Lithuania's opposition eyes power in run-off election

Tipped as the next prime minister, leader of the conservative Homeland Union Gabrielius Landsbergis has presented himself as the face of change.

Lithuania's opposition eyes power in run-off election

World Bulletin / News Desk

Lithuanians fed up with low wages and a labour exodus from their Baltic eurozone state were voting Sunday in a run-off election expected to dislodge the leftist government.

The 34-year-old grandson of Lithuanian independence icon Vytautas Landsbergis has vowed to fight emigration by creating jobs, reforming education, boosting exports and foreign investment.

His conservatives won the October 9 first round of the election with 21.70 percent (22 seats), narrowly ahead of the centrist Lithuanian Peasants and Green Union party (LPGU) with 21.53 percent (21 seats).

Leftists finished third with just 14.42 percent (10 seats), a huge blow for Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius's Social Democrats.

Wage growth and job creation have been key rallying cries for candidates in the country of 2.9 million people, plagued by an exodus of workers seeking higher wages.

Since Lithuania joined the European Union in 2004, an estimated 370,000 people have left -- nearly half to Britain, where concern over immigration from eastern Europe was seen as a key factor in the shock Brexit vote to leave the bloc.

- Jobs are key -
Landsbergis has garnered support among disillusioned voters like Vilnius businessman Linas Bagiusis.

"I want change. We need new ideas and new energy, especially to curb emigration and stop all the young people from fleeing," he told AFP on Sunday outside a polling station in central Vilnius.

Prime Minister Butkevicius for his part has promised further hikes in the minimum wage and public sector salaries.

But analysts say a new labour law making it easier to hire and fire employees, coupled with allegations of political corruption, have alienated voters already bitter over low wages and the labour exodus to western Europe.

Pensioner Genovaite, whose grandson is studying in Britain, told AFP that Landsbergis and his party's promise to curb the brain drain and labour exodus got her vote.

"To stop emigration, you need to create jobs that will keep specialists here, at home," she said in central Vilnius, but declined to reveal her surname.

Lithuania's economy shrank by nearly 15 percent during the 2008-9 global financial crisis but quickly recovered and is slated to expand by 2.5 percent this year.

Even so, the average wage of just over 600 euros ($670) per month after tax is one of the EU's lowest, and inequality and poverty remain comparatively high.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 23 Ekim 2016, 15:15