Lithuania president-elect vows to fight recession
The European Union's budget chief will become Lithuania's first female president following a landslide victory in a vote overshadowed by the Baltic country's ailing economy, preliminary results showed Monday.
Dalia Grybauskaite pledged Monday to help Lithuania's crumbling economy and said adopting the euro could be possible during her five-year term.
The independent won nearly 70 per cent of the vote in a presidential election Sunday overshadowed by the nation's deep recession, official results showed.
In a news conference Monday, Grybauskaite said she would consider replacing up to five ministers in Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius' centre-right cabinet after she takes office on July 12.
"They have underestimated the real scale of recession," she said. "The budget was way too optimistic and needs to be revised in nearest time. We must save money."
To lead by example, Grybauskaite, 53, said she would only take half of her presidential salary of 312,000 litas ($120,000 U.S.) a year.
EU statistics last week showed Lithuania's economy plummeted nearly 10 per cent in the first quarter of 2009 compared with the previous three months. Unemployment in March was 15.5 per cent, up from 4.3 per cent a year earlier.
That leaves Lithuania, along with Baltic neighbours Estonia and Latvia, among Europe's worst performers in the economic downturn.
Still, Grybauskaite said Lithuania, which joined the EU in 2004, should be able to adopt the bloc's common currency — a long-standing goal — between 2012 and 2015.
"This period seems very feasible to me," she said.
Though the president has limited powers to steer the economy, Grybauskaite's background as EU budget commissioner and former Lithuanian finance minister was seen as a major advantage.
Grybauskaite said she won't seek to replace the prime minister but indicated she was not impressed by the ministers of finance, social welfare, health, economy and energy.
"These are key sectors and we need the best professionals available to handle that," she said. "Those five ministers are the first I'd like to meet and hear their ideas on this situation."
Spurred by street violence
The second-placed finisher was Social Democrat lawmaker Algirdas Butkevicius, with 11 per cent, while the other five candidates all received less than seven per cent.
Grybauskaite was to head to Brussels on Monday to start procedures for her resignation from the European Commission, a job she has held for five years.
She decided to run for president after a rock-throwing mob attacked parliament in January amid public outrage over the government's handling of the recession. It was the worst street violence Lithuania had seen since it regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Lithuanian women have been prime minister before, but never president. Currently only two women hold that office in the European Union: Ireland's Mary McAleese and Tarja Halonen of Finland, where women also hold 12 of the 20 cabinet posts.
German chancellor Angela Merkel is the only woman to head a government in the 27-nation bloc.
Grybauskaite will succeed President Valdas Adamkus, who is stepping down after serving a second five-year term.