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World News

Lithuanian opposition party wins first round of parliamentary election

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Lithuania’s main centre-right opposition party led the first round of a parliamentary vote, election commission data showed on Monday, as high unemployment and rising debt hurt the ruling coalition.

FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister and presidential candidate Saulius Skvernelis speaks to media during the first round of Lithuanian presidential election in Vilnius, Lithuania May 12, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

The Homeland Union, which has roots in the 1980s anti-Soviet independence movement, led the vote with 24.8% compared with 17.5% for the Farmers and Greens party (LVZS), an agrarian group that leads the coalition of Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis.

Although a second round of voting could shift the balance again, the leader of LVZS acknowledged his party might be heading out of government as none of his coalition partners reached the 5% of votes needed to secure seats in parliament.

“Working in opposition could be easier than in the government, and the salary is same either way,” Ramunas Karbauskis told reporters on Monday, a day after the vote.

Lithuania’s economy has fared better than some European Union states in the coronavirus crisis, but the prime minister has faced criticism for failing reduce unemployment, mounting debt and not doing enough to prevent a new surge in coronavirus infections.

Four other parties collected more than 5% of the vote, securing seats and opening the way for new coalition talks.

Under Lithuania’s election system, half of the 141-member parliament was elected on Sunday in a proportional vote. Remaining lawmakers are elected in constituencies, with a run-off vote for the top two candidates in each held on Oct. 25.

Election officials asked voters to mark ballots with their own pens to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Lithuania has reported 8,899 coronavirus infections, including a record 205 new cases on Saturday, and 103 deaths.

Many in the Baltic Sea state of less than 3 million people voiced frustration during the campaign that income inequality has persisted despite brisk economic growth since Lithuania joined the EU in 2004 and unemployment running at 8.5%.

A fifth of people were at risk of poverty in 2019, mostly the elderly, unchanged from a decade ago, state figures show.

Lithuania’s relative resistance to the economic impact of coronavirus curbs helped the government recover some ground after a slump in the wake of corruption allegations. The economy shrank 4% in second quarter, the second best result in the EU.

Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Edmund Blair

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