Published: 16:03, May 26, 2024 | Updated: 16:18, May 26, 2024
Lithuanians vote in presidential election
By Agencies

This combination of file pictures created on May 22, 2024 shows Lithuania's Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte (left) addressing a joint press conference with Ukraine's Prime Minister following their meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania, on April 5, 2024 and Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda (right) addressing a press conference with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands at the presidential palace in Vilnius, Lithuania on April 2, 2024. (PHOTO /AFP)

VILNIUS - Lithuania holds presidential elections on Sunday, with incumbent Gitanas Nauseda expected to win.

Nauseda, 60, a former senior economist with Swedish banking group SEB who is not affiliated with any party, won the first round of the election on May 12 with 44 percent of the votes, short of the 50 percent he needed for an outright victory.

He is running against Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte, 49, from the ruling center-right Homeland Union party that has been trailing in opinion polls. She was the only woman out of eight candidates in the first round and came second with 20 percent.

Lithuania's president has a semi-executive role, which includes heading the armed forces, chairing the supreme defense and national security policy body and representing the country at European Union and NATO summits

Both Nauseda and Simonyte support increasing defense spending to at least 3 percent of Lithuania's gross domestic product, from the 2.75 percent planned for this year.

But Nauseda, who is a social conservative, has clashed with Simonyte on other issues, including whether to give a legal recognition to same-sex civil partnerships, which Nauseda opposes.

He has said it would make such unions too similar to marriage, which Lithuania's constitution only allows for a man and a woman.

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Simonyte, a former finance minister and a fiscal hawk, said on Thursday that if she won, "the direction for the country - pro-European, pro-Western - would not change".

"But I would like quicker progress, more openness and understanding, larger tolerance to people who are different from us", she added.

Lithuania's president has a semi-executive role, which includes heading the armed forces, chairing the supreme defense and national security policy body and representing the country at European Union and NATO summits.

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

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It will be the second time the two have competed in a presidential run-off. In 2019, Nauseda beat Simonyte with 66 percent of vote.