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Lithuania Faces Run-Off Presidential Vote - 2004-06-14

Former Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus will face a former prime minister in a runoff vote later this month after he failed to win an outright majority in Sunday's election. The shadow of another key political figure also hangs over the Baltic country.

Former President Adamkus emerged from Sunday's vote with just over 30 percent of the vote, well below the 50 percent required for outright victory.

He will face former prime minister Kazimira Prunskiene, who received about 22 percent of the ballots, with three other candidates trailing behind.

Mr. Adamkus is a 77-year-old politician who spent many years living in the United States when Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union. He was elected president soon after he returned to his homeland in 1998.

But in a stunning upset, he lost a re-election bid early last year to Rolandas Paksas, a former stunt pilot who was impeached in April on charges of corruption and breaching the constitution due to alleged ties with Russian underworld figures.

Despite this, Mr. Paksas remains a popular figure, especially among rural voters, and he threw his support behind former prime minister Prunskiene.

After the results were announced, Ms. Prunskiene presented herself as an alternative between Lithuania's two main political figures.

"Now that Rolandas Paksas isn't allowed to be a candidate, the people can choose a president who hasn't been impeached, and who will represent the interests of all the people and not any one particular group," she said.

Ms. Prunskiene is a well-known political figure, having served as Lithuania's first prime minister after the country gained its independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

But commentators say she clearly benefited from Mr. Paksas's backing, and she even called on him to take a more active role in helping her win the runoff vote.

Originally Mr. Paksas was a candidate in Sunday's vote, as there was no law prohibiting an impeached leader from running for office again.

However Lithuania's constitutional court prohibited him from running last month, at which point the disgraced former president threw his support behind Ms. Prunskiene.

The Paksas impeachment affair plunged Lithuania into political turmoil just as the country joined the European Union along with nine other nations on May 1.

Apart from the presidential vote, Lithuanians also cast ballots for the European parliament on Sunday.