Lithuanians started voting in a tightly contested presidential election on Sunday to replace outgoing Dalia Grybauskaite, the Baltic nation’s “Iron Lady” who was one of the European Union’s most outspoken critics of Russia, Trend reports citing Reuters.
Still very popular, Grybauskaite, 63, is not eligible to run after two terms. But the top three candidates vying to replace her have pledged to maintain a tough stance against Vilnius’ former Soviet master as well as hefty military spending.
Five years after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine that sparked fears of further Russian aggression across eastern Europe, the election campaign in Lithuania was dominated by voter anger over economic inequality and corruption.
The race is led jointly by Ingrida Simonyte, 44, a former finance minister in a center-right government, and Gitanas Nauseda, 54, a former senior economist at a top bank, running neck-and-neck on 22% each, according to a Vilmorus/Lietuvos Rytas poll.
Polling third with 17% of voter support is prime minister Saulius Skvernelis, 48, a former police chief affiliated with the Farmers and Greens Union, the senior partner of the ruling coalition.
All three have vowed to advocate for increased state spending on social issues, a sore point for many in Lithuania where nearly a third of the population could be at risk of poverty or social exclusion.
Income inequality is among of the highest in the European Union, second only to Bulgaria.
Lithuania’s president has a semi-executive role with a say in the appointment of key officials such as judges, the chief prosecutor and head of the central bank. The president can veto laws and, in tandem with the government, sets foreign and security policy.