Lithuanian PM, who backed moving embassy to Jerusalem, loses presidential bid
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Lithuanian PM, who backed moving embassy to Jerusalem, loses presidential bid

Saulius Skvernelis says he’ll quit after failure to make second round runoff; economist Gitanas Nauseda will face conservative Ingrida Simonyte in final vote

Lithuanian presidential candidate Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, his wife Silvija Skverneliene and their children cast a ballot during the presidential election in Vilnius on May 12, 2019.  (Photo by Petras Malukas / AFP)
Lithuanian presidential candidate Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, his wife Silvija Skverneliene and their children cast a ballot during the presidential election in Vilnius on May 12, 2019. (Photo by Petras Malukas / AFP)

Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis on Sunday said he would quit in July after he was eliminated from a presidential runoff that will see an independent economist square off against a conservative on May 26.

“The failure to get into the second round is an assessment of me as a politician,” Skvernelis told public broadcaster LRT, adding that he would tender his resignation in July.

Gitanas Nauseda, an economist and political novice topped the first round, partial official results showed, and will face runner-up Ingrida Simonyte, a conservative ex-finance minister, in the second round set to focus on inequality and poverty.

Skvernelis, who was a police officer before he entered politics, has suggested opening dialogue with Russia, a departure from the recent governments in Vilnius, and floated the idea of moving the Lithuanian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Skvernelis said in March that moving the mission could lead to closer ties with Israel and the United States, which Lithuania sees as a key security buffer against Russia.

The embassy transfer “could bring new impetus for relations with Israel, both in the areas of security and trade,” Skvernelis told reporters as he hit the campaign trail to outline his foreign policy priorities.

“We would also send a signal that the United States is our partner not only in words but that we also side with it in bitter questions under discussions,” he added.

With 1,631 of the country’s 1,972 voting districts counted early Monday, results provided by Lithuania’s Central Electoral Commission showed Gitanas Nauseda, a banker-turned-politician, leading the nine-candidate field with 31.2% of the votes.

Lithuanian presidential candidate, Member of the Parliament Ingrida Simonyte, talks to journalists during the first round of the presidential election in Vilnius on May 12, 2019. (Photo by Petras Malukas / AFP)

Ingrida Simonyte, Lawmaker and former finance minister, was in second with 27.2%.

In third was Skvernelis at 22.2%.

A candidate needed to get more than 50% to avoid runoff on May 26, the same day that Lithuanians will vote for their European Parliament representatives.

Preliminary voter turnout was 56%.

Incumbent Dalia Grybauskaite has served the maximum two five-year terms as Lithuania’s head of state since 2009. Lithuania is a Baltic country bordering Russia that is a member of the European Union and NATO.

Grybauskaite has been a strong critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and campaigned on stopping corruption and improving Lithuania’s economy.

Along with picking a president, Lithuanians voted on a constitutional amendment to allow dual citizenship for hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians living abroad. Preliminary results indicated 70% of the voters supported allowing dual citizenship, the Baltic News Service, the region’s main news service, reported.

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