Lithuania votes to elect president amid concerns over Russia-Ukraine war | Politics News


The Baltic state of 2.8 million people fears it could be next in Russia’s crosshairs if Moscow wins its war against Ukraine.

Lithuanians are voting in their country’s presidential election, at a critical time amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, affecting the strategically important Baltic country.

Polls opened at 7am (04:00 GMT) on Sunday morning and will close by the evening, with popular incumbent, Gitanas Nauseda, likely to win another five-year term in office.

However, with eight candidates running, it may be challenging for any of them to gather 50 percent of the votes needed to win outright. In this instance, a run-off vote will be held on May 26.

Nauseda is a moderate conservative, and one of his main challengers is Ingrida Simonyte, the current prime minister and former finance minister, whom he beat in a run-off in 2019 with 66 percent of the votes.

Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda poses for photographers as he is about to cast his ballot during the first round of Lithuania's presidential election at a polling station in Vilnius
President Gitanas Nauseda poses for photographers as he casts his ballot in Vilnius [Petras Malukas/AFP]

Another contender is Ignas Vegele, a populist lawyer who gained notoriety during the COVID-19 pandemic for opposing restrictions and vaccines.

The top three contenders agree on defence but have different views on social issues and on Lithuania’s relations with China, which have been strained for years over Taiwan.

Aldona Majauskiene, 82, told the AFP news agency she voted for Nauseda because “he is the best in every category”.

Civil servant Airine, 53, told the agency she voted for Simonyte and hopes for less populism from the future president.

“I am not voting for faces, I am voting for those who really can help boost our security and quality of living,” she said.

Voters arrive to get their ballot papers during the first round of Lithuania's presidential election at a polling station in Vilnius
Voters arrive to get their ballot papers during the first round of Lithuania’s presidential election at a polling station in Vilnius [Petras Malukas/AFP]

Concerns over Russia

The president in Lithuania’s political system oversees foreign and security policy and acts as the supreme commander of the armed forces.

The small country is strategically important as it is located on NATO’s eastern flank, particularly relevant as tensions rise between Russia and the West over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which has now surpassed two years.

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

All three Baltic states declared independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union and joined both the European Union and NATO.

Lithuania, home to 2.8 million people, fears it could be next in Russia’s crosshairs if Moscow wins its war against Ukraine. It is a top donor to Ukraine and a big defence spender, with a military budget currently equal to 2.75 percent of its GDP.

Also on the election ballot is a referendum which asks whether the constitution should be amended to allow dual citizenship for hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians living abroad, which is struggling with a decreasing population.

For the first time, the Organization 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 both – who are part of OSCE  – of being threats to its political and electoral processes.

The organisation said Lithuania was breaking the rules of the OSCE and that the observers do not represent their countries’ governments, signing a code of conduct pledging political neutrality.



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