Incumbent Lithuanian president reelected in landslide win over PM

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda secured a second five-year term as Lithuanian president in a landslide victory over Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė.

Preliminary figures by the Lithuania’s Central Electoral Commission showed that Nausėda won 74.5% of the votes and Šimonytė 24.1%.

The 60-year-old Nausėda is a moderate conservative and has been a strong backer of Ukraine, a position shared across most of the political spectrum. During his time in office, Lithuania has also given refuge to many who have fled an authoritarian crackdown in neighboring Belarus and increased repression in Russia.

“Lithuania’s independence and freedom is like a fragile vessel that we must cherish, protect and prevent from cracking,” Nausėda said Sunday night after the ballots had been counted, the Baltic News Service reported.

Speaking of the Baltic country’s allies the United States, Germany, Poland, among others, he added that ″We have a very similar position on fundamental issues, like support for Ukraine, the attitude towards the Russian threat.″

Nausėda, a former banker, entered politics with his successful presidential run in 2019. He and Šimonytė won the first round but failed to muster the 50% of the votes needed to win the presidency outright.

The election came at a time as Russian gains in Ukraine are fueling greater fears about Moscow’s intentions, particularly in the strategically important Baltic region.

Lithuania is north of Poland and south of the two other Baltic countries, Latvia and Estonia. It separates Belarus, an ally of Russia, from Kaliningrad, a heavily militarized Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea that is separated from the Russian mainland.

The president’s main tasks in NATO-member Lithuania’s political system are overseeing foreign and defense policy, along with acting as the supreme commander of the armed forces.

Given that Lithuania is strategically located on NATO’s eastern flank, the presidency of the relatively small nation has added importance as tensions rise between Russia and the West over the war in Ukraine.

Before the votes were counted Sunday evening, Šimonytė conceded defeat and congratulated her opponent.

Both Nausėda who ran as an independent candidate, and Šimonytė who became prime minister in 2020, have voiced support of Ukraine. The pair also ran against each other in a presidential runoff in 2019, when Nausėda won with 66% of the votes.

Nausėda will be sworn in for a new five-year term in July. Šimonytė said she will return to work as prime minister in Lithuania, a country of nearly 3 million people on Monday, Lithuanian television said.

Turnout in Sunday’s election was 49.15%.