Saturday

17th Aug 2019

EU commissioner elected president in Lithuania

  • Dalia Grybauskaite (Photo: European Commission)

EU budget commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite has won the presidential elections in Lithuania with an overwhelming majority, becoming the first female head of state as the country struggles through its worst economic recession since the early 1990s.

"The taste of victory carries with it the weight of responsibility," Ms Grybauskaite told reporters on Sunday night at her election headquarters in Vilnius.

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Ms Grybauskaite, who stood as an independent, won over 69 percent of the vote, while her nearest challenger came in second with only 12 percent, according to official results announced on Monday.

Her EU-background and straightforward talk seemed to convince voters, with over 51 percent of them going to the ballot box.

As Lithuania's first female president, Ms Grybauskaite, who also holds a black belt in martial arts, will be able to veto the country's budget and fire ministers, but otherwise will have limited executive powers.

The president's main power lies in foreign policy and here she has promised to be less confrontational, especially towards Russia.

So far, she has signalled approval for the government's austerity measures, as the economy shrunk by over 12 percent in the first quarter, although she said some tax rises have been a mistake.

Frustration turned into violence in January when demonstrators smashed windows in the parliament building in Vilnius. It was at this point that Ms Grybauskaite decided to run for presidency.

Her duties as budget commissioner are currently being carried out by Siim Kallas, her audit and anti-fraud colleague.

The Lithuanian government will have to decide whether it appoints someone new or lets Mr Kallas carry on her tasks until the end of the Barroso commission, whose mandate expires on 31 October.

After Ms Grybauskaite's inauguration on 12 July, the government has to resign and be re-appointed.

She is expected to re-approve conservative Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, head of a four-party centre-right coalition, but has said she would use her powers for a reshuffle. "We shall see which ministers remain in office...," she told reporters.

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