LITHUANIA ELECTIONS.jpg
Leader of Lithuanian Social Democratic Party, Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius (R) with wife Janina and granddaughter Kamilla at a polling station during Parliamentary election in Vilnius, Lithuania 9 October 2016.
Photograph: EPA/Valda Kalnina

Lithuania's ruling Social Democrats were on the back foot Monday after the first of two rounds of parliamentary voting put the party solidly in third place behind two opposition groups.

With almost all votes counted, the Lithuanian Peasant and Greens Union was tied for first place with the conservative Homeland Union at 21.6 per cent, according to the national election commission. The Social Democrats, meanwhile, slid to 14.5 per cent.

The results showed an electorate worn out by the Social Democrats' policies and the scandal-hit government led by Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius.

"Obviously, people voted for changes and against the coalition that is knee-deep in scandals," Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said in comments from her office to the Baltic News Service (BNS).

"However, the election is not over yet – the electorate will make its final decision in the second round on who they trust to rule the country," said Grybauskaite, who is an independent.

The book is not yet written on the vote, since Sunday's polling only awarded 70 seats in the legislature based on proportional representation. A further 71 seats will be determined by direct voting on October 23.

Nonetheless, the leaders of the opposition parties took the outcome as a key victory.

"I am very happy about the decision of the people," said Ramunas Karbauskis, head of the Peasant and Greens Union. The centrist party has, in the past, declared itself interested in building a coalition with either centre-right or centre-left parties.

Nor did he rule out a broader coalition of all parties with the highest votes.

Homeland head Gabrielius Landsbergis said he assumed his party would be part of the next governing coalition. BNS reported that he was already trying to set up coalition talks with the Liberal party, which garnered 9 per cent. He said a coalition with the Social Democrats was "almost impossible."

The Social Democrats will be further constricted by the fact that only one of their existing coalition partners - the populist Order and Justice party - made it back into the parliament, with 5.5 per cent of the vote.

The other, the Labour Party, did not reach the 5-per-cent cut-off required to stay in the legislature.

The Labour Party has suffered amid allegations that one of its members, Vytautas Gapsys, had taken questionable political donations.

There has also been a scandal about the Defence Ministry buying overpriced kitchen equipment in a non-transparent bidding process. There have been calls for Defence Minister Juozas Olekas to step down amid the scandal, but the prime minister has protected him, sparking some outrage.

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