VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — The second round of Lithuania's parliamentary election opened Sunday, with the results likely to determine whether the small East European nation continues tough austerity measures in an effort to join the euro zone.
Two center-left opposition parties — the Labor Party and the Social Democrats — finished first and second respectively in the first round and have pledged to form a new coalition government together with another opposition party, promising to end the current government's budget cuts and increase social spending.
The Social Democrats have said that Lithuania should postpone introducing the euro until the European Union can sort out its three-year economic and financial crisis.
However, the current center-right government, led by the Homeland Union-Christian Democrats, could pull off an upset.
Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius' government, which took over in December 2008 at the start of the financial crisis, is the first to last an entire four-year term since Lithuania regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
The government has won praise for averting bankruptcy and returning the economy to growth. Kubilius has vowed to introduce the euro in 2014, though the economy may fail to meet criteria on inflation and deficit spending.
Plans for a nuclear power plant are another highly contested issue in the country of 3 million people. The government wants to build a new facility to replace a Soviet-era nuclear plant closed in 2009, but the opposition has argued that the project is too expensive and uses technology deemed unsafe.
Nearly half of Parliament's 141 seats are at stake in the voting, taking place two weeks after the first round failed to produce a clear favorite.