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article imageLithuanian PM Skvernelis enters tight presidential race

By AFP     Jan 17, 2019 in Politics

Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis on Thursday announced he will run for president this year, saying his election would lead to "more harmony" and less intrigue in the Baltic eurozone state.

"I will participate in the (May) election," Skvernelis said in the western town of Rusne.

The 48-year-old will almost certainly receive backing from the governing centre-left Farmers and Greens Union next week.

President Dalia Grybauskaite is not among the 10 candidates currently in the running as she has served the maximum two terms allowed under the constitution.

Skvernelis's challengers include independent economist Gitanas Nauseda and conservative ex-finance minister Ingrida Simonyte, who he described on Thursday as the "heirs" to Grybauskaite.

Surveys show that Skvernelis is more popular in rural areas but has little support in the capital Vilnius.

All candidates are expected to fall short of the 50 percent of votes needed to get elected in the first round on May 12.

If needed, the run-off will take place on May 26, coinciding with European Parliament elections.

The Lithuanian president is in charge of foreign policy under the constitution and holds a seat at EU summits.

The president also appoints ministers, judges, the military chief and the head of the central bank, but often needs the approval of the parliament or the prime minister.

Wary of neighbouring Russia, Lithuania is among only eight NATO countries that spend 2 percent of GDP on defence.

Its economy is expected to grow around three percent this year, but the high proportion of people at risk of poverty and high income inequality remain major challenges for the nation of 2.8 million people.

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