Lithuania’s Nauseda wins first round of presidential election

Incumbent president will now go into a run-off against rival Ingrida Simonyte on May 26, in repeat of 2019.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda casts his vote in Vilnius on Sunday [Ints Kalnins/Reuters]Published On 13 May 202413 May 2024

Incumbent Gitanas Nauseda has won the first round of voting in Lithuania’s presidential election, putting him on track for a second and final term in office.

With nearly all of the votes counted, former banker Nauseda was on 46 percent, just short of the overall majority needed for a first-round victory.

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Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte was second with 16 percent and the two will now go head-to-head in a run-off on May 26 in a repeat of the last election in 2019.

Eight candidates were on the ballot this time around, with campaigns largely focused on security issues and the threat posed by neighbouring Russia following its February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine. All the main candidates agreed the country, once part of the Soviet Union and now a member of NATO and the European Union, should boost defence spending to counter the perceived threat on its borders.

Nauseda, 59, said he was confident of victory in the second round and would require “no strategy” to campaign against Simonyte.

Both Nauseda and Simonyte support increasing defence spending to at least 3 percent of Lithuania’s gross domestic product (GDP), from the 2.75 percent planned for this year. The increase in spending would pay for the modernisation of Lithuania’s army and infrastructure ahead of the deployment of a brigade of German troops in Lithuania who are expected to be combat-ready from 2027.

Some eight candidates were vying for Lithuanians’ vote on Sunday [Petras Malukas/AFP]

General election looms

While agreeing on Russia policy, the two candidates differ on other issues such as same-sex civil partnerships, a contentious policy in the predominantly Catholic country with a population of 2.8 million people.

While Nauseda opposes such partnerships, Simonyte, a 49-year-old fiscal conservative, is supportive.

Lithuania’s president has a semi-executive role, which includes heading the armed forces and chairing the supreme defence and national security policy body. The president also represents the country at the EU and NATO summits.

In tandem with the government, the president sets foreign and security policy, can veto laws and has a say in the appointment of key officials such as judges, the chief prosecutor, the chief of defence and head of the central bank.

In 2019, Simonyte narrowly defeated Nauseda in the first round of the presidential election before Nauseda went on to win the run-off with 66 percent of the vote.

Simonyte is also facing a tough test in a general election this October, as her coalition of centre-right parties trails in the polls.

Nauseda posed for cameras on election night surrounded by the leadership of the Social Democrats, the likely main challengers for Simonyte at the general election.

“I think it will be easy for us to find common ground,” he said about the possibility of the Social Democrats winning.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies