Lithuania Presidential Election: Key Issues and Expected Results

May 12 2024 will witness the first turn of Lithuania’s presidential election. The outgoing President, Gitanas Nauseda, is running for a second term, while the opposition faces difficulties in gathering votes.

Political and electoral system

In Lithuania, the political structure is characterized by a semi-presidential system, where the president holds more executive authority than counterparts in neighboring Estonia and Latvia – which are parliamentary systems, but less than those in fully presidential systems like the U.S.

Domestically, the President has the authority to introduce legislation, veto parliamentary decisions, and appoint key officials, including the Prime Minister, subject to parliamentary approval. Furthermore, the President can dissolve the Seimas (parliament) under specific circumstances, such as following a successful motion of no confidence or if the parliament fails to approve the state budget within a designated timeframe. Internationally, the President acts as the primary architect of Lithuania’s foreign policy, a capacity that includes signing treaties and receiving foreign diplomats.

Moreover, the President serves as the Commander-in-Chief of the Lithuanian Armed Forces and chairs the State Defense Council, thereby playing a pivotal role in national defense and security strategies, which is crucial to understand in the context of high political tensions between the Baltic states and their Russian neighbor.

The Lithuanian presidential electoral framework is structured around a majority voting system. Candidates must secure more than 50% of the vote to win in the first round, which will take place on May 12. If no candidate achieves this majority, a second round is to be held on May 26. The president is elected for a term of five years and can serve a maximum of two consecutive terms. Additionally, candidates are required to gather a minimum number of signatures from eligible voters to qualify for candidacy.

Political landscape in Lithuania

Following the country’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, the country’s political landscape now ranges from conservative to liberal, with significant influence also held by more populist and nationalistic movements.

Historically, major parties such as the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) and the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) have represented center-right and center-left ideologies, respectively. But in recent years, other parties like the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS) and the Liberal Movement of the Republic of Lithuania (LRLS) have also played crucial roles, with the former even leading the government following the 2016 parliamentary elections.

A notable aspect of Lithuanian politics is the proportion of presidents elected as independents: 4 of the 7 presidents have been independent since the country’s independence.

Key issues of the election

The obvious main concern of the election is Russia. From support to Ukraine to domestic defense, Lithuania’s geopolitical position next to Russia and Belarus has made security a perennial concern, influencing its domestic and foreign policies, including a strong commitment to NATO. In fact, Lithuania is one of the few countries in the Treaty that follows the defense spending guideline, with 2.8% of its GDP allocated to the defense budget, and at least 3% by 2025.

But other subjects of importance for Lithuanians include debates over dual citizenship and migration, reflecting a society that is grappling with both modern challenges and its historical identity. A referendum on the acceptance of dual citizenship is to be held on the same day as the presidential election’s first round, May 12.

In their programs, candidates also address economic and financial inequality and climate change, as well as democratic processes and territorial organization.

An important point to note: an opinion poll realized between April 10 and 21 highlights 3 main candidates – Gitanas Nauseda, Ignas Vegele, and Ingrida Simonyte – all of which advocate for strengthened relations and cooperation with the European Union.

Main competitors

As mentioned above, polls have highlighted 3 candidates who are expected to gather the most votes.

Nauseda is the outgoing President of Lithuania, currently seeking re-election. Running as an independent, known for his measured and diplomatic approach, Nauseda has maintained relatively high approval ratings throughout his tenure, receiving a 35,2% voting intention in the April’s poll. His presidency has been marked by a strong emphasis on economic stability, international diplomacy, and national security. He was particularly noted for his significant support for Ukraine, offering refuge to Belarusian opposition, and enhancing Lithuania’s defense budget?

The battle for the second place, as well as an entry for the almost-assured election’s second turn, is less clear, with two candidates neck-and-neck.

Vegele has emerged as a notable contender, especially appealing to more conservative voters. His rise in prominence was particularly marked during the COVID-19 pandemic, where he voiced significant opposition to the government’s handling of the crisis. Vegele’s platform resonates well with traditionalist segments of the population, often garnering support from those in rural areas. He also runs as independent.

Simonyte, currently Lithuania’s Prime Minister and representing the TS-LKD party, is a former Minister of Finance. Her appeal is particularly strong among urban voters and the younger demographic, who appreciate her straightforward approach and her advocacy for progressive social policies alongside conservative economic principles.

Other candidates

  • Eduardas Vaitkus: Running as an independent candidate, Vaitkus is a professor with a strong background in health sciences. His academic and professional experiences likely inform his policy perspectives, particularly in areas related to public health and education.
  • Dainius Zalimas: A member of the Freedom Party, Zalimas brings a wealth of legal expertise to the race, having served as the head of the Constitutional Court. His candidacy is underscored by a deep understanding of law and governance, positioning him as a candidate focused on legal integrity and constitutional issues.
  • Giedrimas Jeglinskas: As a project manager at the Atlantic Council and representing the For Lithuania party, Jeglinskas offers a blend of international experience and national commitment. His background in defense and international relations at NATO adds a global dimension to his campaign.
  • Andrius Mazuronis: Leading the Labour Party and serving as the deputy chairman of the Seimas, Mazuronis is a seasoned politician with a strong legislative background. His leadership roles underscore his experience in political maneuvering and party management.
  • Remigijus Zemaitaitis: Contesting the election under the banner of Dawn of Nenumas, Zemaitaitis brings his parliamentary experience as an MP to the forefront. His campaign is likely centered on issues that resonate with his party’s platform, focusing on national identity and sovereignty issues.

Potential results of the May 12 election

Although Nauseda is almost assured to get into the eletcion’s second turn and is even expected to win the presidential seat overall, polls are highly fluctuating. For instance, Nauseda lost 9,2 opinion points between March and April, going from 44,4% of voting intention to 35,2%.

Those numbers, although much higher than those of his opponents, are clearly not sufficient to win the presidential election in the first turn, ensuring a second turn on May 26.

The candidate that Nauseda will face remains incertain. Vegele remains in second position with 9.4% of voting intentions in March and 12.3% in April, but Simonyte is closing the gap, going 10.2% up in April compared to her 5.8% of voting intention in March.

April’s poll also indicates that 13% of the respondents remain undecided, and 8.3% intend to support none of the candidates.

Overall, if Nauseda was to be re-elected, we could expect to witness a continuity with Lithuania’s current direction, especially on matters such as national defense, support for Ukraine and Belarussian opposition, as well as European cooperation.

Referendum on dual citizenship

A referendum on dual citizenship will also coincide with the election, addressing whether Lithuanians can hold citizenship of another country alongside their Lithuanian nationality. Current Lithuanian law is relatively strict regarding dual citizenship, generally restricting it to cases where citizenship is acquired by birthright.

This policy has been a topic of debate, as many believe it unfairly disadvantages the Lithuanian diaspora, particularly those who might have had to renounce their Lithuanian citizenship upon naturalizing in another country.

Opponents of the reform have expressed concerns that more liberal dual citizenship laws could complicate national security or dilute civic identity, especially given Lithuania’s sensitive geopolitical position.

A previous referendum in 2019 saw a majority in favor, but it did not meet the required voter turnout to pass. The decision to hold this referendum alongside the presidential election could lead to a higher voter turnout, due to the significant implications the presidential election will have on Lithuania’s future.

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