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Lithuanian president is the front-runner as country heads to runoff vote in two weeks

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VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda won the most votes in a weekend presidential election, officials said Monday, but he still faces a runoff in two weeks against Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė.

Nausėda won 44% of the votes and Šimonytė nearly 20%, according to preliminary results published by Lithuania’s Central Electoral Commission.

There were eight candidates running in all, making it difficult for any candidate to muster the 50% of the votes needed to win the presidency outright on Sunday. The runoff is scheduled to be held on May 26.

A referendum was also on the ballot on Sunday, but it failed to muster the necessary votes to pass. It asked whether the constitution should be amended to allow dual citizenship, a decision that would have affected hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians living abroad.

Lithuanian citizens who adopt another nationality currently must give up their Lithuanian citizenship, which does not bode well for sustaining the population level. The population has already fallen from 3.5 million in 1990 to 2.8 million today.

The election came at a time as Russian gains in Ukraine are fueling greater fears about Moscow’s intentions, particularly in the strategically important Baltic region.

The president’s main tasks in NATO-member Lithuania’s political system are overseeing foreign and defense policy, along with acting as the supreme commander of the armed forces.

Given that Lithuania is strategically located on NATO’s eastern flank, the presidency of a relatively small nation is given added importance as tensions rise between Russia and the West over the war in Ukraine. Both Nausėda and Šimonytė have voiced support of Ukraine.

The pair also ran against each other in a presidential runoff in 2019, when Nausėda won with 66% of the votes.