By Stefan J. Bos
Sunday’s ballot was expected to bring a change of leadership in Lithuania, amid public discontent over social difficulties.
The winner will have to tackle a growing health crisis and high unemployment in the southernmost Baltic nation.
A center-left coalition has governed it for four years. But in the first round of voting on October 11, three center-right opposition parties finished with a combined lead.
That trend was due to continue in Sunday’s final round, in which 68 of the 141 seats in Lithuania’s legislative assembly, the Seimas, are up for grabs.
The other seats were distributed after the October 11 first round of voting, which resulted in the opposition conservative Homeland Union party winning almost 25 percent of the vote. The ruling Farmers and Greens party received roughly 17.5 percent.
CONSERVATIVES IN GOVERNMENT?
Analysts say that if the conservatives are successful on Sunday, they would likely try to form a new ruling coalition with the other two center-right partners.
Lithuania, a member of the European Union and the NATO military alliance, has strong democratic traditions since declaring independence from the Soviet Union in 1990.
It has played a significant diplomatic role as Belarus’s protests, its southern neighbor, unfold against that nation’s perceived authoritarian leader.
Elsewhere Ukraine’s mask-wearing President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his wife Olena Zelenska were among those voting in local elections. But beyond some cameras and surprised voters, it seemed a subdued affair.
That is in sharp contrast to the enthusiastic crowds that welcomed the president when he was elected last year. The 42-year-old former comedian has seen his popularity dwindle steadily. That’s in part because living standards continued to plummet, and corruption remained widespread in this former Soviet nation.
Additionally, international efforts to negotiate a settlement to the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine have failed to yield tangible progress. Unlike in Lithuania, the elections in Ukraine could not immediately lead to a change at the top.
But observers view Ukraine’s local elections as a popularity test for the nation’s increasingly embattled president.
Zelenskiy tried to shore up his sagging popularity by coupling the local elections with a survey asking voters for their views on legalizing cannabis for medical use.
They are also requested to give their opinion on introducing life sentences for corruption convictions and creating a free economic zone in the country’s east.
But opinion polls suggested it may not be enough to boost support for his Servant of the People party. It was named after a popular television series in which Zelenskiy played a school teacher who unexpectedly becomes president.
Surveys indicated that Zelenskiy’s party candidates would likely perform poorly in Sunday’s local races for mayors and municipal councils across the country.
Instead, parties of former President Petro Poroshenko and ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko were due to win most of the mayoral and council seats in the western part of the country.
And pro-Russia party, Opposition Platform for Life, was positioned to make a strong showing in the mostly Russian-speaking east and south of Ukraine.
Voting was not held in areas of eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Russia-backed separatists.