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New president

July 12, 2009

Less than a week after Lithuanians celebrated one thousand years of their country's history, the Baltic state marks another historic occasion: the inauguration of its first female president.

Dalia Grybauskaite is seen during the presidential elections in May 2009
Grybauskaite won a landslide as crisis-weary voters sought relief from economic gloomImage: AP

Dalia Grybauskaite has been sworn into office at the Lithuanian parliament or Seimas on Sunday after winning a landslide election victory in May. The 53-year-old, who ran as an independent candidate, won 69 per cent of the vote.

The inauguration ceremony is to be followed by a holy mass at Vilnius cathedral, a military parade and a gala concert.

The former European Union financial planning and budgets commissioner got her new job because voters decided her EU experience and a reputation for straight talking was vital at a time when Lithuania is facing a sharp economic downturn.

Soon after her victory, Grybauskaite said her main diplomatic efforts would be towards the "development of a balanced foreign policy" and "helping to democratise the neighbourhood".

Lithuania first

Analysts say Grybauskaite is certain to get much more involved in domestic politics than her predecessor.

"I've always said that Lithuania is of first importance to me today, and I'd certainly like to start with getting things done here," Grybauskaite told the Baltic News Service this week.

"First will be a cabinet reshuffle, then, the most immediate issues facing Lithuania. As for visits, at least in the beginning, I'll go on those that prove most necessary for Lithuania,'' she said, listing her immediate priorities.

A general view of the old town of Vilnius, Lithuania
Lithuania celebrated 1,000 years of its history on June 6Image: AP

Grybauskaite has already questioned the ability of several members of Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius' cabinet. Meanwhile, a decision to send Finance Minister Algirdas Semeta to Brussels as her replacement in the European Commission is being widely seen as a way of moving him out of the new president's firing line.

Prime Minister Kubilius and Grybauskaite have an informal alliance. Kubilius backed her candidacy even though she is officially an independent with no party affiliation. However, it remains to be seen how well the two leaders can work together.

Economic challenges

Grybauskaite takes office at a time when Lithuania is struggling to cope with the global economic downturn. Unemployment stands at over 15 percent, one of the highest in the European Union.

Following its 2004 entry into the European Union, Lithuania enjoyed the reputation of a fast-growing economic "tiger". However, the Baltic state has experienced an economic slump over the past couple of years.

In her role as a European Commission member, Grybauskaite chastised Vilnius for squandering the country's economic successes and failure to prepare for the deepening recession.

Before the May polls, she vowed to work towards stabilizing the country's financial status, saying she would pull her country of 3.34 million "out of the political and economic shadows." After her election victory, she pledged to provide tax breaks for small and medium-sized businesses, stimulate exports and absorb EU aid faster.

Esteemed predecessor

Grybauskaite takes over from 82-year-old Valdas Adamkus, who focused more on Lithuania's image abroad. Adamkus, who has completed the maximum of two terms permitted under the constitution, often appeared exasperated by political in-fighting at home.

He earned the respect of Lithuanians for restoring credibility to the presidency after his predecessor, Rolandas Paksas, became the first European president to be impeached over his shady business links.


Editor: Nick Amies

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