Dalia Grybauskaitė born 1 March 1956) is the President of Lithuania, inaugurated on 12 July 2009 and re-elected in May 2014. She is the country’s first female President and the first President of Lithuania to be reelected for a second consecutive term.
She was Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Finance, also European Commissioner for Financial Programming and the Budget from 2004 to 2009. She is often referred to as the “Iron Lady” or the “Steel Magnolia”.
On 26 February 2009, Grybauskaitė officially announced her candidacy for the 2009 presidential election. In her declaration speech, she said:
I decided to return to Lithuania if the Lithuanian people decide I am needed there now. I think that we all long for the truth, transparency and responsibility for our country. We all want to live without fear, with confidence in ourselves, in each other, and in tomorrow. I can and I want to contribute with my experience, knowledge and skills to expel shadows from morality, politics, and economics to create a citizen-ruled Lithuania – a state of citizens. Therefore, I will run for the Lithuanian presidency.
There were three women and four men as presidential candidates. Opinion polls taken in February 2009 showed that Grybauskaitė was the undisputed leader in the race. She ran as an independent, although she was supported by the dominant Conservative Party as well as by NGOs, including Sąjūdis.
Her campaign was primarily focused on domestic issues. After years of strong economic growth, Lithuania faced a deep recession, with double-digit declines in economic indicators. The unemployment rate rose to 15.5% in March 2009, and a January street protest against the government’s response to the recession turned violent. During the campaign, Grybauskaitė stressed the need to combat the financial troubles by protecting those with the lowest incomes, simplifying the Lithuanian bureaucratic apparatus, and reviewing the government’s investment programme. She also promised a more balanced approach in conducting foreign policy, the primary constitutional role of the Lithuanian presidency.
The election was held on 17 May 2009. Grybauskaitė won in a landslide, receiving 69,1% of the valid vote. The 51.6% turnout was just above the threshold needed to avoid a runoff election. In winning the election, Grybauskaitė became not only the first female president of Lithuania, but won by the largest margin recorded in presidential elections.
Political analysts attributed the easy victory to Grybauskaitė’s financial competence and her ability to avoid domestic scandals. The international press was quick to dub her the “Lithuanian Iron Lady” for her outspoken speech and her black belt in karate. Grybauskaitė, who speaks Lithuanian, English, Russian, French and Polish, has mentioned Margaret Thatcher and Mahatma Gandhi as her political role models.
Grybauskaitė assumed presidential duties on 12 July 2009, and accepted half of her presidential salary (312,000 litas). Her first presidential visits abroad were made to Sweden and Latvia; in April 2011, she made a state visit to Norway.
On 19 December 2013, Grybauskaitė decided to boycott the Sochi Winter Olympics together with other Western leaders, including German presidentJoachim Gauck, French president François Hollande, and the US president Barack Obama, due to Russia‘s human rights violations, attitudes and behaviour with Eastern partners and Lithuania.