Lithuanian election winner pledges more women in government

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Lithuania’s new government will have more women than ever, election winner Ingrida Simonyte said on Wednesday, in a bid to change traditional gender attitudes in the Baltic Sea state.

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Simonyte’s Homeland Union party, the centre-right main opposition party with roots in the 1980s anti-Soviet independence movement, is crafting the next government with two liberal parties, both headed by women.

The coalition won 74 seats in the 141-seat parliament on Sunday.

The country of fewer than 3 million people has fared relatively well in the coronavirus crisis, though cases have spiked of late as elsewhere around Europe. But outgoing Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis has faced criticism for failing to create more jobs and stop debt mounting.

Last year, Skvernelis presided over one of the few European male-only cabinets, something Simonyte hopes to change with having five or more females in the next 15-member lineup.

“I want to show, by example of myself and my female colleagues, that not only men can be at the top, but also women,” Simonyte told Reuters in an interview.

“A lot of our society is defined from the traditional upbringing, which tells girls to be nurses or teachers, while boys are set to become leaders and decision makers,” she added. “These things are slow to change on their own.”

Simonyte was finance minister in a previous Homeland Union government, which lost power in 2012 after one of Europe’s harshest austerity programmes, which caused a collapse in GDP of about 15% in 2009.

But she says she won’t resort to austerity if the coronavirus cripples the economy again.

“In 2009, we had our own currency, risked a devaluation and no one would lend to us, so we needed the cuts. Now we have the euro and the favourable monetary policy, and thank God for that,” she said.

Simonyte said her government will continue to work for a tougher EU response to Belarus crisis.

Lithuania gave refuge to the opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya as she fled crackdowns after the disputed Aug. 9 election which President Alexander Lukashenko said he won.

“Some European leaders say that we need to talk to the Kremlin, that Belarus is its sphere of influence. We, and Poland, see things differently,” said Simonyte.

“I don’t think that European Union sees Belarus as part of its interests. I think that it should.”

Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Nick Macfie