CORRECTED:  Independent set to win Lithuania presidential vote

(Corrects name in first reference)

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Dalia Grybauskaite, the European Union's budget chief who is standing as an independent candidate in Lithuania's presidential election, was set to win the first round of voting on Sunday, an exit poll showed.

Lithuanians cast their ballots at a time of deep economic recession and disenchantment with politicians and Grybauskaite, 53, a former finance minister, looked to be on course to take 67.8 percent of the vote.

Seen as a tough-talking, competent leader and someone outside party politics with its scandals and corruption allegations, her campaign has touched a cord with voters.

The president have influence over economic policies, including the right to veto budget laws, but presidential executive powers are limited to foreign and defence policies in conjunction with the government.

Her closest rival, Algirdas Butkevicius, the leader of the Social Democrat party, was projected to win 11.8 percent, the Baltic news agency BNS said citing the exit poll by the RAIT survey agency after the polling stations closed at 8 p.m. (6 p.m. British time).

There were seven candidates running for the top job and to win in the first round a candidate must gain 50 percent of the votes with at least 50 percent of the 2.7 million voters taking part.

If turnout is below 50 percent, a candidate needs backing from a third of all eligible voters.

The turnout by 7 p.m. was 44.28 percent, and some 5.12 percent of voters cast their votes during three days of preliminary voting, the chief electoral commission said on its web site.

"We are very close to 50 percent threshold," Zenonas Vaigauskas, the head of the commission, told the state television.

The first projections of official results are due at about 10 p.m. (8 p.m. British time) on Sunday.

(Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis; Editing by Matthew Jones)

Article Published: 17/05/2009