Center-right eyes government as Lithuania voters head back to polls for second round

VILNIUS — Lithuanians will return to the polls on Sunday to vote in the second round of legislative elections, with the pandemic and social inequalities as the main issues at stake.

The center-right opposition is well-placed to prevail over the current center-left government after a strong showing in the first round of parliamentary elections which took place on Oct. 11.

The rival political camps have focused on fighting the epidemic and reducing economic and educational disparities between urban and rural areas in Lithuania, a country of 2.8 million people.

For the first time, voting by car is allowed, as part of the security measures against the pandemic. Masks and social distancing are compulsory in polling stations.

Despite the record number of new infections, the number of deaths in Lithuania remains well below the EU average.

On the economic side, Lithuania's gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to contract by only 1.8 percent this year, the best result in the eurozone, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Opposition conservatives won 25 percent of the vote in the first round of voting earlier this month, ahead of Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis' Union of Farmers and Greens with 17 percent.

Four other political parties entered parliament in the first round, which should lead to coalition talks after Sunday's second round.

According to political analyst Mazvydas Jastramskis, "the Conservatives should win" after all the ballots have been counted and form a majority coalition with the Liberals.

The former Conservative Finance Minister, Ingrida Simonyte, who is expected to become head of government, has pledged to accelerate the modernization of the economy from the current cheap labor model to higher value-added production.

Symonite criticized her rival Skvernelis for failing to prepare the country for the second wave of the pandemic. Popular among young urban dwellers, the 45-year-old woman is expected to seek a coalition with two liberal parties, both also led by women.

For Simona Dirse, an insurance company employee, Simonyte's previous experience as finance minister dealing with the fallout from the global financial crisis will help her cope with the pandemic.

"I think she would manage the situation better than the current authorities, because of her qualities and her critical thinking. She is firm but also seeks dialogue," the 33-year-old Vilnius resident told AFP.

Prime minister Skvernelis, who is more popular among low-income rural voters, has pledged to continue the fight against social inequality and to introduce an annual cash bonus, known as the "13th month's pension" for the elderly.

A former head of the national police force, Skvernelis referred to the Social Democrats and the populist Labour Party as his potential allies, while admitting that they might not have the required majority.

All the major parties share the same pro-EU and pro-NATO views, and support Vilnius's desire to rally EU countries' support for Belarus's democratic opposition after a disputed presidential election in the neighboring country. — Euronews