Sunday October 8 7:24 PM ET Leftists Leading Lithuanian Polls
By LIUDAS DAPKUS, Associated Press Writer VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) - A leftist coalition headed by a former communist leader made a strong showing in Lithuanian parliamentary elections Sunday, appearing to easily surpass the ruling Conservatives, according to partial voting results. The Social Democratic coalition, led by one-time Communist Party boss Algirdas Brazauskas, had won 33 percent of the vote with the ballots from 219 out of 2,027 polling stations counted, the election commission reported around midnight, four hours after the polls closed. Conservatives, facing popular anger over high unemployment, had just 7 percent of the early vote. In the 1996 election that brought them to power, they won more than 40 percent of the final vote. The center-left New Union party was second with 21 percent of the early count. The center-right Liberal Union had 11 percent of the first votes counted. The Farmers Party had 10 percent. The Liberal Union is expected to fare better when results from Vilnius are included in the count. Final preliminary results were expected Monday, with all 141 seats in the parliament at stake. If the vote is split among three or four parties, it seemed unlikely that any one party would win enough seats to form an administration on its own. That could mean lengthy negotiations to hammer out a workable coalition government. Weeks before the election, the New Union, Liberal Union and the small centrist Center Union reached a loose agreement to try to form a government if they won the largest bloc of seats. The New Union and Social Democrats have denied that, if they take power, they might peel back some market reforms adopted after Lithuania won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and drag their feet on Western integration. Social Democrat official Ceslovas Jursenas insisted that the leftists were fully committed to a free market and to Lithuania's long-standing goals of membership in the 15-nation European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. ``The general direction of Lithuania's foreign policy will not change. We are not against Lithuanian membership in the European Union and NATO ,'' he said Sunday. During the campaign, left-leaning parties promised to create jobs, restore subsidies to struggling farmers, and raise the minimum wage, now pegged at $107 a month. The election press center reported a slightly better than usual turnout among the 2.6 million eligible voters, with about 55 percent casting their ballots.