VILNIUS: Lithuania's centre-right opposition began talks on Monday to form a coalition government led by women after winning elections with a campaign criticising the government for its handling of the pandemic.
With nearly all ballots counted, the Homeland Union had won 50 seats in the 141-member parliament, while the ruling Lithuanian Peasants and Green Union party was on 32 seats.
Ex-finance minister Ingrida Simonyte, the conservative candidate for prime minister, is now expected to ally with two liberal parties, which won 13 and 11 seats respectively.
The two liberal parties are led by women.
"Three parties agreed to start discussions about the new coalition. But nothing is agreed until everything is agreed," Simonyte told reporters.
Talks are expected to take weeks and experts predict a new government for the Baltic eurozone member may not be sworn in until December.
The vote was overshadowed by record spikes in coronavirus infections in recent days, although the mortality rate is below the EU average.
The country of 2.8 million people reported a new high of 766 cases on Monday and two deaths.
Simonyte said there was "confusion in decision-making" over fighting the coronavirus, accusing the government of failing to use the summer months to prepare for the current surge.
"It looks like we did not exploit the summer period to improve our capabilities to combat the second wave of coronavirus and what we are witnessing is a confusion in decision-making.
"When he have low trust in the government, society does not necessarily listen to its recommendations. We have been lacking the voice of experts, scientists and medics," she said.
- Rock music and ice hockey -
The elections also highlighted the political divide between urban and rural populations, as social inequality remains high in Lithuania.
But the economy has performed relatively well despite the pandemic, with the International Monetary Fund predicting a contraction of 1.8 percent this year -- the smallest blow of any euro area member.
Simonyte has also pledged to accelerate the economy's modernisation from a cheap labour model to higher-value manufacturing.
The 45-year-old, a fan of rock music and ice hockey, is popular among young urbanites.
Outgoing Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis was more popular among lower-income rural voters and had pledged to continue fighting social inequality if re-elected.
All major parties share a pro-EU and NATO platform, and they all back Vilnius's drive to rally support within the EU for neighbouring Belarus's democratic opposition after the disputed presidential election there.
"Voters became tired of the ruling coalition and wanted a change in the political landscape," Vilnius university professor Ramunas Vilpisauskas told AFP.
He said the centre-right coalition may be more active in seeking more foreign investments but he "saw no reason for strategic changes in foreign policy".
President Gitanas Nauseda, whose term runs out in 2024, will continue to lead foreign and defence policy.
Lithuania has a strong tradition of female leadership.
Nauseda's predecessor Dalia Grybauskaite, who was in office for a decade, was often referred to as the "Baltic Iron Lady".