Presidential elections in Lithuania
Second term: Lithuania's head of state Nausėda re-elected

Gitanas Nausėda: Lithuania's president won the run-off election on Sunday and by a clear margin.

Lithuania's president Gitanas Nausėda won the run-off election on Sunday and by a clear margin.

© picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS | Mindaugas Kulbis

Contract extension for Gitanas Nausėda: Lithuania's president won the run-off election on Sunday and by a clear margin. The 60-year-old economist and former banker, who has been at the helm of the most populous Baltic state since 2019, won 74.5 percent of the valid votes cast. His opponent, Christian Democrat Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė, received the remaining quarter of the votes.

The run-off election on May 26 became necessary after none of the candidates achieved the required absolute majority of votes in the first round two weeks earlier. On May 12, Nausėda received around 44% of the votes and Šimonytė just under 20%. Right-wing populist Ignas Vėgėlė finished third with just over 12%, leading to his elimination. He subsequently recommended that his voters support Nausėda. Voter turnout in the first round was 59.5%, while it dropped to 49.1% in the second round.

Nausėda relied on incumbency and popularity ratings

Nausėda entered the run-off election without a declared strategy. He and his campaign team relied on the advantages of incumbency and his high popularity ratings. Nausėda and Šimonytė had already competed against each other in the run-off five years ago. At that time, Nausėda won with a clear lead of around 66%, although it was not as overwhelming as in his re-election. Šimonytė received around a third of the vote in 2019.

The Lithuanian head of state has significantly more constitutional powers than, for example, the German Federal President. He decides on fundamental questions of foreign and defense policy and serves as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Lithuania lies on the eastern flank of NATO, and the military situation in Ukraine has intensified again in past days and weeks in favour of the Russian aggressor. It is therefore no wonder that the world has been closely watching who will be making decisions in Vilnius regarding foreign and security policy over the next five years.

Warnings against the Kremlin's aggressive expansionist course

In Slovakia, Peter Pellegrini, the candidate of a political alliance skeptical of the EU and NATO and more aligned with authoritarian Hungary, prevailed in the presidential elections at the beginning of April. In Lithuania, the situation was clear, at least in the run-off election: both opponents, Nausėda and Prime Minister Šimonytė, have been warning against the Kremlin's aggressively expansionist course for years. Both have unequivocally condemned Vladimir Putin's actions against Ukraine and actively supported Kyiv in its resistance to the Russian invasion. After the first round of voting two weeks ago, Nausėda promised Ukraine support with its air defense, emphasizing that as long as there is no improvement, Ukraine will remain vulnerable.

The head of state and the prime minister agreed to increase Lithuania's defense spending to at least three percent of GDP, with 2.75% still planned for this year. This consensus is likely to outlast the election campaign. The increase will be used to finance the modernization of the army and military-related infrastructure. One of the main focuses is the German Bundeswehr brigade, which is to be stationed in Lithuania and ready for deployment by 2027. This project is part of a NATO initiative to strengthen security on the alliance's eastern flank. Western military and security officials are concerned that Putin will reorganize his armed forces if the war in Ukraine ends under any circumstances, potentially enabling him to launch an attack on the Baltic States and thus on NATO territory within a few years.

Dissent in morally and philosophically charged topics

While there was broad agreement between the run-off opponents on security issues, there were differences of opinion on domestic, morally and philosophically charged issues such as abortion and legal equality for same-sex partnerships. This may come as a surprise to outsiders: Nausėda, who has no party affiliation and is supported by two more left-wing parties, holds conservative positions on these issues, while the Christian Democratic head of government is more open to reform. This is one of the reasons why Dainius Žalimas, the Laisvės Partija (Freedom Party) candidate who was eliminated after the first round, called on his voters to support Šimonytė.

However, tensions between the president and the head of government also arose during the election campaign because Nausėda announced that the government could not continue in its current composition if he won the election. He called for the replacement of the Minister of Education, Science, and Sport and indicated that he would devote more time to agriculture after his re-election. Observers see this as an attempt to influence the parliamentary elections in the fall in the interests of the Social Democrats as thanks for their support of his presidential candidacy.

Lithuania's geopolitical weight is likely to increase

So, what does a second term for Nausėda mean from an international perspective? Unlike Slovakia, Lithuania is expected to continue being a reliable partner within the European Union and the North Atlantic Defense Alliance, particularly regarding issues concerning Ukraine. The nation is likely to persist in its commitment to enhancing regional security and bolstering its defense against the ever-present Russian threat. It is plausible that Lithuania's geopolitical influence will expand in the years to come.

Nausėda is likely to persist in advocating for the full Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. His dedication has already inspired other nations to support Ukraine and fostered a united stance towards Russia. With his impressively renewed mandate, his calls for an augmentation in the defense budget and reinforced security guarantees by the USA and NATO are likely to hold even greater significance. Additionally, he is expected to continue bolstering cooperation in the Baltic Sea region and sustain meetings of Baltic heads of state and government to coordinate regional collaboration.

What Nausėda announced after his election victory should therefore be understood as the motto of his second term of office: “Lithuania’s independence and freedom is like a fragile vessel that we must cherish, protect and prevent from cracking.”