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 Monday, 23 December, 2002, 01:53 GMT
Adamkus leads Lithuania poll
Women voting in Vilnius
About half the electorate took part
Early results from Lithuania's presidential election put incumbent Valdas Adamkus in the lead - but short of an overall majority.

Now let the people decide

Valdas Adamkus

Mr Adamkus won about 32% of votes cast, but will face former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas in a run-off next month.

The winning candidate had to win at least 50% of the vote to be elected outright.

There were a record 17 candidates, but most returned less than 5% of the vote.

This is the third presidential poll since Lithuania regained its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Clean-up man

Mr Paksas - the runner-up - has taken about 22% of the vote, according to the exit poll.

President Adamkus voting
Adamkus is credited with speeding up reform

In third place was Arturas Paulauskas, the current parliamentary speaker and leader of the governing Social Liberal party - he won about 9% of the vote.

Complete preliminary results are expected on Monday morning.

Mr Adamkus and Mr Paksas are to face each other on 5 January.

"Now let the people decide," said Mr Adamkus casting his vote earlier on Sunday and predicting a run-off.

Mr Adamkus was originally elected by a very narrow margin in 1998, but went on to establish a commanding lead, says the BBC's Steven Eke.

He is widely credited with cleaning up Lithuanian business, speeding up post-communist reforms and overseeing his country's historical moves towards integration with the West.

Crucial timing

The election campaign itself has been lacklustre, our correspondent says.

With local elections held at the same time, more than 70% of Lithuanians had said they intended to vote.

But turnout was estimated at just over 50% - about 15 percentage points less than during the same period in 1998.

The elections come at a crucial time for Lithuania.

Sandwiched between the European Union and the former Soviet republics now forming the Commonwealth of Independent States, the country is nearing membership of Nato and the European Union.

This is a truly astounding achievement for Lithuania, a country which - just 11 years ago - was still of the part of Soviet Union and which has often been seen as a laggard in carrying out post-communist reforms, our correspondent says.

See also:

23 Nov 02 | Europe
23 Nov 02 | Media reports
24 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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