Lithuanians exasperated with economic hardship handed a stunning victory to a populist party led by a disgraced Russia-born millionaire, while voicing resounding disapproval of plans to build a costly new nuclear power plant.
The opposition Labour Party, led by Viktor Uspaskich, once dubbed as the 'pickle king' for having made his fortune selling jarred pickles, was leading with 23.4 per cent of the vote in Sunday after nearly three-quarters of precincts was counted.
The victory set the stage for a coalition with the Social Democrats, who were second with 19.4 per cent, and Order and Justice, a populist party led by Rolandas Paksas, a stunt pilot who eventually became president in 2003 - only to be impeached the following year for violating the constitution and abuse of office. Paksas's party was fourth with 9.2 per cent.
All three parties promised radical policy changes, including increased wages and lower taxes, while the Social Democrats said that Lithuania should postpone introducing the euro until Europe could straighten out its current financial mess.
The current conservative ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, has expressed its interest in adopting the euro in 2014.
Some 12.3 per cent of voters supported the Kubilius-led Homeland Union, which came to power just as Lithuania was sliding into one of the worst recessions in Europe. Kubilius' government was forced to raise taxes and cut expenses to ward off bankruptcy, and largely succeeded given that Lithuania did not have to turn to international lenders for bailout funds.
Lithuania is nevertheless beset with high unemployment - over 13 per cent in the second quarter - and falling living standards caused in large part by higher energy costs.
Tens of thousands have left the country to find jobs elsewhere in Europe, and the results of a recent census showed that the Baltic state has lost about 1 per cent of its population over the past two decades since splitting from the Soviet Union and that this year the population dipped below the threshold of three million people.
Leaders of the three opposition parties met early on Monday to hash out the broad outlines of an agreement that could possibly lead to a new government coalition.
However, only half the seats in the 141-member parliament are determined by party lists, while the other half consists of single-mandates, many of which will require a run-off ballot in two weeks. Only then will a clear picture of who could form the next government emerge.
Even if Uspaskich's party wins the greatest number of seats in the 141-member Parliament, it is far from certain that he would get the nod for prime minister, since President Dalia Grybauskaite, whose duty is to appoint the head of government, has expressed deep reservations about Uspaskich's integrity.
Meanwhile, Lithuania's election authority said that nearly two-thirds of voters have rejected the idea of building a new nuclear power plant.
The Central Election Commission said that with 45 per cent of precincts counted, some 64 per cent of votes cast in the referendum were against the new plant, while 36 per cent were in support. The commission said the proportion was unlikely to change.
Although the referendum was non-binding, a strong 'no' vote could torpedo Lithuania's plans to build the facility along with neighbours Estonia and Latvia and Japan's Hitachi, as all sides have suggested that the project made no sense if it lacked popular support.