Incumbent favorite as Lithuania votes for president in shadow of Ukraine crisis

Hard-nosed incumbent Dalia Grybauskaite is widely expected to win a second term in Lithuania's presidential election amid security concerns linked to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Polls give the 58-year-old former European Union commissioner and karate black belt a comfortable lead heading into the first round of voting Sunday. It's unclear, however, whether she will get the more than 50 percent of votes needed to avoid a runoff on May 25.

In a country ruled by Moscow during the Cold War, Grybauskaite's approval ratings have risen after her strong-worded rejection of Russia's annexation of Crimea and her staunch support for boosting NATO forces in Lithuania.

A survey last month showed her getting 47 percent support, with about 10 percent for each of her closest rivals: Labor lawmaker Arturas Paulauskas and European Parliament member Zigmantas Balcytis, a social democrat.


The margin of error in the April 4-9 survey of 1,001 people by pollster Vilmorus was 3.5 percentage points.

"Europe must understand that Russia is trying to redraw the post-war map and borders," Grybauskaite told reporters recently. "First, it's Ukraine, Moldova will be next and, finally, it can reach the Baltic states and Poland. This is serious threat to our region."

An economist who was educated both in the Soviet Union and the United States, Grybauskaite served as Lithuanian finance minister and EU budget commissioner before becoming her country's first female president in 2009.

With her re-election seen as all but certain, critics say Grybauskaite's lead has sucked all the energy out of the race.

"I have never seen in any country such a dull election campaign," former president Valdas Adamkus told lawmakers in parliament.