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Lithuania conducts presidential election amidst worries about Russia-Ukraine conflict



The recent presidential election in Lithuania has garnered significant attention, with a voter turnout of 59.4 percent, higher than in the previous election in 2019. It is expected that results will be announced early on Monday. With eight candidates in the running, it is unlikely that any one candidate will secure the 50 percent of votes needed to win in the first round. In the event of a run-off, this will take place on May 26.

Incumbent President Gitanas Nauseda, a moderate conservative, faces competition from Ingrida Simonyte, the current prime minister and former finance minister. Another contender, Ignas Vegele, a populist lawyer known for his opposition to COVID-19 restrictions and vaccines, is also in the running. The top three candidates have differing views on social issues and Lithuania’s strained relationship with China.

The role of the president in Lithuania is particularly crucial as the country is located on NATO’s eastern flank, amid rising tensions between Russia and the West due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Concerns over Russia’s actions in northeastern Ukraine have heightened fears in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, all of which declared independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union and joined the EU and NATO.

As a top donor to Ukraine and a significant defense spender, Lithuania is wary of potential Russian aggression. The country’s military budget is equivalent to 2.75 percent of its GDP. A referendum on the ballot also addresses the issue of dual citizenship for Lithuanians living abroad, as the country grapples with a declining population.

The OSCE declined Lithuania’s invitation to observe the election due to the exclusion of monitors from Russia and Belarus, a decision that sparked controversy. The Lithuanian government accused these OSCE members of posing threats to its political and electoral processes. However, the organization emphasized that observers are bound by a code of conduct ensuring political neutrality, and Lithuania’s actions were deemed to violate OSCE rules.

In conclusion, Lithuania’s presidential election comes at a critical juncture for the country, amid concerns over Russian aggression, strained international relations, and domestic challenges such as population decline. The outcome of the election and the referendum will have significant implications for the country’s future and its position within the broader geopolitical landscape of Europe.

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