Lithuanian President Nauseda Wins Second Term in a Landslide

(Bloomberg) -- Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda was elected to a second, five-year term on Sunday, as voters in the Baltic nation overwhelmingly backed continuity in foreign policy and a hard line on the threat of Russian aggression.

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Nauseda won 76% of the vote in a runoff after ballots from 90% of the districts were counted, according to electoral commission. His political rival Ingrida Simonyte, Lithuania’s prime minister, conceded defeat.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has dominated the presidential campaign in the nation of 2.8 million, which borders the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad to the west and Belarus to the east. Nauseda has secured public support with his stance on Ukraine and vocal calls to NATO allies to shore up the military alliance’s eastern frontier.

“Lithuania’s independence, Lithuania’s freedom is a fragile thing that we must cherish and prevent it from cracking,” the president told reporters on Sunday. “This is the reason why a lot more needs to be done for collective security.”

More than three decades after the country, along with Latvia and Estonia, reclaimed its independence from the Soviet Union, the European Union member state has hosted the biggest military drills in its history. The exercises involved curfews in the country’s two largest cities this month.

Nauseda has been a leading force in the EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organization in calling out actions from Moscow. Last week he called an apparent Russian draft plan to adjust its maritime borders a “hybrid attack against the West” meant to test NATO’s unity.

The plan, a draft of which was published in a document from the Russian Defense Ministry, called for unspecified modifications of Russia’s borders with Lithuania and Finland in the Baltic Sea. It was later removed from a government website without explanation.

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Nauseda, 60, entered the campaign as the favorite and, having prevailed in the first round on May 12, picked up more endorsements by candidates who were eliminated.

Lithuania’s president is responsible for foreign and defense policy and has limited powers over domestic issues, but can veto legislation, appoint judges, central bankers and other officials. The head of state also grants the mandate to lead the government and represents the country at EU and NATO summits.

Read More: Fear of War With Russia Haunts Lithuania: Year of Elections

Nauseda and Simonyte, 49, had few differences on security. On the domestic front, Nauseda has appealed more to the voters supporting traditional family values, while Simonyte has advocated a more inclusive approach on issues such as LGBTQ rights.

A former chief economist at SEB Bank in Vilnius, Nauseda was a political outsider until his election as head of state five years ago. He drew support from Lithuania’s Social Democrat Party, the Green and Farmers Party as well as the Regions party.

Nauseda pledged to turn to family policy, such as tax breaks and access to housing. He’ll have to coordinate policies with the next government after Lithuania holds a parliamentary election on Oct. 13.

(Updates with the latest vote count in the second paragraph, a quote from Nauseda in the fourth.)

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