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EU budget chief wins Lithuania presidential election

European Union budget commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite decisively won election as Lithuania's first woman president, the Baltic nation battling a deep recession, official results showed.

The 53-year-old, a tough-talking former finance minister, ran as an independent candidate, enhancing her popularity in contrast to the main political parties, whose standing were hit by the economic downturn and allegations of corruption.

The country of 3.4 million people, an EU and NATO member since 2004, saw its worst post-Soviet rioting in January.

With all ballots of Sunday's vote counted she secured 68.17% of all votes cast on a turnout of 51.7%, just above the 50% for an outright first round win.

In Lithuania, the president is the head of state and formally appoints the prime minister and the cabinet.

While presidents have some influence over economic policies, including the right to veto budget law, their executive powers are limited to implementing foreign and defense policies together with the government.

“Lithuania has decided: the country is to be saved by a woman,” a front page headline of the leading daily Lietuvos rytas read on Monday.

The newspaper said Lithuania broke stereotypes by choosing a woman, and Grybauskaite, known for having a black belt in karate, “managed to crush her opponents with a single strike.”

Political analysts said her tough image had helped her win. Grybauskaite had been clear favorite throughout the campaign and she managed to outperform most predictions.

“Grybauskaite takes the post without a fight,” said the headline of another daily newspaper Lietuvos zinios.

Her closest rival, Algirdas Butkevicius, the leader of opposition Social Democrat Party, came second with 11.7%.

Rimvydas Valatka, a columnist of the daily Lietuvos rytas, said the election was a “very Russian way” due to the lack of real competition.

“People just had to vote to confirm those picked by the rulers,” he said, referring to the fact Grybauskaite was backed by the ruling parties of the coalition government.

As president, she has the power to fire ministers, though she has said she broadly backs the budget austerity measures of the centre-right prime minister.

However, she has said some tax rises have been a mistake. She also wants to stimulate exports, absorb EU aid faster and provide tax breaks for small and medium-sized businesses.

The Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, who's conservative Homeland Union was one of those backing Grybauskaite, said he was ready to work with the new president.

Grybauskaite was expected to approve Kubilius, head of a four-party centre-right coalition, as prime minister when she takes office on July 12.

But, she has also said some ministers, including the finance minister, will have “to correct mistakes of the past” or go.

Grybauskaite had supported the government's austerity measures, but had criticized hikes in social and income taxes for individuals and small businesses.

On Monday she earned plaudits from both sides of the political spectrum.

Vytautas Landsbergis, the country's first leader after Lithuania split from the former Soviet Union in 1990, said Grybauskaite's victory was “a blow to the old nomenclature,” the Baltic news agency BNS reported.

Grybauskaite was also greeted by the last leader of Lithuanian communist party and the former country's president Algirdas Brazauskas, who said she would be “a good president,” and that she should be “tough” in dealing with the current government. (Reuters)