Social Democrats face challengers in Lithuania’s election

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Lithuanians voted Sunday in the first round of a parliamentary election, with the governing Social Democrats facing challenges from conservatives and an agrarian party.

Lithuania, the biggest of the three Baltic countries, has struggled to stem emigration since regaining independence in the early 1990s and joining the European Union in 2004.

Both the Social Democrats, which have led a coalition government since 2012, and opposition parties have promised to raise living standards in the country of 2.9 million.

Many Lithuanians complain that prices have gone up since the country introduced the euro, the EU’s common currency, in 2015, while salaries have not. The country was hit hard by the global economic meltdown and is just emerging from a recession.

Pre-election polls showed the Social Democrats in the lead, ahead of the agrarian Peasant and Green Party and the conservative Homeland Union-Christian Democrats in the race for parliament’s 141 seats.

Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius leads the Social Democrats while the conservatives are led by Gabrielius Landsbergis, who at 34 is trying to become Europe’s youngest prime minister. He is the grandson of Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuania’s first head of state after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

Lithuania remains highly suspicious of Russia and tense relations with Moscow are expected to continue regardless of the outcome of the election.

Polls closed at 8 p.m. (1700 GMT), with turnout at about 50 percent. A second round will be held on Oct. 23 in constituencies where no candidate wins a majority of votes.

No party is likely to get more than 20 percent support so coalition-building talks are sure to follow the election.

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