Conservatives on track to win Lithuania’s election

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Lithuania’s main center-right opposition party is on track to win Sunday’s general election, with voters backing former Finance Minister Ingrida Šimonytė to steer the country through the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.

According to preliminary results from Sunday’s second round of voting, Šimonytė’s Homeland Union won the most seats in parliament — 49 of 141, holding on to its lead from the first round on October 11.

The main party in the coalition of incumbent Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, the Farmers and Greens, came second with 32 seats, the results carried by public broadcaster LRT late Sunday night showed.

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Šimonytė now faces the challenge of building a coalition capable of securing a majority in parliament. Analysts say likely allies are the Liberals, on-track to win 13 seats, and the Freedom Party, on course for 11 seats.

Victory would represent a comeback for Šimonytė, who was finance minister between 2009 and 2012, when the Lithuanian economy was battling to recover from the global financial crisis which struck the Baltic states particularly hard. At that time, she became one of the faces of an austerity drive the government pushed through to stabilize public finances. The cutbacks were unpopular and the Homeland Union fell out of favor with voters.

This time round, the conservative party is seeking to pitch itself as one willing to invest rather than just save money.

“They want to distance themselves from the image of austerity-makers, said Gediminas Vitkus, a political scientist at Vilnius University. “From a welfare-state point of view, their program looks rather generous.”

If it can form a working coalition, the immediate challenge facing the Homeland Union will be tackling the coronavirus pandemic — both in terms of its immediate effect on public health and the economic downturn it has led to.

One of Šimonytė’s first tasks will be to work with the leaders of the EU’s other 26 countries to coordinate the final terms of the European Commission’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund.

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She will then need to manage the spending of Lithuania’s share of the pot, ensuring the money doesn’t become ensnared in the type of mismanagement which has at times beleaguered her predecessors.

Lithuania has also been in sharp focus recently as the staunchest ally of protestors seeking the ouster of President Alexander Lukashenko in neighboring Belarus.

Lithuania, a country of 2.8 million and a member of the eurozone and the Western defense alliance NATO, has offered safe haven to opposition leaders facing arrest in Belarus — a country of 9.5 million. Lithuanian leaders have been among the most vocal advocates of sanctions against Lukashenko’s inner circle.

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