The Labour Party of Russian-born millionaire Victor Uspaskich has emerged as the winner of the parliamentary elections in Lithuania. His party is set to form a government with the Social Democrats of Algirdas Butkevicius, who came second in an election in which voters also rejected plans to build a nuclear power plant.

Preliminary results of Sunday’s first-round election showed the Labour party won 19.8% and the centre-left Social Democrats 17.8%. The conservative party Homeland of outgoing Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius won 16.7% and its ally, the Liberal Movement, 8.5%.

Polls showed Kubilius on course to lose the elections. His government took office at the end of 2008 and was forced to raise taxes and cut spending to stave off the tiny Baltic nation’s default on its debts.

Uspaskich is a controversial figure and has faced court probes, making it highly unlikely that he would become premier. In 2004, he won the parliamentary elections in his country and became economy minister. His party was also the most successful in the 2004 European elections, winning five of Lithuania’s 13 seats. 

Uspaskich is currently a member of the European Parliament (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats) and as such has avoided extradition sought by the government.

According to experts quoted by the Lithuania Tribune, the future governing coalition is likely to consist of Labour, the Social Democrats and the Order and Justice party, a centre-right group led by Rolandas Paksas, which won 9.74% of the vote.

Butkevicius is therefore widely expected to take over as prime minister after the second round of the parliamentary elections on 28 October and after finalisation of coalition talks.

The Parliament in Lithuania has 141 members, with 71 elected in single-seat constituencies and 70 elected by proportional representation.

No to Visaginas?

Turnout was 50.1% one hour before polling closed, above the 50% minimum threshold for the election to be valid. It is still unclear if the 50% threshold was met on a consultative referendum on whether Lithuania should build a new nuclear power plant, which was held in parallel with the elections. What is certain is that a majority of participants rejected the building of Visaginas, a new nuclear plant, to replace Ignalina, the Soviet-built central closed in 2009. Some 62.7% of the vote was against the NPP construction plans, Reuters reported.

However, this morning the leaders of the two paries leading in the elections made nuanced statements about the future of the Visaginas (see Positions).

The outgoing centre-right government had ambitious plans to reduce the country’s energy reliance from Russia. Alongside the building of Visaginas, a new nuclear power plant at the site of Ignalina, the government planned for a floating LNG terminal when the current long-term contract of Lithuania with Gazprom expires. An agreement was recently signed with the port authority of Klaipeda, and transmission pipelines should be operational by the end of 2013.

The Social Democrats, who oppose Visaginas, have no major objections for the LNG terminal, but insist that it should be built as a regional project together with Latvia and Estonia.

Plans for EU presidency unaffected?

On 14 October las year the parties represented in Parliament signed a pact, pledging continuity in the preparation for the Lithuanian EU presidency in the second half of 2013.

This is the first EU presidency for Lithuania, which joined the EU in 2004.

Political parties agreed to adhere to the Inter-Institutional Action plan for the preparation of the presidency, prepared under the outgoing government, and to work hand in hand with the Presidency Troika – Ireland in the first half of 2013 and Greece in the first half of 2014.