Economic Cause Rallies Voters To Labor's Side in Lithuanian Poll
IN a surprisingly strong showing, the left-wing Democratic Labor Party emerged yesterday as the strongest political party in Lithuania's first elections since gaining independence from the Soviet Union, according to incomplete official results.
The vote on Sunday for Lithuania's parliament was a sharp setback to the right-wing Sajudis movement which led the independence struggle after sweeping to victory in March 1990 elections held while still under Soviet rule. Sajudis, headed by Lithuanian parliament leader Vytautus Landsbergis, had hoped the election would let it regain control of the parliament after months of political stalemate.
Instead, the Labor Party may gain a working majority in the 141-seat Seym (parliament), provided other left parties join them in forming a coalition government. Mr. Landsbergis congratulated the Labor Party on its victory at a press conference yesterday, saying that they would now be responsible for the economic and foreign policy problems of the Baltic state.
The size of the left-wing vote was well over pre-election predictions. According to parliament officials, the Democratic Labor Party received 44.94 percent of the vote, compared to 19.60 percent for Sajudis and 11.40 percent for its coalition ally, the Christian Democratic Party. The center-left Social Democratic Party received 5.97 percent.
None of the other 17 parties and organizations competing in the election received more than 4 percent of the vote, the margin needed to gain any of the 70 seats allocated proportionally by party. (Groups representing the Polish and Russian minorities gain seats with more than 1 percent of the vote.) It is estimated that the Labor Party will have 33 of those seats, compared to 18 for Sajudis, 11 for the Christian Democrats, six for the Social Democrats and two for the Polish Union.
The Labor Party also was well ahead in voting for representatives from the 71 single-seat districts. According to the parliament press office, by midday yesterday the Labor Party had won 10 seats, compared to one for Sajudis, one for the Social Democrats, one for the right-wing Lithuanian Nationalist Union and one for the Polish Union. No candidate won a majority for many of the seats, requiring second-round runoffs in two weeks. The Labor party, which will compete in all those contests, stands to gain s ome of those seats as well.
Voters also approved a new constitution that will create a presidential system and lead to a presidential election within four months.
The preliminary results vindicate the campaign strategy of Democratic Labor leader Agirdas Brazauskas, the former head of the pro-independence wing of the Communist Party. He sought the votes of those Lithuanians who are more concerned with the deteriorating economy, characterized by massive inflation and production collapse, than with settling scores with their former Russian overlords. Mr. Brazauskas also called for slowing the pace of the government's economic reform, particularly the land-reform prog ram which his party blames for a drop in agricultural production, the backbone of the Lithuanian economy.
Both the Labor Party and the centrist parties accuse the government of mishandling relations with Russia, in particular negotiations over oil and gas supplies. As a result of a dispute largely over prices, the Russians cut off the energy supplies for several months, plunging Lithuania into a chill as winter set in. Voters evidently rejected the attempt by Sajudis and the right to blame the Russians for plotting to aid a leftwing victory in the elections, part of a strong anti-communist theme in their ele ction campaign.