Vilnius: Lithuania`s incumbent "Iron Lady" Dalia Grybauskaite emerged as the clear leader in presidential polls marked by her hard line against a resurgent Russia amid the Ukraine crisis, but a first round victory appeared beyond reach.
Partial results showed she scored 45 per cent support with 40 per cent of the vote counted yesterday, while her nearest rival, Social Democrat MEP Zigmantas Balcytis, took 14.2 per cent, making a May 25 runoff between the two appear likely.
Grybauskaite topped the poll as many see her as their best chance to fend off unwanted Russian advances amid Europe`s worst standoff with Moscow since the Cold War.
The 58-year-old had vowed ahead of the vote to "take a gun myself to defend the country if that`s what`s needed for national security".
By contrast, the 60-year-old Balcytis has taken a decidedly more cautious approach on Russia and focused on bread and butter social issues instead.
"I have a vision and ideas about what to do so that people have jobs and are earning," Balcytis, who had previously served as transport and finance minister ,told reporters as results rolled in.
A candidate must obtain half of the votes cast with a turnout of at least 50 per cent to win in the first round, a feat that Grybauskaite -- a black belt in karate nicknamed the "Iron Lady" for her Thatcheresque resolve -- easily pulled off in 2009.
Election commission chief Zenonas Vaigauskas said after polling stations closed yesterday that turnout was upwards of 53 per cent of the country`s 2.5 million registered voters.
"President Grybauskaite managed to present herself as the politician who is best positioned to defend Lithuania," Vilnius University analyst Kestutis Girnius told AFP.
Five other challengers also ran, but many scored single digit results.
"The Lithuania of tomorrow depends on the decision every Lithuanian citizen makes today," Grybauskaite said as she cast her ballot in the capital Vilnius.
The election comes as Russia`s annexation of Ukraine`s former Crimean peninsula and sabre-rattling in the neighbouring Russian exclave of Kaliningrad have sparked deep-seated fears in Lithuania, a country of three million.
Elvyra Vaicaityte, a student in a border town, is spooked by rumblings of military might in Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Lithuania and fellow NATO member Poland.