Lithuania elects first female president

12:39, 18 May 2009
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EU budget chief Dalia Grybauskaite

European Union (EU) budget chief Dalia Grybauskaite will become Lithuania`s first female president after a landslide victory in the Baltic country`s presidential election on Sunday, Xinhua reported.

Preliminary figures released by the Central Electoral Commission of Lithuania in the early hours of Monday showed that Grybauskaite won 68.2 percent of the votes cast by over half of the country`s 2.67 million eligible voters.

    Her closest rival Algirdas Butkevicius, leader of the opposition Social Democrat Party, garnered 11.74 percent of the vote.

    Turnout was 51 percent according to latest data, indicating there is no need for a run-off.

    "There will be no second round as the president of Lithuania was elected tonight," Zenonas Vaigauskas, chairman of the Central Electoral Commission said.

    Millions of Lithuanians went to the polls on Sunday to choose anew president for the country which has plunged into a deep recession due to the global financial crisis.

    According to Lithuania`s election rules, Grybauskaite has to win over 50 percent of the votes cast on Sunday to secure an outright victory and more than half of all voters must turn out. Otherwise, a run-off between the two leading candidates will be held on June 7.

    "Yes, I think I won," Grybauskaite told reporters before the preliminary results were released. "I am grateful for the responsibility invested in me."

    Grybauskaite is currently the EU Commissioner for Financial Programming and Budget. Before taking her EU job in 2004, she had been finance minister of Lithuania from 2001 to 2004, deputy foreign minister from 2000 to 2001 and deputy finance minister from 1999 to 2000.

    If confirmed, Grybauskaite will become the first female president in Lithuania.

    But for Grybauskaite, what lies ahead is a huge task of how to save the Baltic country`s economy.

    Hard hit by the global financial crisis, the once vibrant economy of Lithuania was forecast to shrink 15.6 percent this year, one of the worst among 27 EU member states, according to the country`s central bank.

    Amid the economic crisis, unemployment in Lithuania is expected to climb to 11.6 percent this year from the current 8.7 percent and to 13.4 percent in 2010.

    Meanwhile, overall salaries are likely to fall 12.3 percent this year and 5.2 percent in 2010 since the government and companies have been cutting wages to reduce spending.

    Economy has been a key issue during the presidential campaign, and Grybauskaite`s experience as both the country`s finance minister and the EU budget chief contributed to her success.

    "Dalia served as finance minister of Lithuania. She is an economic expert. At a time of the global financial crisis, she is the most suitable person among all the candidates," Edmundas, a Lithuanian who runs business in Russia, said before voting.

    Grybauskaite has pledged she will use her experience to lead the country out of the economic crisis.

    "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, adding, "The taste of victory carries with it the weight of responsibility."

    Grybauskaite, who had criticized the current government for poor handling of the economy, suggested she could seek a shakeup of the cabinet led by Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius.


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