Council, according to the latest figures from state-backed broadcaster RTS. Together, the two leading parties of the right were set to hold 99 seats — just one short of half control of the 200-seat assembly. The result marks a shift from the success of moderate parties in the last election four years ago: The biggest parties of the left and center all lost ground, in particular two Green parties, or held even. The outcome giving the People’s Party nearly 30 percent surpassed poll predictions, while the Social Democrats — the country’s second-largest party — unexpectedly lost support. Final results for the National Council were expected by Monday. The makeup of the upper house, the 46-member Council of States, will be known in three weeks.
Portugal’s ruling centre-right coalition has retained power in a general election seen as a referendum on its austerity policies, but near-complete results indicated it has lost its absolute majority in parliament. Prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s Portugal Ahead coalition took 38.6% of the vote, according to the partial results, against 32.4% the opposition Socialists of former Lisbon mayor Antonio Costa. Costa, who campaigned on a promise of easing some of the painful reforms imposed on western Europe’s poorest country, was quick to concede defeat but ruled out stepping down as party leader. “The Socialist party did not achieve its stated objectives, and I take full political and personal responsibility,” Costa told supporters in the capital. But he added: “I will not be resigning.”
Germany‘s Social Democrats (SPD) are considering holding a direct ballot of their members to select a candidate to challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel at the next national election set down for 2017. Leading SPD figures said on Wednesday they were open to conducting a plebiscite of the party‘s about 474,000 members to decide on its chancellor candidate. This follows a call by the leader of the SPD‘s youth wing, Johanna Uekermann who told the daily Welt on Wednesday: “Each member must be allowed a say in a primary-type election.” SPD chief Sigmar Gabriel has also indicated recently that the party membership should be allowed to vote if several candidates emerge to head up the election campaign.
Denmark goes to the polls on Thursday in a general election which opinion polls suggest is on a knife edge. The centre-left coalition of PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and the centre-right opposition led by ex-PM Lars Lokke Rasmussen, appear to be neck and neck. But the pollsters have only canvassed the Danish mainland – and voters in Greenland and the Faroe Islands may decide the vote. Minor issues like a Faroes fishing dispute could influence the result. The islands’ fishing community is still angry at Ms Thorning-Schmidt for barring its boats from Danish ports in a 2013 dispute over alleged overfishing.
Editorials: Europe will watch Finland’s election closely—perhaps for the wrong reasons | The Economist
For a useful corrective to the notion that only sunny optimism can win elections, Charlemagne recommends a visit to Finland. Like sauna-goers vigorously lashing themselves with birch branches, Finnish politicians are lining up to talk their homeland down in the run-up to the general election on April 19th. Juha Sipila, leader of the Centre Party and the most likely next prime minister, talks freely of the need to slash public spending. Antti Rinne, the finance minister and head of the Social Democrats, laments Finland’s dire export performance. The biggest dose of gloom, though, comes from Alex Stubb, the centre-right prime minister. Mr Stubb claims to be an “eternal optimist”, but says that Finland has had a “lost decade” and admits that the coalition he has led since June 2014 has often been a failure.
Narva, an Estonian town on the Russian border, is tired of hearing it is next. “There simply couldn’t be a repeat of Crimea here,” says Vladislav Ponjatovski, head of a local trade union. Mr Ponjatovski, an ethnic Russian, helped launch a Narva autonomy referendum in 1993. Now he would never consider it. Today’s Estonia offers higher living standards and membership of NATO and the European Union. Nobody in Narva longs to be in Ivangorod, the Russian town over the river. The fear that the Kremlin may test NATO by stirring up trouble in the Baltics haunts the West. Britain’s defence secretary, Michael Fallon, says there is already a “real and present danger”. Russia has violated Baltic airspace and harassed ships in the Baltic Sea. Russian agents crossed the border and kidnapped an Estonian intelligence officer last autumn. The new security environment is “not just bad weather, it’s climate change,” says Lieutenant General Riho Terras, head of the Estonian Defence Forces.
Lead by Hamburg mayor Olaf Scholz, the city-state’s Social Democrats, the SPD, hope to defend their 2011 election win. With its bustling port and cluster of media and aerospace companies, the port city state has long been a stronghold for the SPD. According to recent polls, however, repeating their absolute majority success of four years ago will be no easy victory, even if they defeat the conservative CDU. Threatening the absolute majority ruling of the SPD are the smaller parties such as the liberal FDP and right-leaning AfD. Taking advantage of renewed fears over the eurozone and Greece’s new anti-austerity government, euroskeptic AfD could now be in with a chance of winning its first seats in a western German state. The party’s success has thus far been limited to eastern Germany where it currently holds seats in three states.
Left Party politician Bodo Ramelow has been chosen as premier by the parliament in the eastern German state of Thuringia. The state now has the first socialist-led government in Germany since reunification in 1990. The state parliament of the eastern German state of Thuringia on Friday elected Bodo Ramelow to head a left-leaning coalition consisting of his Left Party, the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens. A former trade unionist from western Germany, Ramelow has become the first member of his party to become premier of a state.
It was supposed to be the Swedish Social Democrats’ triumphant return. But two months after forming a minority coalition government with the Greens, Stefan Lofven, the Social Democratic leader, has been forced to step down as prime minister. The four-party centre-right opposition alliance enlisted the support of the far-right, anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats to vote down his budget, pushing through a budget of its own instead. Mr Lofven might have let the other parties try to form a new government. But instead he plans to call an “extra” election on March 22nd. Such high political drama is rare in Sweden, where advance negotiations before parliamentary votes normally mean the budget passes with little fuss. The only previous special election was in 1958. Social Democratic-led governments, in particular, have usually sat out their four-year terms in an orderly fashion. But Sweden has never before had to contend with a far-right party that enjoys as much support as the Sweden Democrats. The party is the third-largest in parliament. Without its backing, neither the centre-right alliance nor a coalition of the Social Democrats, Greens and the small Left party commands a majority. Worse, a new election could see the Sweden Democrats grow stronger, although the absence on sick leave of their leader, Jimmie Akesson, may count against them.
It is easy to write off Bosnia as a dysfunctional country hobbled by unnecessary layers of government in which nothing works. In fact, despite an unduly complex system of government that was the price of ending the war in 1995, Bosnia works—but badly. The elections held on October 12th will probably not alter that. Yet to dismiss them as just one more round of political musical chairs would be wrong. Some change may now be in the air. The war left Bosnia divided between the Serb-run Republika Srpska (RS) and the Federation, which is dominated by Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and Croats. The Federation is divided into ten cantons. In February it was rocked by rioters demonstrating against their parasitic politicians. In May much of the country was engulfed by floods that caused terrible damage. Bosnia’s infrastructure is run down partly because so much money has been stolen but also because it has to pay for too many levels of government.
Sweden: Social Democrat Leader Stefan Lofven Defeats Incumbent Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt | Wall Street Journal
Sweden’s Social Democrat Leader Stefan Lofven defeated incumbent Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in parliamentary elections on Sunday, signaling the return of a left-leaning government after eight years in opposition. The shift reflected concerns among the Swedish electorate that Mr. Reinfeldt’s pro-market policies have chipped away at the country’s cherished welfare state. Mr. Reinfeldt said he would resign as prime minister on Monday and as leader of his party by spring. Mr. Lofven, though, still faces tough negotiations with left-leaning allies over forming a coalition government after failing to secure an absolute majority. With nearly all votes counted, results from Sweden’s election authority showed the Social Democrats won 31.1% of the vote, largely unchanged from the last election in 2010, while Mr. Reinfeldt’s Moderate Party slumped to 23.2%, from 30.1% at the last election. Though the two parties won nearly the same amount of votes four years ago, Mr. Reinfeldt’s Moderates were then able to cobble together a larger center-right alliance of parties.
Sweden, seen for years as a beacon of stability and reforms in a crisis-ridden Europe, may be heading for political deadlock after Sunday’s general election, with polls suggesting that both right and left might be unable to form a stable government. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s center-right coalition is battling an opposition alliance led by the Social Democrats. But neither group looks set to win a majority – putting them at the mercy of more radical leftist or far-right parties. The Social Democrats, campaigning to spend more money on a welfare state that they founded in the last century, were the election favorites for months. But some polls suggest a once seemingly unassailable lead has narrowed, unsettling businesses and investors and even raising the prospect of a new vote. “It could be an Italian situation, something we’ve hardly ever experienced in Sweden,” said Magnus Henrekson, Director of the Research Institute of Industrial Economics. An increasingly likely scenario is that Social Democrat leader Stefan Lofven will head the biggest party but struggle to cobble together a majority. Even if he won the support of a former communist party, he could still be in a minority against the far right and Reinfeldt’s coalition.
Swedish voters are now less likely to oust the government of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on Sept. 14 than they were just a week ago. The Social Democrat-led opposition’s lead has narrowed to 4.5 points in the latest poll by Sifo — the smallest difference since May last year — from 7.3 points a week earlier and 9.8 a month earlier. The shift toward the government follows presentations by the main parties revealing their policy goals for the next four years. “We’re talking about 135,000 voters for things to become completely even, and that’s of course not a huge number,” said Toivo Sjoeren, head of opinion research at TNS Sifo in Stockholm, by phone. He says history indicates that even after narrowing, the margin remains too wide for Reinfeldt to be re-elected. “On the other hand, you actually never know.”
Germany: Unintended Consequences: The Implications Of The German Coalition Agreement For Europe | Social Europe Journal
German coalition agreement – Commentators have been poring over the 185-page coalition agreement between the German CDU/CSU and the SPD. Germany is the largest economy in the EU and has played a decisive role in recent years in crafting the policies that have sought, to date unsuccessfully, to resolve the economic and financial crisis. What then can Europe hope for from Germany’s next government, based on the text of the coalition agreement? (I skip over the “detail” that the Grand Coalition has to be approved in a vote by all SPD members. There will be considerable opposition, but I cannot see the grassroots rebelling against the party leadership.) Judging only by the sections that explicitly deal with European issues, the short answer is nothing good. Fortunately a number of measures motivated purely by domestic concerns will have favourable knock-on effects on the rest of Europe. Overall, then, the impact ought to be a small positive. The section on Europe bears the title “Strong Europe” and opens with a section on “Germany’s responsibility for Europe” (all translations are mine). Both headings are highly misleading. The policies envisaged will help ensure that Europe will remain enfeebled and Germany’s “responsibility” for Europe limited. Behind the pious language the nine pages can be summarised as saying that the previous and future Chancellor Merkel and her Finance Minister Schäuble will continue to hold the reigns of German policy on Europe firmly in their hands.
Czech Republic: How the Czech Social Democrats were derailed by a billionaire populist | Policy Network
The Czech experience is a reminder to social democrats that they need to think seriously about the deep undercurrents of anti-political anger bubbling up in European electorates – as well as distributional conflicts and coalitions. On 26 October after two terms in opposition the Social Democrats (ČSSD) emerged as the largest party in early elections in the Czech Republic with the near certainty of the forming the next government. Their political opponents on centre-right whose tottering three-year coalition government finally collapsed amid personal and political scandal in June were routed. The once dominant Civic Democrats (ODS) founded in 1991 by Václav Klaus to bring British-style Thatcherite conservativism to post-communist transformation, was cut down to minor party status with mere 7 per cent of the vote. Its one time partner in government, TOP09, which had championed fiscal austerity slipped to 11 per cent. The Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) – staged a modest recovery edging back into parliament with 6 per cent support, but remained – as they had always been in the Czech lands – a niche party. ‘Heads Up!’, the newly formed conservative eurosceptic bloc endorsed by former president Václav Klaus, scraped a humiliating 0.42 per cent.
The Social Democrats have won a narrow victory in early parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic, but the composition of the next government is likely to depend on a billionaire who entered politics only two years ago. The Social Democrats (ČSSD) had enjoyed a commanding, albeit narrowing, lead for most of the two-month election campaign. However, its lead, once over 12 percentage points, shrank rapidly in the final days before yesterday’s and today’s vote, and its final tally, 20.5%, gave it just three more seats than the party of Andrej Babiš, a controversial industrialist and – since this spring – a media magnate. Babiš’s party, ANO 2011-Akce nespokojených občanů (Yes 2011 – Action of Dissatisfied Citizens), won 18.7% of the votes and 47 of the 200 seats in parliament. ANO took votes from all parties and its support was evenly spread across the population. While Babiš succeeded in recruiting a range of celebrities, polls suggest that the party’s late surge dates to a weekend blitz of interviews on television.
The Social Democrats appear to have won elections in the Czech Republic as voters angered by years of right-wing graft and austerity veered left. The CSSD are poised to form a minority government. With nearly 100 percent of votes counted, the CSSD scored 20.5 percent, Action for Alienated Citizens (ANO: Czech for “yes”) won 18.7, and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) lagged behind with 15. Likely new premier Bohuslav Sobotka had hinted before polls closed that he could form a minority government with the tacit support of the Communists. “The result may not be what we imagined but it’s the highest score of all parties,” 42-year-old Social Democrat leader Sobotka told reporters in Prague after the election, declaring himself “ready to start talks” on a coalition with all parties in parliament. The election ends seven years of scandal-tainted right-wing rule. Former Finance Minister Sobotka plans to introduce new taxes on banks, utilities and wealth to pay for social programs.
Czech Republic: Party System At Risk Of Unravelling In This Week’s Elections | Social Europe Journal
Czech voters go to the polls in early parliamentary elections on 25-26 October. The elections follow the collapse, amid personal and political scandal, of the centre-right government of Petr Nečas in June, and the subsequent failure of President Zeman’s handpicked caretaker administration to win a vote of confidence. At one level the election seems set to deliver a simple and straightforward verdict,: established opposition parties on the left will win, while governing right-wing parties will be heavily rejected by an electorate frustrated with austerity, stagnating living standards and sleaze. The main opposition Czech Social Democrats (ČSSD), most polls have suggested, will emerge as the clear winners with around 25-30 per cent of the vote, although the final polls published before voting have suggested that the party’s support was starting to slide. Meanwhile the hardline Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) is likely to pull in 15-20 per cent.
In June this year, the Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas resigned after it was revealed that members of his staff were involved in a possible corruption affair. He was supposed to be replaced by a new representative of the conservative coalition government and everything would continue smoothly. This would most likely have been the case, had Czechs not elected Milos Zeman as President. The former socialist premier used the limitations of the Czech constitution to his advantage and has appointed an interim government instead. Even though this government has been repealed by the parliament, the former coalition deputies were unable to form a new government and thus the Czech Republic moves to early elections at the end of October. During the 2010 parliamentary election the front-runners to lead the country were the Social Democrats (CSSD). Surprisingly, the results meant a second chance was given to the strongest centre-right party : the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), whose platform featured commitments to form a government that preached austerity; to reform key laws and finally spearhead a crackdown on corruption.
Germany: To Form German Coalition, Merkel’s Party May Need to Support a Minimum Wage | New York Times
Germany has long held out against introducing a nationwide minimum wage, and over the weekend Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized her rejection of the idea. But it may be the price she has to pay to build the stable government she has promised voters. Ms. Merkel’s conservatives met Monday for a second round of preliminary talks with the Social Democrats, the center-left party that is demanding a base wage of 8.50 euros an hour, or $11.55, for workers across Germany, Europe’s largest economy. The issue emerged as a central sticking point the two sides must overcome if they are to proceed to the next step of formally trying to build a coalition. The chancellor’s Christian Democratic Union, along with its Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union, emerged from a Sept. 22 parliamentary election as the clear winners. But the parties fell five seats short of a majority that would have allowed them to govern alone. Their previous partner in government, the pro-business Free Democrats, was ousted from Parliament, leaving Ms. Merkel searching for a new partner. Ms. Merkel’s conservatives have held an initial round of discussions with the Social Democrats, as well as the Greens. Both meetings concluded with a decision to meet again to sound out whether there are enough common points to open formal negotiations over a coalition that would form the next government.
Before the September 22 parliamentary elections, much of the foreign coverage of German politics described Angela Merkel, the incumbent candidate for chancellor, as widely tipped to win reelection. Her broad popularity among German voters seemed to exceed many observers’ ability to understand her appeal, but Merkel’s conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union, won a sweeping 41.5% of the vote, appearing to confirm pre-election predictions of success. However, the reporting on her and her opponents’ campaigns often deployed a rather simplified account of the German electoral system that has obscured the actual election outcome. It is true that Merkel won big. Her party even came close to an absolute majority in the Bundestag, which has only ever happened during the tenure of Konrad Adenauer, Germany’s first post-war chancellor and another three-term conservative legend. Merkel and her party were not expecting to reach an absolute majority, so falling short of it was not a loss for her. The disastrous defeat of her coalition partner over the last four years, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), however, will have a real effect on her next term. The FDP’s belly-flop, which resulted in its expulsion from the Bundestag for the first time in post-war history having failed to reach the necessary 5% threshhold, must have been hugely disappointing for Merkel. Then again, during the campaign season there was hushed, and sometimes explicit, speculation about the FDP’s weakness, and what political compromises Merkel would prefer to make if that party did not make it into the Bundestag. Now, Merkel’s CDU and its potential coalition partners have each held internal meetings, and while Merkel’s party is still ostensibly considering whether it would rather govern with the Social Democrats (SPD) or the Greens, it will begin preliminary discussions with the SPD this Friday.
Editorials: Why Germany’s Politics Are Much Saner, Cheaper, and Nicer Than Ours | Olga Khazan/The Atlantic
It’s the day before the German election, and Stefan Liebich, a member of the Bundestag for the far-left Die Linke party, is standing on the sidewalk at a busy intersection, smiling and shaking hands. He has a boombox and an assistant who fills up crimson balloons that say “Really Red” — to differentiate them from the slightly-less-red balloons being inflated by their rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD), who have a similar setup just a few feet away. He’s in peak campaigning mode, yet he takes a 45-minute break to talk to a group of foreign journalists, including me, who can’t vote and don’t speak German. Liebich’s casual arrangement seems fitting for someone running for, say, student council in the U.S., but he’s actually just a few thousand votes from losing his seat in parliament if Die Linke doesn’t garner a large enough percentage in the upcoming election. He says he is “excited” to see whether or not he makes it in. It may seem barebones, but this is a typical last-day campaign event for a parliamentarian in Germany, where campaigns get government funding, parties are allocated TV advertising time, and microtargeting of voters is unthinkable.
The Länder election that took place in Bavaria, Germany´s second biggest state, last Sunday added flavour to what was previously a dull election campaign on federal level. According to Allensbach Institute, the share of people talking with others about the election rose from 29% to 49% recently. While the Christian Social Union (CSU) – sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) – came out on top, chancellor Angela Merkel´s coalition partners the Free Democratic Party (FDP), who had also been part of the governing coalition in Bavaria, received only 3.3% of the votes, thus clearly failing to get over the 5% threshold that dictates whether a party can enter parliament. The liberals now fear they could miss entering the federal parliament next Sunday too. This would make Merkel´s “dream coalition” history. The liberals immediately started to aggressively beg for conservative voters to step in and help them. If successful, this strategy would take voters from the CDU/CSU. Indeed, at the Länder election in Lower-Saxony in January, “pity votes” for the FDP prevented a victory for the CDU. Only 8.6% of Bavarians voted for the Greens on Sunday, which is in line with the negative trend in the polls on the federal level that is lowering the prospects for a Red-Green coalition government. Even the “Free Voters of Bavaria” superseded the Greens – a local organised party with a strong base in Bavaria which plays no role on federal level. It will be interesting to see where the votes for the Free Voters move to next Sunday.
More than two decades after two far-right youths attacked him there and smashed his glasses, Karamba Diaby hopes to represent the economically ailing east German city of Halle as the first black member of Germany’s parliament. Senegal-born Diaby often felt isolated as a student at Halle University in then-communist, and overwhelmingly white East Germany in the 1980s. Nowadays he feels very much at home but says Germany still needs to do better at integrating foreigners. “There is definitely some catching up to do,” Diaby, a candidate for the main center-left opposition Social Democrats (SPD) in Sunday’s national election, told Reuters. Diaby, 52, is clearly frustrated that media attention has focused on his skin color, not his politics. “If it’s so sensational that I am running for the Bundestag (lower house), after living here for 27 years, studying here and being politically active, that’s because it has dawned on people that this hasn’t happened before,” he said.
With four days to go, Germany’s federal election is going down to the wire. Latest polls put Dr Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) three points short of re-election with its unpopular coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP). The opposition alternative – the Greens, Social Democrats (SPD) and Left Party – are also three points short of a majority. The election will be decided, not by personalities or policies, but by a modified voting system. So how do Germans vote? Every citizen over 18 has two votes: the first for a direct constituency candidate and the second for a party. This second vote decides the allocation of Bundestag party seats, with MPs drawn by parties from state lists. The two-vote system – combining constituency and list systems – is a post-war compromise between the Allies but it is the second vote, the Zweitstimme that counts. The CDU has dubbed it the “Merkel vote”, the guarantee that its leader stays chancellor. Their FDP coalition partners claim the same.
Editorials: Party season: In a tight German election, differences blur and hints of deals abound | The Economist
What a sorry state Germany’s two big political blocs are in, a month before the election on September 22nd. In the 1970s more than 90% of West Germans voted for the two “people’s parties”: the “red” Social Democrats (SPD) and the “black” Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. The difference was clear: red stood for unions and fairness, black for conservatives, business and the church. But the people have deserted the people’s parties. In the 2009 election, almost half the voters chose smaller competitors: chiefly the Greens, the Left and the Free Democrats (FDP). The blacks and reds have also lost members: the CDU 40% since unification in 1990, the SPD almost 50%. In a recent poll 69% of voters said they could not even tell the difference. It was an SPD-led government that pushed through labour-market reforms in 2003. The government of the CDU chancellor, Angela Merkel, has been inching leftward, ogling everything from rent controls to a minimum wage.
Germans sleep better, Bismarck once said, when they don’t know how sausages and laws are made. A century and a half later, Angela Merkel seems to be modelling an election campaign on the musings of Germany’s “Iron Chancellor”; the modern day chancellor is avoiding detailed discussion of what she would do with a third term and instead emphasising her personal appeal over policy prescriptions. In five weeks’ time Germans will vote in what has been billed as the most important election of the year in Europe, a continent struggling to emerge from years of financial and economic crisis. Yet there is virtually no debate about the major problems facing Germany – from handling its exit from nuclear energy to addressing an ageing population and articulating a vision for the euro zone.
Don’t consider German elections a done deal just yet. Judging from past experience, there is still room for a shock as polls in Germany have often underestimated the end-results of small parties. “There is big surprise potential,” says BHF Bank in a note to clients, because the anti-euro party Alternative for Germany, or AfD, gets little attention from outside Germany. In a poll conducted by Forsa institute and published Wednesday, 3% of participants said they would vote for the AfD in September 22 elections. The result is well below the 5% threshold needed for parties to enter parliament in Germany. AfD’s results in previous surveys have been similar. However, at election betting platform Prognosys, the AfD is mustering a healthy 6%, BHF points out. Prognosys lets betters place odds on the outcome of the vote.
From outside Germany, Angela Merkel has long looked invincible. She has come to symbolise Germany’s political scene as Margaret Thatcher once did Britain’s. But on Monday morning she saw her centre-right coalition narrowly ousted by the opposition centre-left in a regional election that shifts the balance of power in Germany and could have profound implications for her chances of re-election in September. She told a press conference in Berlin that the result in Lower Saxony was “emotionally difficult” to deal with after the “rollercoaster” expectation that the Christian Democrat and liberal Free Democrat (FDP) coalition led by the half-Scottish David McAllister would narrowly succeed. It is a blow to her hopes for a boost as she fights for a third term in office, and as the 12th consecutive defeat for her party at state level it will give the centre-left a majority in the upper house, allowing the opposition to block major legislation or initiate laws that could make Merkel’s life extremely difficult.
Lithuanians are voting in the second round of national elections, with budget cuts and joining the euro seen as key issues. Polls opened at 07:00 (05:00 GMT), with half the seats being contested. Two centre left parties, the Labour Party and the Social Democrats, finished first and second in the first round on 14 October. PM Andrius Kubilius’ governing conservatives, unpopular for cutting pensions and public wages, came third. Having won 34 seats in the first round, Labour and the Social Democrats hope to win enough of the 67 seats available on Sunday to allow them to form a coalition government.