Lithuania holds presidential election amid concerns over Russia-Ukraine war

Initial voter turnout is 59.4 percent, electoral commission says, with results expected early on Monday.

A voter with child prepares to cast a ballot into an urn during the first round of Lithuania's presidential election at a polling station in Vilnius
A voter has a helper cast his ballot in Lithuania's presidential election at a polling station in Vilnius [Petras Malukas/AFP]

Polls have closed in Lithuania’s presidential election, held at a critical time for the strategically important Baltic country during Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Polls closed at 8pm (17:00 GMT) on Sunday, and the initial voter turnout was 59.4 percent, higher than in the previous election in 2019, the Central Electoral Commission said.

Results are expected early on Monday.

With eight candidates running, it is unlikely that one of them would win the 50 percent of the votes needed to win in the first round. If no one clears this hurdle, a run-off will be held on May 26.

The popular incumbent, Gitanas Nauseda, is a moderate conservative, and one of his main challengers is Ingrida Simonyte, the current prime minister and former finance minister, whom he beat in a run-off in 2019 with 66 percent of the votes.

Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda poses for photographers as he is about to cast his ballot during the first round of Lithuania's presidential election at a polling station in Vilnius
President Gitanas Nauseda casts his ballot in Vilnius [Petras Malukas/AFP]

Another contender is Ignas Vegele, a populist lawyer who gained notoriety during the COVID-19 pandemic for opposing restrictions and vaccines.

The top three contenders agree on defence but have different views on social issues and on Lithuania’s relationship with China, which has been strained for years over Taiwan.

Aldona Majauskiene, 82, told the Agence France-Presse news agency she voted for Nauseda because “he is the best in every category.”

Civil servant Airine, 53, told the agency she voted for Simonyte and hopes for less populism from the future president.

“I am not voting for faces. I am voting for those who really can help boost our security and quality of living,” she said.

Voters arrive to get their ballot papers during the first round of Lithuania's presidential election at a polling station in Vilnius
Voters arrive to get their ballots at a Vilnius polling station [Petras Malukas/AFP]

Concerns over Russia

The president in Lithuania oversees foreign and security policy and acts as the supreme commander of the armed forces.

The country is located on NATO’s eastern flank, which is particularly relevant as tensions rise between Russia and the West over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which is now more than two years long.

The Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, also on the Baltic Sea, lies between Lithuania to its north and east and Poland to its south. There is great concern in Lithuania, therefore, and in neighbouring Latvia and Estonia over Russia’s latest gains in northeastern Ukraine.

All three Baltic states declared independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union and joined both the European Union and NATO.

Lithuania, home to 2.8 million people, fears it could be next in Russia’s crosshairs if Moscow wins its war against Ukraine. It is a top donor to Ukraine and a big defence spender with a military budget equal to 2.75 percent of its gross domestic product.

Also on the election ballot is a referendum that asks whether the constitution should be amended to allow dual citizenship for hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians living abroad as the country struggles with a decreasing population.

For the first time, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) turned down an invitation by Lithuania to observe the election.

The Lithuanian government wanted to exclude monitors from Russia and Belarus, accusing the OSCE members of being threats to its political and electoral processes.

The organisation said Lithuania was breaking the rules of the OSCE and the observers do not represent their countries’ governments, having signed a code of conduct pledging political neutrality.

Source: News Agencies