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Lithuania’s Crucial Presidential Election: A Battle of Security Concerns

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As Lithuania holds its presidential election, incumbent Gitanas Nauseda is expected to secure a victory in a campaign dominated by security concerns in the post-Soviet state. The election, scheduled for Sunday, features a rematch between Nauseda and his closest rival, Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte, with both candidates emphasizing the country’s pro-European stance.

Nauseda, a former senior economist with the Swedish banking group SEB, is not affiliated with any party and won the first round of the election on May 12 with 44 per cent of the votes. However, he fell short of the 50 per cent required for an outright victory. On the other hand, Simonyte, from the governing centre-right Homeland Union party, came second with 20 per cent in the first round and is trailing in opinion polls.

The election takes place amid concerns over Russia-Ukraine tensions, with more than half of Lithuanians expressing beliefs that a Russian attack is possible or very likely. Nauseda has explicitly labelled Russia as an enemy, emphasizing the need to resist attempts to destabilize the country’s politics.

Both Nauseda and Simonyte are in favour of increasing defence spending to at least 3 per cent of Lithuania’s gross domestic product, a significant jump from the 2.75 per cent planned for this year. However, they diverge on other issues, such as the legal recognition of same-sex civil partnerships. Nauseda opposes it, arguing that it would blur the line between such unions and marriage, which Lithuania’s constitution reserves for a man and a woman.

The president of Lithuania holds a semi-executive role, which includes heading the armed forces, chairing the supreme defence and national security policy body, and representing the country at EU and NATO summits. The election race has triggered foreign policy debates, particularly on Lithuania’s relations with China, following tensions in 2021 related to the opening of a de facto embassy for Taiwan.

This election marks the second time Nauseda and Simonyte have competed in a presidential run-off, with Nauseda securing a victory in 2019.

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