Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite will face a run-off after she failed to garner the 50 percent of votes needed to get re-elected in the first round of the Baltic state’s presidential elections.
With 97 percent of votes counted, Grybauskaite, popular for her abrasive style and strong criticism of what she sees as
Russian expansionism, had gathered 45.8 percent of votes in the elections on Sunday, the Lithuanian election commission said on Monday.
In two weeks time, she will face Zigmantas Balcytis, a social democrat who has the support of Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius and who received 13.7 percent of votes, the Reuters news agency reported.
“The people has decided that there will be a second round,” Grybauskaite told reporters.
“I would like to thank all Lithuanians that I received almost 47 percent of the vote, this is a big trust.
“I believe in everyone who voted. I believe in an honest Lithuania.”
Grybauskaite’s vocal stance against Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has struck a chord in Lithuania, which, like the other former Soviet Baltic states has been on edge since Moscow seized Crimea, saying it needed to protect Russian speakers there.
Concerns have grown that the Kremlin may try to destabilise the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which have small military forces and Russian-speaking minorities.
Grybauskaite has supported moving Lithuania away from energy dependence on Russia – which she described as an “existential threat” to the small republic.
Lithuania is constructing a liquefied natural gas terminal called “Independence” in the port city of Klaipeda to provide an alternative to Russian gas.
The 58-year-old president, who has a black belt in karate, held consistently high ratings throughout her first five-year
term and had been touted for a senior EU job in Brussels before she announced her candidacy for re-election.
“People in Lithuania like her style, the outwardly projected toughness, resoluteness, her willingness to subject any minister to a talk-down,” said Kestutis Girnius, associate professor at the Vilnius Institute of International Relations and Political Science.
The presidency holds considerable power in Lithuania.
Grybauskaite appoints government ministers, as well as judges, the head of the central bank and the Lithuanian member of the European Commission, although she needs approval of the parliament or the prime minister for most of her appointments.
Formerly the finance minister and European budget commissioner, she supported the harsh austerity measures of the previous government, which included cutting pensions and the wages of public workers.
When Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius lost power at the last general election in a backlash against austerity, Grybauskaite’s approval ratings remained high.
Constitutionally in charge of foreign policy, Grybauskaite pivoted Lithuania towards the Nordic countries and away from Russia and Poland.
However, her brash style has not been without controversy.
Eyebrows were raised when she refused to attend a meeting of East European leaders in 2010 with President Barack Obama in protest against a US-Russian treaty on arms reduction which she said was harmful to central and eastern European defence.
This year, as the Ukraine crisis grew, she backtracked on her policy of cutting the defence budget and pushed for Lithuania to commit to raising spending to the NATO target of two percent of GDP by 2020.