EU Commissioner Declares Win in Lithuania Vote
VILNIUS, Lithuania – The European Union's budget chief was poised to become Lithuania's first woman president after a landslide victory in a vote overshadowed by the Baltic country's ailing economy, preliminary official results showed.
Dalia Grybauskaite, the EU budget commissioner and a karate black-belt, had 69 percent of the vote Sunday with more than 95 percent of ballots counted. The election commission said the preliminary turnout was 51 percent, just enough to avoid a runoff.
"There will be no second round as the president of Lithuania was elected tonight," election commission chairman Zenonas Vaigauskas said.
The results were in line with an exit poll earlier Sunday that showed voters were turning to the 53-year-old political independent to help Lithuania rebound from a deep recession.
Grybauskaite declared victory to supporters toasting champagne in a hotel near the presidential palace.
Social Democrat lawmaker Algirdas Butkevicius was a distant second with 12 percent according to the partial results. Each of the five other candidates got less than 7 percent of the votes.
"I am very glad that people came and voted for me, because I know what to do to help Lithuania in this difficult situation," Grybauskaite said before the results were announced.
Lithuania — along with neighbors Estonia and Latvia — ranks among Europe's most depressed economies. EU statistics this week showed the economy plummeted nearly 10 percent in the first quarter of 2009, compared to the previous three months. Unemployment in March was 15.5 percent, a dramatic jump from 4.3 percent a year earlier.
Grybauskaite decided to run for president after public anger flared in January over Lithuania's economic collapse. A rock-throwing mob attacked Parliament in the worst street violence Lithuania had seen since it regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Grybauskaite, who is set to be inaugurated on July 12, is backed by the center-right government and is not expected to replace Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius. But she suggested that she could seek to change other ministers in his Cabinet.
"It's no secret that I am not satisfied with certain ministers. They have time to improve or we will find replacements," Grybauskaite said.
Campaigning focused on Lithuania's economic problems, with many left-wing candidates criticizing the government for not doing enough to stem the crisis. Even though economic policies are set by the government, Grybauskaite's budgetary experience is seen as a big plus.
"Grybauskaite is the only reasonable choice for Lithuania at these difficult times," said Vincenta Dapkiene, a retired journalist in Vilnius. "She has been managing the budget of the entire EU. She would be a strong and bright leader of the nation."
Grybauskaite has spent five years on the European Commission, the EU's executive branch. If the result is confirmed, she would leave that post and replace Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, who is stepping down after serving a second five-year term.
Adamkus' predecessor, Rolandas Paksas, was ousted for violating the constitution and abuse of office, making him the first European head of state to be impeached.