Lithuanians show early enthusiasm in crucial vote

Early voters in the Sunday's second and final round of the Lithuanian general election were turning out in larger numbers than expected, according to first figures from the Central Electoral Commission.

Polls opened at 7 am local time. By 10 am, 5.18 per cent of eligible voters had cast their votes, compared to 5.02 per cent during the same period in the first round of voting two weeks ago.

In 2004, only 4.26 per cent of voters had expressed an opinion by 10 am, dpa reported.

Similar enthusiasm was observed among voters such as those overseas and in hospital who were entitled to preliminary votes. Two weeks ago, just under 4 per cent of them bothered to vote, compared to just over 4 per cent for the second round.

Historically, the second round of voting generally involves a drop in participation among the electorate, but with the election taking place while Lithuania is on the verge of a predicted economic slowdown, voters seem keen to make their wishes felt.

Two weeks ago, the first round of voting in the largest of the Baltic states gave the opposition Homeland Union - Christian Democrats party a lead with 19.72 per cent of the vote and 18 members in the 141-seat parliament or Seimas.

Polls suggest that in the second round, the conservative-leaning party could easily double the 18 members of parliament it gained in the first round and gain a clear mandate to form the next government.

"We are ready to take responsibility and expect the president's offer to start forming a new cabinet," party leader Andrius Kubilius said after the first round.

The second round takes place on a majority voting basis rather than the proportional representation system employed during the first round.

In each constituency, the two candidates gaining most votes in the first round are standing against each other. Whichever polls the most votes is elected.

Because the Homeland Union is fielding candidates in 45 of the 68 constituencies being fought over Sunday, they have a strong chance to add to their haul of seats.

The surprise of the first round was a strong showing by the newly- formed Rising Nation party, known locally as the "showbiz" party.

Led by a television presenter, it emerged as the second-largest party, taking 15 per cent of the vote and 13 seats, but it seems unlikely to make a similar impact in the second round as it is fighting in just nine districts.

Nevertheless, it looks certain to play a key role in negotiations to form the next government.

The Social Democratic Party of current Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas is hoping to stage a partial comeback after a weak showing in the first round. It is contesting 24 districts Sunday.

First results are expected in the early hours of Monday morning.

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