Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite headed into a runoff election against former Finance Minister Zigmantas Balcytis after failing to win enough votes in yesterday’s first round to secure a second term.
Grybauskaite won 45.9 percent of the vote yesterday, the election committee said on its website. She will compete in the second and final round on May 25 against Balcytis, who garnered 13.6 percent support.
Lithuanians are picking their head of state as the Baltic nation prepares for joining the euro on Jan. 1. Grybauskaite, the first female president in the nation of 2.94 million, has supported the government’s austerity efforts to cut the budget gap and qualify for euro adoption during her term in office.
“Now everything begins from scratch,” Grybauskaite, 58, told reporters today. “The fact that I got the most votes doesn’t mean we can expect an easy victory in the second round.”
To claim the presidency in the first round, Grybauskaite needed to garner more than 50 percent of votes cast with turnout of at least 50 percent. She won the 2009 presidential election with 69 percent.
Grybauskaite said she never made “empty promises” and helped implement “difficult decisions” during the economic crisis, which cost her support among those who voted for her in the previous election. Her first five years in office marked “a good start and it would be nice if people gave me a chance to continue the work I started,” she said today.
Balcytis, 60, a candidate from the Social Democrat party, supervised the country’s earlier failed attempt to adopt the euro and has been a member of the European Parliament since 2009.
“Past experience shows that the candidate who gets less in the first round has every chance to win the election,” Balcytis said on national television, commenting on his chances in the second round. “I expect to win.”
Balcytis’s win would place the country’s two top posts of prime minister and president in the hands of the Social Democrats, threatening the “independence of the two offices,” Grybauskaite said.
Russia’s actions in Ukraine are fueling concern in the Baltic countries, which are pushing for permanent North Atlantic Treaty Organization bases in the region. Lithuania says that in the past two months Russia has conducted unannounced drills, disturbed civilian shipping in the Baltic Sea and suspended a 2001 treaty on mutual inspections and exchange of information about armed forces in neighboring Kaliningrad.
Grybauskaite staked a claim to stronger policies to ensure the nation’s military and economic security, making her a better fit in the current geopolitical environment. The Baltic nation ships 19.8 percent of its exports to Russia.
Unlike Grybauskaite, who came to power five years ago with “an image of a superwoman to save the country in times of economic crisis,” Balcytis may prove more appealing to voters now because “he seems like one of us, a guy with a human face,” Algis Krupavicius, a political-science professor at the Kaunas University of Technology, said by phone.
“The intrigue remains and the result of the second round is difficult to predict,” Krupavicius said. “The vote gap may seem wide now but Balcytis holds better chances to attract votes that went to other candidates in the first round.”
Lithuania is making a second attempt to adopt the euro after a failed bid in 2006, when it became the only candidate rejected because inflation topped the bloc’s ceiling by 0.1 percentage point. Lithuania’s currency switch in 2015 would put the entire Baltic region in the euro area, after Estonia joined in 2011 and Latvia entered in January.
The yield on Lithuania’s 2012 dollar bond rose 0.03 percentage point to 3.58 percent at 2 p.m. in Vilnius today, rising from the lowest level in a year.
“It wasn’t difficult to decide who to vote for,” Ada Jonaityte, 30, said in central Vilnius after casting her vote for the incumbent. “No one ever fully fulfills your expectations 100 percent, yet there’s simply no better option available at the moment.”
Grybauskaite, an independent candidate, is also a former finance minister and served as a European Union budget commissioner.
In Lithuania, the president is responsible for foreign policy, nominates cabinets for parliamentary approval, appoints judges and has the right to veto laws.
To contact the reporter on this story: Milda Seputyte in Vilnius at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at email@example.com Paul Abelsky, James M. Gomez