As in 2019, Gitanas Nauseda and Ingrida Simonyte will face each other in the second round of the presidential election in Lithuania on May 26. And like, five years ago, Mr. Nauseda was well on his way to winning.

After the counting of almost all the votes cast on Sunday May 12 for the first round, the outgoing president came in first with 44% of the votes, far ahead of his Prime Minister who accounted for nearly 20%, according to the results of the electoral authority. Ignas Vegele, a 48-year-old lawyer who rose to prominence by opposing mandatory vaccination during the Covid-19 pandemic, came in third with 12% of the vote. Gitanas Nauseda, a 59-year-old former banker, is the favorite in polls, including for the runoff.

This year, the campaign was dominated by defense issues, with Vilnius wanting to strengthen its security against neighboring Russia. The Baltic country of 2.8 million people, a former Soviet republic that borders the highly militarized Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, fears it could be the next target if Moscow were to win its war against Ukraine.

The Lithuanian President co-leads, with the government, foreign policy and participates in European Union (EU) and NATO summits. He must consult the government and parliament for the appointment of the highest officials.

If Mr. Nauseda and Ms. Simonyte agree on the defense, they differ on other subjects. Ingrida Simonyte, 49, holds conservative views on economics and liberal views on social issues. She particularly supports partnerships between people of the same sex, which are still controversial in this predominantly Catholic country.

“Ms Simonyte is supported by conservative party voters and liberals, while Mr Nauseda is a left-wing candidate in terms of economic and social policy,” says Ramunas Vilpisauskas, an analyst at Vilnius University.

No consensus on China between the two candidates

Lithuania, a member of the European Union and NATO, is one of Ukraine’s largest donors, with significant defense spending accounting for 2.75% of its GDP and Ms. Simonyte’s government wants to increase to 3%. Vilnius intends to use these funds to purchase additional tanks and air defense systems, and to host a German brigade on its territory. Berlin plans to station around 5,000 soldiers in Lithuania by 2027. None of the main candidates have announced they want to call these plans into question.

However, there is no consensus regarding relations with China. Bilateral ties were strained in 2021 when Vilnius allowed Taiwan to open a representation under the name of the self-ruled island, a departure from the common diplomatic practice of using the name of the capital, Taipei, to avoid anger Beijing.

China, which considers Taiwan as part of its territory and opposes any support for the island likely to give it any international legitimacy, has in retaliation downgraded its diplomatic relations with Vilnius and blocked its exports. Mr. Nauseda said during the election campaign that he saw “the need to change the name of the representative office.” Ms. Simonyte is opposed to it.