VILNIUS (AFP) ― Lithuania’s “Iron Lady” Dalia Grybauskaite won an unprecedented second term Sunday in a presidential runoff held amid widespread apprehension over a resurgent Russia.
Many here who remember Soviet times see the karate black belt ― who is nicknamed for her Thatcher-esque toughness ― as their best choice to steer the country through Europe’s worst standoff with Moscow since the Cold War.
“No president has been elected twice in a row in Lithuania,” she said as official results showed her capturing 58 percent support in the runoff against leftist rival Zigmantas Balcytis.
|Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite (AFP-Yonhap)|
“It will be a historic victory for all of you,” she said, with over 80 percent of the vote counted.
“Amid an increasing sense of insecurity and uncertainty, a majority of voters have a chosen reliable and tested person,” Vilnius University analyst Tomas Janeliunas told AFP as the results rolled in.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea and saber-rattling in its Kaliningrad exclave have sparked palpable fear in neighboring Lithuania, a country of 3 million people.
Remigijus Paplauskas, a prison warden who lives near Kaliningrad, worries that Moscow could try to destabilize the Baltic states, which shook off five decades under the Soviet yoke in 1990-91 before joining NATO and the EU in 2004.
“My 90-year-old aunt, whom the Soviets deported to Siberia believes something bad will happen,” he told AFP, reflecting the widespread apprehension in the region.
Grybauskaite ― a 58-year-old former EU budget chief who ran as an independent ― focused primarily on national security in her bid for a second term.
She urged and then welcomed the arrival of American troops last month as NATO stepped up its Baltic presence.
She also vowed to “take a gun myself to defend the country if that’s what’s needed for national security”.
Russia “has chosen confrontation, aggression and a review of post-war peace structure, and we must react,” she said ahead of the vote.
“Grybauskaite is the only one seriously prepared for the presidency,” Vilnius civil servant Jurate Kiserauske told AFP as she emerged from a polling station.
“She has a clear position, opinion and morality. Balcytis has no backbone.
And now, when we see strong winds blowing from Russia, it’s worrying.”