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Lithuania: Runoff Required After Elections Fail To Meet Voter-Turnout Requirements

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus is likely to face a 5 January runoff after early results in yesterday's presidential poll suggest he did not win the required majority of votes.

Prague, 23 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Lithuanian voters headed to the polls yesterday facing the choice of a record-breaking 17 presidential candidates. In the end, however, no one was the winner.

Zenonas Vaigauskas, chairman of Lithuania's Election Commission, announced the results this morning. "The president of the republic has not been elected. We will have a runoff election in which the two candidates to receive the majority of the votes will take part. According to preliminary results, those candidates are Valdas Adamkus and Rolandas Paksas," Vaigauskas said.

Adamkus, the incumbent and expected winner, took 35 percent of the vote, not enough for a first-round win, which requires more than 50 percent of the vote. Paksas, a former prime minister, took 20 percent.

Official results from yesterday's poll will be announced later this week, paving the way for the runoff campaign to begin. Vaigauskas said the runoff will be a challenge for both candidates because it coincides with the New Year celebrations. Vaigauskas also said that yesterday's elections were marked by a low turnout: Some 53 percent of the voters took part in the elections.

According to Lithuanian law, the new president is to assume his post on 26 February. Adamkus has indisputably scored successes on what the Lithuanian Constitution mandates as the president's main responsibility, foreign policy. Two key foreign-policy goals were secured this year with Lithuania's invitation to join both NATO and the European Union, an accomplishment for which Adamkus is given almost full credit.

His runoff competitor, Rolandas Paksas, is considered a controversial figure in Lithuania. A two-time prime minister, albeit for limited periods cut short after he resigned, he was also mayor of the Lithuanian capital Vilnius and has gained fame as an acrobatic pilot.

He has been branded by the Lithuanian media as a politician with a taste for resignation, and very little by way of substantive, consistent policy making.

Raimundas Lopata is the director of the Lithuanian Institute of Foreign Relations. He said Paksas and Adamkus are distinctly different in terms of what they claim to offer Lithuania. "Paksas's [election] program is completely eclectic, and you cannot value it as a program. On the other hand, Adamkus has a consistent program of liberal democracy and development," Lopata said.

Lopata said Paksas did not tackle foreign-policy issues at all in his election campaign. "He promises in a few years to create a Hong Kong out of backward Lithuania, promises to stop corruption and introduce the rule of law. However, there is not a hint about the practical implementation of these promises," Lopata said.

Lopata said the former prime minister managed to lead a powerful election campaign and is a serious opponent for Adamkus in the runoff election. "At first glance, it seems that the situation is more favorable for Valdas Adamkus, but the actual situation and good performance of Paksas's [campaigners] in the first round makes me cautious in speaking about the results of the runoff elections," Lopata said.

Lopata said it may be easier for Paksas to attract those who voted for the remaining 15 original candidates. "People who supported other, mainly marginal candidates, are critical of current economic and political life in the country. For many of them, Adamkus embodies economic hardships and associates with market reforms," Lopata said.

Vytautas Radzvilas, an independent political analyst, said Paksas is currently the most successful populist in Lithuanian politics. Radzvilas agrees with Lopata that the results of the runoff election cannot be easily predicted. "It would be irresponsible today to say that [Adamkus] would have enough votes to win the runoff elections. I think he can be saved only by mobilization of the support in the society, exactly what happened during the last elections. He should work more energetically [getting ready for the runoff]," Radzvilas said.

Ramunas Macius, a press officer for Adamkus's election campaign, told RFE/RL he would not try to predict the outcome of the runoff.

Radzvilas said the elections clearly show that the trust in the political parties is eroding.

Vytenis Andriukaitis, a candidate of ruling Social Democrat party, got only 7 percent of the vote, less than popular showman Vytautas Sherenas, who managed to get 8 percent. The chairman of the Lithuanian parliament, Social Liberal Arturas Paulauskas, got 8 percent.

Radzvilas said it is a bad indicator that Lithuanian voters were passive yesterday. "The elections break a record of passivity [in Lithuania]. I think that people are in despair over the political life and party politics prevailing in Lithuania," Radzvilas said.

Radzvilas said that for those disgruntled voters, corruption, unemployment, and everyday hardship matters more than future NATO and EU membership.

Lopata does not agree, saying that the politicians and media are partly responsible for a low turnout. "There was a clear tendency in Lithuanian media and among mainstream politicians to say that the results of the elections were determined, that Adamkus would be elected. People saw no reason why they should participate," Lopata said.

The other reason for the passivity may have been the decision to pair presidential elections with local elections. "Self-government is not as important for Lithuanian voters as the presidential elections," Lopata said.

Yesterday, long lines were reported at the polling stations in Vilnius. "Voting was a complicated task, which took time, and many did not vote at all," deputy head of the Election Commission, Viktoras Rinkevicius, admitted.

However, Lopata said that in that respect, Lithuania is not an exception in the region. He said people all over Central and Eastern Europe are tired of politics.