Lithuanians are voting today to elect a new president of the Baltic country that has stayed a firm course on the EU and Nato under the incumbent “Iron Lady” Dalia Grybauskaite.
Who will become the new head of state will be decided in a run-off vote between two largely centre-right contenders who are seen as likely to just fine-tune Grybauskaite’s legacy, not overturn it.
The ex-finance minister, an economist by profession and currently a conservative MP, Ingrid Simonyte, is battling it out against Gitanas Nauseda, the former chief economist of SEB Bank who is a newcomer to politics.
Simonyte won the first round of the election, getting 31.21% of the vote with Nauseda closely behind at 30.93%. The difference between the two was just under 4,000 votes.
Nauseda is, however, tipped to prevail on Sunday, as less tied to Lithuanian daily politicking and therefore more credible as a candidate with the ability to bridge divides.
With both contenders in agreement over EU and Nato as guaranteeing Lithuania’s prosperity and independence in the context of geopolitical tension created by Russia in Ukraine, the campaign has shifted to domestic issues.
Both candidates are promising to tackle issues such as income inequality, falling population numbers, and the expected slowdown in economic growth.
Lithuanian presidents do not write domestic policies, in particular economic ones, yet their authority has been enough to exert influence.
Above and beyond the ultimate outcome of the election, it is clear that in picking a candidate of continuation, Lithuania has held against a wave of anti-EU sentiment rampant in many member states.
That could prove important in the wake of the election to the European Parliament, which is held on the same day in Lithuania and most member states.
With the European Parliament poised to see a rise in the number of populist, Eurosceptic politicians, the new president is expected to provide at least some counterweight to the worrisome – from the point of view of the bloc’s struggling political mainstream – currents during EU summits, where he or she will represent Lithuania.