Presidential election in Lithuania overshadowed by Russian influence

Lithuania is gearing up for its presidential elections on Sunday, with incumbent Gitanas Nauseda expected to secure a victory in a campaign that has been heavily focused on security concerns in the post-Soviet state.

The Baltic nation, with a population of 2.8 million people, has stood as a staunch ally of Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in 2022. Like other countries in the region, Lithuania, a member of NATO and the EU, fears becoming Moscow’s next target.

Nauseda, a 60-year-old former senior economist with Swedish banking group SEB who is not tied to any political party, emerged as the frontrunner in the first round of the election on May 12, garnering 44% of the votes but falling short of the required 50% for an outright win.

His main rival is Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte, 49, representing the ruling centre-right Homeland Union party. Simonyte, the only female candidate among eight contenders in the first round, secured 20% of the votes.

A survey conducted between February and March revealed that more than half of Lithuanians believe a Russian attack on their country is possible or even likely. Nauseda has made it clear that he views Russia as an enemy and emphasized the importance of resisting any attempts to destabilize the nation’s politics.

Both candidates have advocated for increasing defense spending to at least 3% of Lithuania’s GDP, up from the planned 2.75% for the current year. However, Nauseda and Simonyte have clashed on other issues, such as the recognition of same-sex civil partnerships, with Nauseda opposing such legal recognition based on his conservative beliefs.

Despite their differences, both candidates are aligned on maintaining Lithuania’s pro-European and pro-Western stance. Simonyte has expressed a commitment to progress, openness, understanding, and tolerance toward diversity.

The role of Lithuania’s president is semi-executive, involving leadership of the armed forces, chairing national security bodies, and representing the country at international summits. The president collaborates with the government on foreign and security policies, holds veto power over laws, and plays a role in appointing key officials.

This upcoming election marks the second time Nauseda and Simonyte have faced off in a presidential run-off, with Nauseda securing a significant victory in 2019. As Lithuania prepares to elect its leader amid heightened security concerns, the outcome of this election will shape the country’s future trajectory within the context of regional and global dynamics.

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