Tue, May 14, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Ex-finance minister to face novice in Lithuania’s May 26 presidential runoff

SNAP POLLS?Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis vowed to quit on July 12 after placing third in Sunday’s vote and did not out rule parliamentary polls before October 2020

AFP, VILNIUS

Former minister of finance and presidential candidate Ingrida Simonyte casts her vote during the first round of the presidential election in Vilnius on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

Conservative former Lithuanian minister of finance Ingrida Simonyte won a paper-thin victory over political novice Gitanas Nauseda in round one of the presidential election on Sunday, sending both to a tight May 26 runoff set to focus on inequality and poverty in the Baltic eurozone state.

Center-left Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis vowed to quit after he was eliminated from the runoff, having finished in third place.

Conceding that “the failure to get into the second round is an assessment of me as a politician,” Skvernelis told reporters that he would “step down on July 12.”

He did not rule out early elections. The next regularly scheduled parliamentary elections are due in October next year.

Although Lithuanian presidents do not directly craft economic policy, bread and butter issues and tackling corruption have dominated the campaign.

Simonyte, who is popular with wealthy, educated urban voters, garnered 31.13 percent of the vote, compared with 30.95 for Nauseda, who advocates a welfare state, full official results showed.

Skvernelis, whose populist approach resonated with the rural poor, took 19.72 percent of the vote contested by a total of nine candidates.

Simonyte told supporters she would resist “populism” during her second-round campaign and seek support from political forces “with consistent views that do not try to be on the right with one leg and the left with the other.”

Simonyte, 44, a technocrat who also warns against deepening inequality and the rural-urban divide, has vowed to reduce it by boosting growth further.

Socially liberal, Simonyte backs same-sex partnerships, which still stir controversy in the predominantly Catholic country.

Economist Nauseda is campaigning on promises of seeking the political middle-ground and building a welfare state.

“I want to thank all the people who took to their hearts our message that we want a welfare state in Lithuania and we want more political peace,” Nauseda told reporters in Vilnius as results rolled in.

The 54-year-old former banking consultant is seeking to bridge the growing rich-poor divide in the former Soviet republic of 2.8 million people, which joined the EU and NATO in 2004.

“Nauseda has a greater chance to attract votes that went to other candidates, especially from the left,” Vilnius University analyst Ramunas Vilpisauskas said.

Nauseda and Simonyte are strong supporters of EU and NATO membership as bulwarks against neighboring Russia, especially since Moscow’s 2014 military intervention in Ukraine.

Lithuanian presidents steer defense and foreign policy, attending EU and NATO summits, but must consult with the government and the prime minister on appointing the most senior officials.

Popular incumbent President Dalia Grybauskaite must step down due to term limits.

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