Reuters International

People cast their votes during general election in Vilnius, Lithuania, October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins


VILNIUS (Reuters) - Lithuania's ruling Social Democrats sank to a distant third place in the first round of national elections, leaving centre-right parties in pole position to form a new coalition government, surprise results showed on Monday.

After a campaign fought largely over Lithuania's sluggish economy, first place went to the Lithuanian Peasants and Greens party with 21.7 percent of the vote and the Homeland Union party close behind with 21.6 percent.

The centre-left Social Democrats had been forecast to win Sunday's vote in opinion polls that have been unreliable in the past.

But the party took only 14.4 percent of the vote, paying the price for failing to rejuvenate an economy that has been slow to catch up with the richer countries in Europe, analysts said.

The vote elects half of parliament in the EU member state. Run-offs in voting districts on Oct. 23 will decide the rest.

"The chance of the government continuing is now almost zero", said Kestutis Girnius, associate professor at Institute of International Relations and Political Science in Vilnius.

"The government was seen as ineffective and corrupt. And it played the central role in adapting a new labour code that more than half the voters strongly disapproved of."

Lithuania's outspoken president, Dalia Grybauskaite, has accused the government of failing to push through reforms and is not on speaking terms with the prime minister after alleging corruption in his government earlier this year.

"After the run-offs, Lithuania will get a new government ... we will be in the new coalition," Homeland Union leader Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters.

Social Democrats garnered 18.4 percent of the popular vote in the last vote in 2012, then ended up as the biggest party in parliament after the run-off stage.

(Reporting By Andrius Sytas; Editing by Niklas Pollard and Andrew Heavens)


 Reuters International