Lithuanians voted for a new president yesterday with concerns over income inequality and poverty dominating round one of a tight race in the Baltic eurozone state.
Voter turnout tallied at 56.45 percent at the close of voting on Sunday, according to the Central Elections Commission, which also said it expected to publish partial official results in the night or early today.
Nine candidates are vying to succeed two-term independent incumbent Dalia Grybauskaite. The politician nicknamed the “Iron Lady” for her strong resolve has been tipped as a contender to be the next president of the European Council.
But pre-election surveys suggest only three stand a chance of making it to an expected May 26 run-off that would coincide with European Parliament elections. Centre-left Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, conservative ex-finance minister Ingrida Simonyte and independent economist Gitanas Nauseda lead the pack, and each has focused primarily on bread and butter issues.
Simonyte is popular with wealthy, educated urban voters while Skvernelis’ populist approach resonates with the rural poor. Nauseda, an economist, seeks to bridge the rich-poor divide in the former Soviet republic of 2.8 million people, which joined the EU and NATO in 2004.
The country is struggling with a sharp decline in population owing to mass emigration to Western Europe by people seeking a better life.
A recent EU report noted that almost 30 percent of Lithuanians “are at risk of poverty or social exclusion” and that this risk is “nearly double” in rural areas. “Citizens are thirsty for social justice and seek a candidate who can bridge existing social polarisation,” Donatas Puslys from the Vilnius Policy Analysis Institute told AFP.