the outgoing president well ahead of the first round, ahead of his prime minister


Outgoing Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda in Vilnius on May 12, 2024. MINDAUGAS KULBIS / AP

As in 2019, Gitanas Nauseda and Ingrida Simonyte will face each other in the second round of the presidential election in Lithuania on May 26. And like, five years ago, Mr. Nauseda was well on his way to winning.

After the counting of almost all of the votes cast on Sunday May 12 for the first round, the outgoing president came in first with 44% of the votes, far ahead of his Prime Minister who accounted for nearly 20%, according to the results of the electoral authority. Ignas Vegele, a 48-year-old lawyer who rose to prominence by opposing compulsory vaccination during the Covid-19 pandemic, came in third with 12% of the vote. Gitanas Nauseda, a 59-year-old former banker, is the favorite in the polls, including for the second round.

This year, the campaign was dominated by defense issues, with Vilnius wanting to strengthen its security against neighboring Russia. The Baltic country of 2.8 million inhabitants, a former Soviet republic which borders the highly militarized Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, fears it will be the next target if Moscow were to win its war against Ukraine.

The Lithuanian President co-leads, with the government, foreign policy and participates in European Union (EU) and NATO summits. He must consult the government and parliament for the appointment of the highest officials.

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If Mr. Nauseda and Simonyte agree on defense, they differ on other subjects. Ingrida Simonyte, 49, defends conservative views on economic matters and liberal views on social issues. She particularly supports partnerships between people of the same sex, which are still controversial in this predominantly Catholic country.

“Mme Simonyte is supported by conservative and liberal voters, while Mr. Nauseda is a left-wing candidate in terms of economic and social policy.explains Ramunas Vilpisauskas, analyst at Vilnius University.

No consensus on China between the two candidates

Lithuania, a member of the European Union and NATO, is one of Ukraine’s main donors, with significant defense spending accounting for 2.75% of its GDP and Simonyte wants to increase it to 3%. Vilnius intends to use these funds to purchase additional tanks and air defense systems, and to host a German brigade on its territory. Berlin plans to station around 5,000 soldiers in Lithuania by 2027. None of the main candidates have announced they want to call these plans into question.

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However, there is no consensus regarding relations with China. Bilateral ties were strained in 2021 when Vilnius allowed Taiwan to open a representation under the self-governing island’s name, a departure from the common diplomatic practice of using the name of the capital, Taipei, to avoid anger Beijing.

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China, which considers Taiwan as part of its territory and opposes any support for the island likely to give it any international legitimacy, has in retaliation downgraded its diplomatic relations with Vilnius and blocked its exports. Mr. Nauseda said during the election campaign that he saw “the need to change the name of the representative office”. Mme Simonyte opposes this.

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The World with AFP

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