Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday that he did not expect an economic relief package to be enacted before the Nov. 3 election as he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California have continued to struggle to reach an agreement on a broad package to support the economy.
Negotiators on Wednesday resumed discussions over a coronavirus relief package, even though Democrats and Republicans remain wildly divided over the scope and size of another stimulus bill.
Speaking at a Milken Institute conference on Wednesday, Mr. Mnuchin said that his conversation with Ms. Pelosi was “comprehensive” but indicated that important differences remained. He said that it was unlikely that a deal could be reached an enacted before the election.
“At this point, getting something done before the election and executing on that will be difficult,” Mr. Mnuchin said.
Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Mnuchin spoke on Wednesday for about an hour, discussing the language of the administration’s latest $1.8 trillion framework as compared to House Democrats’ $2.2 trillion stimulus plan, which Ms. Pelosi pushed through the House earlier this month.
They agreed to speak again on Thursday.
“One major area of disagreement continues to be that the White House lacks an understanding of the need for a national strategic testing plan,” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Ms. Pelosi, said on Twitter. “The Speaker believes we must reopen our economy & schools safely & soon, & scientists agree we must have a strategic testing plan.”
The Treasury secretary suggested that the gap on the top-line cost of the bill were not that wide, but that the differences on the policies within a package remained significant. He said that the White House had already made big compromises on funding for state and local governments and that Republicans continued to want liability protections for businesses that were seeking to reopen during the pandemic.
“We continue to make progress on certain issues, on certain issues we continue to be far apart,” he said.
Mr. Mnuchin criticized Democrats for insisting on a comprehensive bill and not passing smaller bills on areas where the two sides agreed. He said that people and businesses needed immediate assistance and estimated that there was $300 billion unused relief money that could be repurposed with Congressional approval.
“Let’s not wait for the big bang and everything being perfect,” he said.
President Trump has pushed negotiators to “go big!!!” days after abruptly ending talks, but Senate Republicans remain reluctant to accept a broad sweeping bill, citing concerns about the cost of such a package after approving nearly $3 trillion in legislation earlier this year.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has said he plans to have the Senate vote to advance a scaled-back bill that would amount to a fraction of the $2.2 trillion bill Ms. Pelosi has demanded, but that is unlikely to pass without the Democratic support needed to clear the 60-vote threshold.
Wall Street dropped on Wednesday, turning lower after a quiet start to the day after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said it was unlikely that the White House and Democrats would be able to reach a deal on a new economic aid package before the election.
The S&P fell by about half a percent, a relatively small decline that reflects the fact that investors had already stopped expecting an agreement anytime soon. Still, the slide came immediately after Mr. Mnuchin made his comments at a Milken Institute conference.
“At this point, getting something done before the election and executing on that will be difficult,” Mr. Mnuchin said.
Investors have been regrouping this week after stocks surged in the first two weeks of October, in part on hopes that a stimulus deal would come together. Investors are also wary of the upcoming election — and the uncertainty that might follow a close race.
Also drawing investors’ attention are earnings reports from companies that offer a glimpse of how they are handling the economic slump caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Among the companies to report their results on Wednesday, Goldman Sachs rose slightly after reporting a jump in revenue from its trading business. Wells Fargo and Bank of America were both sharply lower after their results.
Pilgrim’s Pride, the giant U.S. poultry producer, jumped in early trading after it said it would pay more than $110 million to settle federal charges it helped fix prices on chicken. In June, the company’s chief executive and three other current and former executives at companies that supply chicken to groceries and restaurants across the United States were indicted on a price-fixing charge.
President Trump on Wednesday talked up his pre-pandemic economic record and painted a dark picture of the economy if Democrats win November’s election, suggesting he would return the U.S. back to strength in a second term.
Mr. Trump, who has accused state and local governments of holding back the recovery by restricting business activity, also argued that young and healthy people should get back to work.
In webcast remarks before the Economic Club of New York, along with clubs in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington, Florida and Sheboygan, Wisc., Mr. Trump warned of “crippling poverty” and a “steep depression” under Democrats, who he said would usher in “very high taxes.”
Mr. Trump’s comments come as his campaign tries to renew focus on economic issues, where the president has outpolled his Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., despite trailing in national head-to-head matchups overall. Even after the nation’s plunge into recession amid the spreading pandemic this spring, voters continue to give Mr. Trump higher marks on the economy than any other major issue.
In his speech, the president offered a preview — but few details — of the economic policies he would pursue in a second term, should he win one. He vowed to cut taxes for the middle class, echoing a promise he made before the 2018 midterm elections, after which he did not propose a new middle-class tax cut plan. He threatened to impose tariffs on companies that move activity abroad from the United States and bar those companies from receiving federal contracts.
Part of Mr. Trump’s enduring appeal on economic issues has been his relentless cheerleading of his own performance, which he continued in the speech, often exaggerating his achievements or claiming results that are not actually true.
Mr. Trump said the administration and Congress’ economic response to the pandemic crisis had helped to fuel a rapid rebound.
While it is true that jobs have returned rapidly, the rebound has happened so quickly in large part because employers cut jobs swiftly — and temporarily — amid widespread state and local lockdowns early in the pandemic. Only about half of the 22 million jobs slashed between February and April have returned.
The unemployment rate, which declined to 7.9 percent from 14.7 percent in April, has fallen faster than most analysts had forecast. But economists warn that the improvement could slow, especially as job losses increasingly turn permanent. S&P Global economists warned on Wednesday that the unemployment rate will not reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
Goldman Sachs had a significantly more profitable quarter than expected, lifted by continued strength in the trading of stocks and bonds and gains from certain investments.
The bank reported earnings of $3.62 billion, far higher than Wall Street analysts had projected, and revenue of $10.78 billion for the third quarter.
At a time when the markets were particularly active, Goldman continued its winning streak in trading, with significant gains from handling bond products tied to interest rates, mortgages, corporate credit and commodity prices, which together drove bond division revenue up 49 percent from the same period last year. Stock trading revenue was also higher, but by a less substantial margin.
Revenue in the firm’s asset-management division was up 71 percent, driven by investments in stocks held by Goldman.
Company shares rose nearly 4 percent in early trading.
Lower credit losses expected
Bank of America earned $4.9 billion in the third quarter, up from $3.5 billion in the second quarter, but down from $5.8 billion in the same period a year ago.
Revenue fell 11 percent from a year ago, to $20.3 billion.
The bank’s quarterly provision for credit losses was smaller than the previous quarter, at $1.4 billion in the third quarter, compared with $5.1 billion. The bank said it was expecting fewer losses in its consumer loans, but more in its commercial loans, particularly in industries hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic such as travel and entertainment.
Layoffs add to expenses
Third-quarter earnings for Wells Fargo were $2 billion on revenue of $18.9 billion.
The bank’s earnings were affected by the cost of a round of layoffs — $718 million. Another expense the bank faced in the third quarter: nearly $1 billion trying to help customers struggling to repay their loans come up with new payment plans to keep them from defaulting.
Both Bank of America and Wells said robust activity on Wall Street helped strengthen their earnings.
A group of tech, finance, media and other executives are calling on Americans to stay cool during a heated election season. “The health of our economy and markets depends on the strength of our democracy,” the LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman said in a statement signed by more than 50 business leaders, published first in Wednesday’s DealBook newsletter.
The group, convened by the Leadership Now Project, also includes Eddie Fishman, the chief operating officer of D.E. Shaw; Seth Klarman, the chief executive of Baupost Group; Lisa Lewin, the chief executive of General Assembly; Marissa Mayer, the former Yahoo and Google executive; and Alan Patricof, the founder of Apax and Greycroft.
The executives expressed support for three principles:
“America has successfully held elections through previous challenges, like the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the 1918 flu pandemic,” the statement concludes. “Now, it is our turn.”
The statement is a testament to the times. “Nothing about 2020 is usual,” said Michael Porter of Harvard Business School, who advises the Leadership Now Project. He said there was “an essential role for business in addressing political dysfunction,” citing recent data showing that political gridlock is causing a “disastrous decline” in the United States’ competitiveness.
A contested election is a big worry for business. If recent market moves are any indication, businesses are making peace with the possibility of higher taxes under a Biden administration as a trade-off for a definitive election result. Some Wall Street advisers have been preparing clients for the possibility of a contested election, as President Trump repeatedly casts doubt on mail-in ballots and is noncommittal on what he will do if he loses the vote.
That’s why some executives, like the group putting their names to the Leadership Now missive, may feel the need to state what was once obvious.
For some companies, the only response to the pandemic has been to hunker down and try to avoid running out of cash before their customers can return.
Pret, the 37-year-old British sandwich and coffee chain that’s ubiquitous in central London, is now clearly willing to try anything, Eshe Nelson reports:
Pret wants to sell its food in supermarkets, and has already begun selling coffee beans on Amazon.com.
It has signed up to all the major food delivery platforms to bring its sandwiches, soups and salads to its work-from-home customers.
It opened a so-called dark kitchen in North London to prepare its food strictly for delivery, modeled on the success of Sweetgreen and Shake Shack, and hopes to open another dark kitchen in either New York or New Jersey soon.
It is devising a special menu of hot evening meals for delivery, such as a Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl.
And then there is the coffee subscription, an effort to drive people back to the stores: Five drinks a day made by a barista (coffees, teas and smoothies) for £20 a month. On the face of it, it could be an extraordinarily good deal. With two lattes a week, a subscriber will break even. And the first month is free. (Small print: You can’t order five drinks at once — there must be 30 minutes between each drink order.)
Starbucks announced new commitments to inclusion, diversity and equity on Wednesday, following up on pledges the company made to fight racism in June after the killing of George Floyd in police custody.
The company said it would achieve representation of Black, Indigenous and people of color of at least 30 percent at all corporate levels and at least 40 percent at all retail and manufacturing roles by 2025. Starbucks also released diversity data that showed that its work force is 69 percent female and 47 percent Black, Indigenous and people of color.
The coffee chain also said it would incorporate “measurements focused on building inclusive and diverse teams” into executive compensation programs starting in 2021.
Time to Reset Expectations for World Economy With Virus Untamed
Investors banking on a coronavirus vaccine to save the world economy in 2021 need to temper their ambitions as scientists increasingly warn of a long and difficult road ahead.
While drug companies are making progress in the quest to find a cure for a disease that triggered the worst recession since the Great Depression, questions remain about how effective the first wave of vaccines would be, how easy they will be to distribute to more than 7 billion people and then how many will agree to take them.
The future for global growth relies on the answers to those questions as a new wave of the pandemic means health fears and government restrictions continue to inhibit daily life and commerce. Even when a successful immunization system does come along, it won’t be an instant economic panacea, says Chris Chapman, a portfolio manager at Manulife Investment, which manages more than $660 billion.
“In terms of actually getting back to pre-Covid or trend growth, it could take more than a year,” said Chapman. “The timing of the recovery will be delayed, but there is still expectation of a vaccine at some point next year.”
For decades, the world economy relied on central bankers and finance ministers to pull it out of crisis, on the basis that if you pump the right amount of money into an economy, a recovery will eventually follow.
This time is different, as investors look to scientists and data from vaccine and treatment trials for signs of hope just as much as they pore over stimulus plans coming out of Washington, Beijing or European capitals. The longer the hunt for an effective vaccine lasts, the weaker economic expansions will be.
To be sure, science could yet make major breakthroughs in the near term. If even only a small proportion of the population such as healthcare workers and the most vulnerable are immunized, that could make a big difference to the resumption of everyday life. Savings built up by households and businesses in 2020 could be unleashed in 2021.
Pfizer Inc. said this month it could seek emergency-use authorization in the U.S. by late November for its vaccine with German partner BioNTech SE. Moderna, another frontrunner in the race, is also looking at the possibility of an emergency approval this year if it has positive interim results next month.
“There is a fair prospect that by the late spring, vaccines will be available in quantities sufficient to protect the most vulnerable groups,” said Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, and former Covid-19 adviser to the U.K. government. “But at least until then, life will unfortunately remain a balancing act between reopening society and keeping the virus in check.”
Scientific hiccups may slow things down too. Johnson & Johnson paused clinical trials of its Covid-19 shot this month after a participant fell ill, weeks after AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford stopped studies for the same reason. On Friday, both companies announced plans to resume their U.S. trials.
Effective treatments that would also help the economic recovery are also a mixed picture. Disappointing trial results this month for the much-hailed drug remdesivir from Gilead Sciences Inc. showed the antiviral treatment doesn’t save the lives of Covid-19 patients, despite U.S. President Donald Trump extolling its benefits. Still, U.S. regulators cleared the drug for use this week and Gilead has challenged the recent findings citing other positive results.
While there are hopeful signs from some antibody treatments being tested, the steroid dexamethasone is one of the only other therapeutics showing a meaningful benefit, and is aimed at people with very severe symptoms.
Even if an effective vaccine is discovered, the logistics of distribution will still mean disruption to work, travel and leisure will remain, with only a small subset of the population expected to receive a shot in the first instance anyway.
That all spells trouble for global growth, even as data in the U.S. and euro-area are likely to show this week that it rebounded smartly in the third quarter and didn’t collapse as much as once feared.
Long gone though is talk of a V-shaped recovery, as winter nears in the northern hemisphere — and with it the risk the virus spreads more easily. Bloomberg Economics’s gauges of high-frequency data already point to a weakening of activity in many industrial nations in October, particularly those in Europe.
“The virus is creating a major element of uncertainty,” former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told Bloomberg Television last week. “Forecasting it is very precarious.”
Underscoring the pressure for an end to the pandemic is the knowledge economic scars are already forming. Among them: lost jobs, record debts, corporate bankruptcies, atrophying skills, missed investment, deglobalization, frayed mental health and rising inequality.
A recent study declared the U.S. economy alone will witness “large, persistent adverse effects” in the long term that outweigh the short-term hit in part because the virus means greater unease among the public.
“This did not start as a financial crisis but it is morphing into a major economic crisis, with very serious financial consequences,” World Bank Chief Economist Carmen Reinhart told Bloomberg Television. “There’s a long road ahead.”
Even in those parts of the world where the virus has been largely contained, consumers remain cautious. Chinese retail sales have only just begun to accelerate even though the most severe limits on movement were lifted months ago.
There is also the question of re-infection. Scientists have found it’s possible to get Covid-19 more than once, with a handful of confirmed cases globally. That presents another obstacle, which a vaccine may only partially solve.
There’s a high chance the coronavirus, like flu, could require regular shots to keep it at bay, meaning the virus could cast an even longer arc than already expected, cautioned Graham Medley, a professor of infectious disease modeling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and member of the U.K. government’s Covid-19 advisory panel.
“If second and third infections are as infectious as the first infection, and the first generation of vaccines is not very efficacious, then it’s possible that Covid-19 will continue to be a major aspect of life into 2022,” he said.
World Economy Gets Temperature Check Before U.S. Vote: Eco Week
The Canadian Press
NEW DELHI — India’s daily coronavirus cases have dropped to nearly 50,000, maintaining a downturn over the last few weeks.The Health Ministry says 50,129 new cases have taken the overall tally to nearly 7.9 million on Sunday. It also reported 578 deaths in the past 24 hours, raising total fatalities to 118,534.The ministry also said India’s active coronavirus cases were below 700,000 across the country and almost 7.1 million people had recovered from COVID-19.India is second to the United States with the largest outbreak of the coronavirus. Last month, India hit a peak of nearly 100,000 cases in a single day, but since then daily cases have fallen by about half and deaths by about a third.Some experts say the decline in cases suggests that the virus may have finally reached a plateau but others question the testing methods. India is relying heavily on antigen tests, which are faster but less accurate than traditional RT-PCR tests.___HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:— Surging coronavirus colours White House race in closing days— Europe, US watch case totals grow, debate new restrictions— Colombia reaches 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases— Iran’s supreme leader has urged authorities to prioritize public health above any economic or security concerns, amid the Mideast’s worst outbreak of the coronavirus. Iran’s death toll from the global pandemic topped 32,000 this week.— Pope Francis met with the Spanish prime minister Saturday at the Vatican, which has had a rash of COVID-19 infections confirmed in recent days, but neither man used a face a mask during the public part of their meeting.— Poland’s President Andrzej Duda has tested positive for the coronavirus; apologizes to those in quarantine because of contact, including Poland’s recent French Open winner.— Police force in England says it will try to stop people from leaving Wales, which has started a 17-day lockdown to slow a surging rate of coronavirus infections.___Follow all of AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak___HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:MELBOURNE, Australia — A COVID-19 outbreak in the north of Melbourne has led health authorities in Australia’s Victoria state to hold off on any further easing of restrictions in the beleaguered city.Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews withheld any announcement on an easing on Sunday as the state awaits results on 3,000 people who were tested in the city’s north in the past 24 hours.He described it as a “cautious pause” – not a setback – to rule out there wasn’t widespread community transmission linked to the cluster.Among the current restrictions are mandatory wearing of masks and no travelling beyond 25 kilometres (15 miles) from home. At the start of the second wave of cases two months ago, Andrews instituted an overnight curfew and shut down most businesses.“I know it is frustrating,” Andrews said. “I know people are keen to have a long and detailed list of changes to the rules. It is not appropriate for us to do that now.”?Victoria reported seven new coronavirus cases on Sunday, with six linked to the latest outbreak, which involves 39 people across 11 households.No additional deaths kept the state toll at 817 and the national toll at 905.___COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan authorities have terminated a number of passenger trains and widened the curfew as COVID-19 cases related to a new cluster at a garment factory continue to surge.The Railway Department cancelled at least 16 trains — mostly ran through busy office hours — after the number of commuters declined due to the curfew imposed in many parts of the country.More than a dozen villages are isolated in densely populated Western province, which includes capital Colombo.Authorities last week closed the island’s main fish market on Colombo’s outskirts after 49 traders tested positive for the coronavirus. By Sunday, the number of cases from the fish market went up to nearly 900.Authorities say the outbreak is linked to a cluster in a garment factory early this month, which has grown to 4,052 cases, more than half the country’s total of 7,521. During the last 24 hours, 368 new cases have been detected.In a bid to contain the spread, health authorities also closed three fishery harbours and many fish stalls around the country.Several thousand people have been asked to quarantine at home. Schools and key public offices are closed and gatherings banned. The death toll rose to 15 on Saturday.___BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia reached 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday, its health ministry says, becoming the second country in Latin America to report that number in less than a week.The nation of 50 million saw cases peak in August and has seen a decline since but still continues to register around 8,000 new infections a day.Eight countries now have more than 1 million confirmed cases, and three are in Latin America. Argentina hit 1 million confirmed cases on Monday. Brazil ranks third worldwide in the number of virus cases, with more than 5 million, and passed 1 million infections back in June. Peru and Mexico are expected to reach 1 million cases each in the coming weeks.Overall, Latin America continues to register some of the highest caseloads, diagnosing more than 100,000 confirmed infections each day, though the World Health Organization reports that Europe is now seeing even larger numbers as a second virus wave strikes.___LANSING, Mich. — Michigan has reported more than 3,000 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus — the highest daily count yet during the pandemic.The 3,338 new COVID-19 cases reported Saturday by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services surpassed the state’s previous single-day record of 2,030 new cases set on Oct. 15. That earlier record had topped the previous record of 1,953 from early April.The state agency also reported Saturday 35 more deaths from COVID-19, raising Michigan’s pandemic toll to 7,182 deaths.Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said in a statement that it’s “now more important than ever that people take this seriously.” She urged Michigan residents to wear a face mask every time they are around someone outside of their own household, to practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings.___EL PASO, Texas — The surge in coronavirus in the Texas border city of El Paso continued Saturday with a record 1,216 new cases, nearly 20% of the state’s 6,125 new cases, according to city-county health officials.There have been 3,346 cases in the city during the past three days, according to city-county health reports. El Paso has reported 38,554 total cases since the pandemic began in March.“Today’s spike is part of an unfortunate national surge that we have been planning and preparing for,” public health director Angela Mora said in a statement. “Now, we need our community to help us by doing their part and staying home, if and when possible, for the next two weeks in order to stop the rapid the spread of the virus.”Gov. Greg Abbott has sent medical equipment and about 500 medical personnel to the region to help fight the virus. There have been more than 858,000 reported cases in Texas and nearly 17,500 deaths, 81 reported Saturday, since the pandemic’s start.___COLUMBIA, Tenn. — A Tennessee hospital is suspending all elective procedures requiring an overnight stay due to a surge in patients hospitalized with COVID-19, The Daily Herald of Columbia, Tennessee, reported.As of Friday evening, Columbia’s Maury Regional Medical Center was treating 50 COVID-19 inpatients, 20 of whom were in the medical centre’s 26-bed intensive care unit. In response, the hospital said Friday it is suspending elective surgical procedures that require an overnight stay for two weeks, beginning on Monday.“The time has long passed for our community to take this virus seriously,” Alan Watson, CEO of Maury Regional Health, said in a Friday statement. “We are seeing the impact of our community letting down their guard, and we must make every effort to mitigate the spread of this virus.”On Thursday, the Tennessee Department of Health reported that statewide hospitalizations had reached a new record of 1,300 patients with COVID-19 and had an ICU bed availability of just 11%.Martin Chaney, Maury Regional’s chief medical officer, said small home gatherings have become the emerging threat through which the disease is being spread in the six-county region the medical centre covers.“In our homes, we all let our guard down,” Chaney said. “You think it is safe to not socially distance, and you take your masks off. That is spreading the disease very rapidly.”He said Maury Regional has consistently seen a surge in cases about two weeks after each major holiday.“It is so predictable now,” Chaney said. “When families travel and get together for holidays, it is a high-risk time for spreading the virus.”Tennessee recorded 2,574 new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday and 24 new deaths, bringing the total number of deaths in the state to 3,100.___VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis met with the Spanish prime minister at the Vatican, but neither man wore a mask during the public part of their meeting.That’s despite 13 Swiss Guards and someone staying at the same Vatican City guest house where Francis lives recently testing positive for the coronavirus.Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez wore a mask when he arrived in a Vatican courtyard, but everyone sat unmasked immediately before and after his closed-door talks with Francis.Spain this week became the first country in Western Europe with more than 1 million confirmed virus cases.The Vatican says Sanchez also spoke with the Holy See’s foreign minister, discussing matters including “the current health emergency, the process of European integration and migration.”In his speech, Francis called politics “an act of charity, nobility” and the mission of a politician is to help a nation to progress. The pontiff also says its “very sad” when ideologies drive the destiny of a nation.___PHOENIX — Arizona is experiencing increases in coronavirus cases and the rate of positive test results.The 14-day rolling average of daily confirmed infections rose from 617 on Oct. 9 to 914 on Friday. Meanwhile, the average daily deaths increased from 7.6 to 8.4 and the positive test average went from 6.5% to 8.9%.Rolling averages even out daily spikes and drops.The state Department of Health Services on Saturday reported 890 cases and four additional deaths, increasing the Arizona totals to 236,772 confirmed infections and 5,869 deaths.___OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma has registered more than 1,800 newly confirmed coronavirus cases.The Oklahoma State Department of Health report on Saturday comes one day after Gov. Kevin Stitt extended a state of emergency another 30 days. The health department reported 1,829 new cases for a total of 115,685.There have been 11 more deaths, bringing the death toll to 1,245.The Associated Press
Source: – Yahoo Canada Finance
Virus, economy top concerns as Lithuanians vote in runoff – ABC News
The coronavirus pandemic is the main domestic issue as Lithuania holds a parliamentary runoff election Sunday, and the winner will have to tackle a rapidly deteriorating public health sector and high unemployment
In the second round, 68 of the 141 seats in Lithuania’s legislative assembly, the Seimas, are up for grabs. The other seats were allotted after the Oct. 11 first round of voting.
More than 7% of Lithuania’s 2.5 million voters have already cast early ballots for the runoff, according to election authorities who set up special drive-in polling stations because of the pandemic.
Lithuania fared comparatively well during the first wave of the pandemic, but like elsewhere in Europe this fall, the nation of 3 million people has reported worrying spikes in recent weeks. Overall, it has seen over 9,100 infections and 126 reported deaths.
After weeks of hesitation, the Lithuanian government imposed a quarantine in 12 of 60 districts that starts on Monday. Opposition lawmakers have criticized the government for not doing enough to stabilize the latest outbreak.
The economic impact of the pandemic has hit Lithuania hard: it’s unemployment rate was over 14% in September compared to 9% in February. The outgoing parliament had drafted a 2021 budget with a 4-billion euro ($4.7 billion) deficit.
The election’s first round resulted in the conservative Homeland Union party winning 23 seats, or 24.8% of the vote, while the ruling Farmers and Greens party only grabbed 16 seats, or 17.5%.
“If the conservatives are successful on Sunday, they would very likely try to form a new ruling coalition with other two center-right partners — the Freedom Party and the Liberal movement,” Vilnius University political scientist Tomas Janeliunas told The Associated Press. “Yet this would be a rather fragile majority.”
Some 54 Homeland Union candidates made it into the runoff, while the Farmers and Greens have 32 contenders. Together, the Freedom Party and the Liberal movement have 21 candidates. Two other center-left parties that have crossed the 5% support threshold into parliament could join the Farmers and Greens in a new coalition but they have few candidates in the runoff.
Lithuania, a member of the European Union and NATO, has kept strong democratic traditions and sustainable economic growth since declaring independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. It has also played a major diplomatic role as the protests in Belarus, its southern neighbor, unfold against that nation’s authoritarian leader.
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