Lithuanians vote in presidential runoff amid safety fears over Russia | EUROtoday

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

Lithuania’s heads of state and authorities confronted off on Sunday in spherical two of the presidential election, because the Baltic nation prioritises defence and safety amid fears over neighbouring Russia.

Both candidates agree that the NATO and EU member of two.8 million individuals ought to increase defence spending to counter the perceived risk, and to that finish the federal government lately proposed a tax improve.

Former banker and incumbent Gitanas Nauseda, 60, is the heavy favorite to win one other five-year time period, saying he expects to obtain 75 p.c of votes.

There have been no opinion polls for the reason that first spherical, when Nauseda received 44 p.c of the poll and Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte 20 p.c.

Watch extraEurope votes: Security preoccupies Baltic states

Simonyte, the 49-year-old candidate of the ruling conservatives, is operating for president once more after dropping to Nauseda within the final presidential poll.

He took to social media on Sunday to induce voters to attend for the leads to the gardens of the presidential palace, which led the electoral fee to warn of a doable violation of the rule of silence throughout election time.

The president’s spokesman Ridas Jasiulionis stated Nauseda wouldn’t take away his Facebook submit because it didn’t represent campaigning.

The Lithuanian president steers defence and international coverage, attending EU and NATO summits, however should seek the advice of with the federal government and parliament on appointing probably the most senior officers.

While the candidates agree on defence, they share diverging views on Lithuania’s relations with China, which have been strained for years over Taiwan.

‘Threat of conflict’

Olga Sokolovska, a kindergarten employee, stated she had voted for Nauseda.

“I like his ideas, his approach to the family and the way he deals with the public,” the 34-year-old stated.

Fifty-three-year-old artist Gediminas Zilys, voted Simonyte.

“I understand that she will not win, but because support gives people confidence, we must vote for her to show that she has a lot of supporters,” he stated.

“I like that she is categorical,” stated Saida, who additionally voted Simonyte.

Read extraRussia strikes to increase its maritime borders, angering Baltic Sea nations

“Maybe she’s more confrontational, but she would better stand her ground than Nauseda,” stated the advertising specialist, 37, who gave solely her first identify.

But pensioner Ausra Vysniauskiene most well-liked Nauseda.

“He’s an intelligent man, he speaks many languages, he’s educated, he’s a banker,” the 67-year-old informed AFP.

“I want men to lead, especially when the threat of war is so big.”

Lithuania is a big donor to Ukraine, which has been battling Russia for the reason that 2022 invasion, and is already an enormous defence spender, with a navy finances equal to 2.75 p.c of GDP.

Lithuania intends to buy tanks and extra air defence programs, and to host a German brigade, as Berlin plans to finish the stationing of round 5,000 troops by 2027.

Vilnius fears it might be subsequent within the crosshairs if Moscow had been to win its conflict towards Ukraine.

Tension over Taiwan

The uneasy relationship between Nauseda and Simonyte’s conservatives has at instances triggered international coverage debates, most notably on Lithuania’s relations with China.

Bilateral ties turned tense in 2021, when Vilnius allowed Taiwan to open a de facto embassy underneath the island’s identify — a departure from the widespread diplomatic follow of utilizing the identify of the capital Taipei to keep away from angering Beijing.

Read extra‘A struggle on your lifestyle’: Lithuania’s tradition minister on Ukraine and Russian disinformation

China, which considers self-ruled Taiwan part of its territory, downgraded diplomatic relations with Vilnius and blocked its exports, main some Lithuanian politicians to induce a restoration of relations for the sake of the economic system.

Nauseda sees the necessity to change the identify of the consultant workplace, whereas Simonyte pushes again towards it.

Gay rights

But for voters, private variations between the candidates, in addition to financial coverage and human rights, appear to matter extra.

Simonyte is thought for a way of humour and for writing her personal social media posts. She attracts assist from liberal voters in greater cities and conventional conservative voters.

A fiscal conservative with liberal views on social points, she notably helps same-sex partnerships, which nonetheless stir controversy within the predominantly Catholic nation.

“I would like to see faster progress, more openness… more tolerance for people who are different from us,” Simonyte stated when casting an early vote.

Nauseda, who maintains a average and measured stance on practically all points, has established himself as a promoter of the welfare state, with conservative views on homosexual rights.

Polling stations shut at 1700 GMT, with no exit polls anticipated.