Lithuanians vote for a new Parliament

Updated: 10/28/2012 10:05 AM KSTP.com

(AP) VILNIUS, Lithuania - Lithuanians voted Sunday in a parliamentary election that could determine whether the small East European nation continues tough austerity measures in an effort to join the eurozone.

Two center-left opposition parties _ Labor and the Social Democrats _ have pledged to form a new coalition government together with another opposition party, promising to end the current government’s budget cuts and increase social spending.

Labor finished first in the earlier opening round of the parliamentary election and the Social Democrats second.

The Social Democrats also have said that Lithuania should postpone introducing the euro until the European Union can sort out its three-year economic crisis.

But the center-right government of Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius’ Homeland Union-Christian Democrats could pull off an upset.

"It seems the likeliest option is that the three parties will end up with a similar number of seats, so coalition talks are likely to be quite long," Kubilius told reporters after voting Sunday.

His 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. Kubilius has vowed to introduce the euro in 2014, though the economy may fail to meet criteria on inflation and deficit spending.

Plans for a nuclear power plant are another highly contested issue in the country of 3 million people. The government wants to build a new facility to replace a Soviet-era nuclear plant closed in 2009, but the opposition says the project is too expensive and possibly unsafe.

Nearly half of Parliament’s 141 seats are at stake in Sunday’s vote, which was taking place two weeks after the first round failed to produce a clear favorite.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)