VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Lithuania's conservative ruling government appeared on course to win the country's parliamentary election Sunday, according to an exit poll, with the much-maligned coalition mustering around 25.2 percent of the vote.
The exit poll caught Lithuanians by surprise since the ruling coalition had weak showings in all pre-election surveys and has been hammered with criticism for four years of austerity measures meant to prevent the Baltic state from going bankrupt.
But only half the seats will be determined by party lists, while the other half consists of single mandates, many of which will require a runoff ballot in two weeks. Only then will a clear picture emerge about who could form the next government.
The populist Labor Party was expected to finish first with 19.8 percent, while the Social Democrats, also in the opposition, were poised to finish second with 17.8 percent, according to the exit poll conducted by the BNS news agency and the RAIT market research company.
But the conservative Homeland Union, led by Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, was third in the poll with 16.7 percent of the vote, while its coalition partners, the Liberal Movement, was fourth with 8.5 percent.
Only two other parties, the upstart the Way of Courage and Order and Justice — both populist — would pass the 5 percent barrier needed to win seats in the 141-seat Parliament.
The poll surveyed 3,786 voters and had a 1.2 percent margin of error.
Lithuanians also voted in a referendum on whether to build a new nuclear power plant, which the ruling coalition claims will help establish the country's energy independence.
Opposition Social Democrats say the project is too expensive for the small country of 3 million people.