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Lithuania: Nauseda and Simonyte head to presidential run-off

May 13, 2024

Incumbent Gitanas Nauseda declared victory in the first round but will face a run-off vote against Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte. The election was marked by security concerns amid the war in Ukraine.

Voters queue at the polling station during the advance presidential elections in Vilnius, Lithuania, Thursday, May 9, 2024
Voters queue at a polling station in Vilnius for advance votingImage: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo/picture alliance

Incumbent Gitanas Nauseda declared victory on Sunday in the first round of Lithuania's presidential election after preliminary results showed that he had received the most votes.

However, he failed to reach the 50% threshold needed to avoid a run-off against Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte.

According to the preliminary results, Nauseda was leading with 44% of the vote to Simonyte's 20%.

What was the campaign about?

The campaign focused on security concerns in the Baltic states, with the main candidates agreeing that the country should increase defense spending to counter a perceived threat from neighboring Russia.

Across the region, citizens are concerned that the Baltic states, now members of the NATO military alliance and the European Union, could be targets of Russian aggression in the future.

Just over half of Lithuanians believe a Russian attack is possible or even very likely, according to an ELTA/Baltijos Tyrimai poll.

Baltic States - How NATO is preparing to resist

Who are the main candidates?

Incumbent Gitanas Nauseda was expected to win more than 35% of the vote in the first round according to opinion polls, and is poised to prevail in a probable runoff.

His main rivals were Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte and prominent lawyer Ignas Vegele.

Vegele is a lawyer who rose to prominence during the COVID pandemic when he spoke out against mandatory vaccination. He presents himself as an alternative to established politicians and promises a more transparent government.

Simonyte is a fiscal conservative with liberal views on social issues. She is running for president for the second time after losing to Nauseda in a runoff in 2019.

Where do the candidates stand?

Both Nauseda and Simonyte support raising defense spending to at least 3% of Lithuania's gross domestic product, up from the 2.75% planned for this year.

This would pay for modernizing the army and infrastructure to support a brigade of German troops and their families that will be stationed in Lithuania and ready for combat by 2027.

But while they agree on increasing defense spending and Russia policy, they differ on issues such as same-sex civil unions, which Nauseda opposes.

German soldiers deploy to Lithuania, prompt Russia warning

What is the role of president in Lithuania?

The Lithuanian president has a semi-executive role, which includes heading the armed forces and chairing the supreme defense and national security policy body, and represents the country at the European Union and NATO summits.

The president does, however, consult with the government on foreign and security policy. He can veto laws and has a say in the appointment of key officials such as judges, the chief prosecutor, the chief of defense and head of the central bank.

Polls close at 8 p.m. local time (17:00 GMT) and results are expected after midnight. A runoff election will be held on May 26 if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.

dh/msh (AFP, Reuters)