The Lithuanian centre-right opposition has won the second round of legislative elections.
With the pandemic and social inequalities as the main issues at stake, the Homeland Union party (TS–LKD) and its allies were well-placed to prevail over the current centre-left government after a strong showing in the first round of parliamentary elections which took place on October 11.
With one seat left to be declared, the conservative TS–LKD party, which got 25 per cent of the vote in the first round, took 49 seats in the new parliament, while prime minister Saulius Skvernelis' Union of Farmers and Greens (LVŽS), which had received 17 per cent in the first round, won only 32 seats overall.
With a combined 73 seats out of 141, the centre-right parties have enough support to start coalition talks to replace the outgoing centre-left government. With one seat undergoing a recount, it is possible the haul of seats will rise to 74.
Skvernelis lost his constituency seat but will be returned to parliament in one of the party's list seats.
During the campaign, the rival political camps focused on fighting the epidemic and reducing economic and educational disparities between urban and rural areas in Lithuania, a country of 2.8 million people.
For the first time, voting by car was allowed, as part of the security measures against the pandemic. Masks and social distancing were compulsory in polling stations.
Despite the record number of new infections, the number of deaths in Lithuania remains well below the EU average.
On the economic side, Lithuania's gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to contract by only 1.8 per cent this year, the best result in the eurozone, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The former Finance Minister, Ingrida Šimonytė, who is expected to become head of government after her faction's win, has pledged to accelerate the modernisation of the economy from the current cheap labour model to higher value-added production.
Šimonytė criticised her rival Skvernelis for failing to prepare the country for the second wave of the pandemic.
Popular among young urban dwellers, the 45-year-old woman is expected to seek a coalition with two liberal parties, both also led by women, after her party received the most seats in the election.
For Simona Dirse, an insurance company employee, Šimonytė's previous experience as finance minister dealing with the fallout from the global financial crisis will help her cope with the pandemic.
"I think she would manage the situation better than the current authorities, because of her qualities and her critical thinking. She is firm but also seeks dialogue," the 33-year-old Vilnius resident told AFP.
Prime minister Skvernelis, who is more popular among low-income rural voters, pledged to continue the fight against social inequality and to introduce an annual cash bonus, known as the "13th month's pension" for the elderly.
A former head of the national police force, Skvernelis had hoped to form a coalition with potential allies the Social Democrats and the populist Labour Party.
"I love Skvernelis. He promises to do good for people," Vladimiras Vaitnikovas, a retired Vilnius-based journalist, told AFP.
All the major parties share the same pro-EU and pro-NATO views, and support Vilnius's desire to rally EU countries' support for Belarus's democratic opposition after a disputed presidential election in the neighbouring country.
"Only minor adjustments are likely in the EU and in foreign policy, as there is a broad and strong consensus on the main directions," Vilnius University professor Kestutis Girnius told AFP.