Lithuania holds presidential election as anxieties rise over Russia

Lithuanians are casting votes in a presidential election at a time when Russian gains on the battlefield in Ukraine are fuelling greater fears about Moscow’s intentions, particularly in the strategically important Baltic region.

The popular incumbent, Gitanas Nauseda, is favoured to win another five-year term in office. But there are eight candidates running in total, making it difficult for him or anyone else to muster the 50% of votes needed to win outright on Sunday – meaning a run-off will be held on May 26.

Polls opened at 7am local time on Sunday morning and close at 8pm, with the results expected late in the evening.

The president’s main tasks in Lithuania’s political system are overseeing foreign and security policy, and acting as the supreme commander of the armed forces.

That adds importance to the position in the relatively small nation given that it is located strategically on Nato’s eastern flank as tensions rise between Russia and the West over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea is sandwiched between Lithuania to the north and east, and Poland to the south. There is great concern in Lithuania, and in neighbouring Latvia and Estonia, about Russian troops’ latest gains in north-eastern Ukraine.

All three Baltic states declared independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union and took a determined westward course, joining both the European Union and Nato.

Mr Nauseda is a moderate conservative who turns 60 a week after Sunday’s election.

One of his main challengers is Ingrida Simonyte, 49, the current prime minister and former finance minister, whom he beat in a run-off in 2019 with 66% of the vote.

Another contender is Ignas Vegele, a populist lawyer who gained popularity during the pandemic opposing restrictions and vaccines.

A referendum is also on the ballot on Sunday. It asks whether the constitution should be amended to allow dual citizenship for hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians living abroad.

Lithuanian citizens who adopt another nationality currently must give up their Lithuanian citizenship, which does not bode well for the Baltic nation whose population has fallen from 3.5 million in 1990 to 2.8 million today.

For the first time, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) turned down an invitation by Lithuania to observe the election.

The Lithuanian government wanted to exclude monitors from Russia and Belarus, accusing the two nations – both members of the 57-member organisation – of being threats to its political and electoral processes.

The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said Lithuania was breaking the rules it signed up to when it joined the organisation. It said observers do not represent their countries’ governments, that they must sign a code of conduct pledging political neutrality and if they break the rules they are no longer allowed to continue as observers.


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