Lithuania swings left, abandons nuclear plant project
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.
Lithuania has relied on Russia for 80% of its energy since the closure of the Ignalina nuclear power plant in 2009. The former Soviet republic sees itself as vulnerable because of its dependence on Russia.
In 1992, at a G7 summit, it was decided that Ignalina in Lithuania, four units of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant in Bulgaria, and Bohunice in Slovakia had to be closed as they presented a high level of risk. All these nuclear units are now closed, the last to be shut down in December 2009 being the second unit of Ignalina.
The closing of the nuclear power stations was negotiated as part of the countries' EU accession treaties. As this early closure is a heavy financial burden for these countries, the European Union provides financial support.
Algirdas Butkevicius, the leader of Lithuanian Social Democratic Party, said today (15 October) he had no intentions of making any hasty decisions in connection to the Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant project, pledging to continue negotiations with project partners. "We are indeed rational people and will discuss, talk and make no hasty decisions," he told journalists, as quoted by Reuters.
Butkevicius said the three parties holding coalition talks have not yet discussed the fate of the Visaginas project. Furthermore, Butkevicius pledged to personally continue consultations with Latvia and Estonia and the strategic investor – Hitachi of Japan.
For his part, Viktor Uspaskich, the leader of Labor Party who is so far winning the parliamentary elections, said that Lithuania will be able to hold another referendum on the new nuclear power plant in a few years, when the construction price of a new nuclear facility will be clearer. "When there is a project and many questions are answered, we'll be able to ask people again in a few years," Labor Party's leader told a news conference today (15 October).
In conjunction with the parliamentary elections, Lithuania Sunday held a non-binding referendum about the Visaginas NPP. Some 62.7 percent of the vote was against the NPP construction plans.
- 28 Oct.: Second round of elections to be held
- 4 Nov.: Official results to be announced