Women Lead Election Push in EU State Chided for All-Male Cabinet

Political parties led by women are on the brink of winning elections in a country that just last year was the only European Union member-state with an all-male cabinet.

Before a final round of voting in Lithuania on Sunday, three center-right parties have their noses in front and are most likely to form the next coalition. Former Finance Minister Ingrida Simonyte’s Homeland is leading the charge against the current government, which has been plagued by scandals and is struggling to contain a new wave of Covid-19 infections.

“The first round suggests there’ll be the so-called coalition of women,” said Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, who heads the Liberal Movement that’s expected to team up with Homeland and the Freedom Party, a newcomer that advocates respect for LGBT rights and decriminalizing marijuana.

Simonyte says she’d ensure there are “substantially more women” in government.

While Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis’s Farmers and Greens came second in the initial voting, its current coalition partners are unlikely to make it into parliament. There are no polls for the final round covering individual constituencies, though 54 of Homeland’s candidates made it compared with 32 for the ruling party.

The election takes place with Lithuania’s economy outperforming most of the EU following spring’s lockdown to stave off the pandemic. New cases are at record levels, however, and voters must stand more than a meter apart, cover their faces and bring their own pens.

The ballot comes as the Baltic country of 2.8 million people plays a greater role in EU politics. Emmanuel Macron recently became the first French president to visit in almost two decades as Lithuania helped ram through sanctions against neighboring Belarus, whose main opposition leader fled to Vilnius after a brutal crackdown at home.

But while the female-led parties could make history, women may take less than a third of seats in parliament and continue to be paid less than men, according to Rima Urbonaite, a political scientist at Vilnius’s Mykolas Romeris University.

Women Lead Election Push in EU State Chided for All-Male Cabinet

“One shouldn’t be deceived by the top positions -- they don’t reveal the sad situation of women in politics.” she said. “We’re indeed moving forward. But the steps are in millimeters, not meters.”

Their triumph would follow a controversial eight-month stint last year when no women held a cabinet post. And while Simonyte must overcome association with the harsh austerity she helped implement after the 2008 global financial crisis, the current government has faced backlashes over everything from undermining central-bank independence to meddling in the judiciary.

The three challengers campaigned on another sore point for the incumbent administration -- education -- after a third of high-school students failed a math-graduation exam.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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