VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) – Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite took a big step Sunday toward winning re-election, dominating the first round of voting in the Baltic country’s sixth presidential ballot since it regained independence in 1991.
Lithuania’s election commission said Grybauskaite, a former European Union budget commissioner, had about 45 percent of the vote in the election with 95 percent of the ballots counted.
The preliminary results mean she will likely face Zigmantas Balcytis of the center-left social democrats in a runoff to be held along with European Parliament elections on May 25.
Balcytis had 14 percent, just over one percentage point more than Labor lawmaker Arturas Paulauskas, according to the preliminary results early Monday.
Grybauskaite has been a vocal critic of Russia’s actions on Ukraine, boosting her popularity in a country controlled by Moscow during the Cold War.
The 58-year-old karate black belt was so far ahead in pre-election surveys that the main question heading into the vote was whether she would clinch re-election in the first round.
To do that, she would have needed to win an absolute majority of the vote. Six other candidates were competing in the race.
Grybauskaite is an economist who was educated both in the Soviet Union and the United States. She became Lithuania’s first female president when she was elected in 2009.
Although she is running as an independent, she has the backing of Lithuania’s center-right parties.
Her approval ratings have risen recently after her strongly worded rejection of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and her staunch support for boosting NATO forces in Lithuania, which joined the alliance in 2004.
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