Lithuanians vote in the presidential elections that are overshadowed by Russia

Voters cast their votes during the second round of the country's presidential elections at a polling station in Vilnius, Lithuania on May 26, 2024.

Petras Malukas | Episode | Getty Images

Lithuania will hold presidential elections on Sunday, with incumbent Gitanas Nauseda expected to win after a campaign dominated by security concerns in the post-Soviet state.

The Baltic nation of 2.8 million has been a staunch ally of Ukraine since the 2022 Russian invasion. Like other countries in the region, NATO and EU members fear this could be Moscow's next target.

Nauseda, 60, a former senior economist at Swedish banking group SEB who is not affiliated with any party, won the first round of elections on May 12 with 44% of the vote, less than the 50% he needed for an outright victory .

He is running against Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte, 49, of the ruling center-right Homeland Union party, who is trailing in the opinion polls. She was the only woman out of eight candidates in the first round and came second with 20%.

Just over half of Lithuanians believe a Russian attack is possible or even very likely, according to an ELTA/Baltijos Tyrimai survey conducted between February and March. Russia has regularly rejected the idea that it could attack a NATO member.

Nauseda said in a debate on Tuesday that he sees Russia as an enemy. “Our enemies – who even call themselves our enemies, who are enemies of us and the entire democratic world – are trying to destabilize our politics, and we must do everything we can to resist.”

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

But Nauseda, who is socially conservative, has clashed with Simonyte over other issues, including whether legal recognition should be given to same-sex civil partnerships, which Nauseda opposes.

He has said such unions would become too similar to marriage, while the Lithuanian constitution only allows men and women.

Simonyte, a former finance minister and a fiscal policy hawk, said Thursday that if she were to win, “the direction of the country — pro-European, pro-Western — would not change.”

“But I would like faster progress, more openness and understanding, and greater tolerance for people who are different from us,” she added.

The Lithuanian president has a semi-executive role, including leading the armed forces, chairing the highest body on defense and national security policy, and representing the country at European Union and NATO summits.

The president determines foreign and security policy together with the government, can veto laws and has a say in the appointment of important officials such as judges, the chief prosecutor, the head of defense and the head of the central bank.

It will be the second time the two have participated in a presidential run-off.

In 2019, Nauseda defeated Simonyte with 66% of the votes.

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