Lithuanians angry at spending cuts have put left-wing opposition parties on the path to power, according to results of a near complete vote count.
The Social Democratic Party and the Labour Party, which have promised to raise the minimum wage and shift the tax burden to the better off, were headed for a parliamentary majority in combination with their likely partner, the Paksas Party.
The Social Democrats managed to win 38 seats in Parliament after two complete rounds of voting, which could be enough to give them the mandate to form a center-left government.
The victory on Sunday would end unpopular austerity measures and boost spending in a country that in 2009-10 saw one of Europe’s worst recessions.
The Social Democrats and the Labour Party, which is also in the current parliamentary opposition, have pledged to form a coalition with a smaller populist party, Order and Justice, which gained 11 seats.
Together the three parties would control around 79 seats in the Baltic state’s 141-seat parliament.
“I think (the next government) will be center-left,” Social Democratic leader Algirdas Butkevicius told reporters after casting his ballot. “More funds should be given to sectors that stimulate production,” he added, pointing out that living standards in Lithuania were declining vis-a-vis those in neighbouring Poland and Latvia.
Butkevicius is a contender for coalition prime minister, but the final decision on who should become the next prime minister will be made by President Dalia Grybauskaite.
The Social Democrats have criticised the current government’s plans to introduce the euro in 2014 and said that, if in power, would postpone phasing in the common currency until the European Union could sort out its three-year-old financial crisis.
The ruling conservative party, the Homeland Union-Christian Democrats, led by Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, appears headed for second place with 32 seats after a strong showing in Sunday’s single-mandate round of voting, while the populist Labour Party will likely finish third with 30 seats.
Kubilius’ government began in 2008 at the start of Europe’s financial crisis and was the first in Lithuania to complete an entire four-year term since the nation became independent of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The government has won praise for averting bankruptcy and returning the economy to growth, but critics have slammed it for declining living standards and outward migration – a problem highlighted by a recent census showing that the country’s population fell below the 3 million threshold earlier this year.