Finland’s main governing party, the National Coalition Party, has claimed the presidency for the first time in more than 50 years after Sauli Niinistö defeated the Green candidate Pekka Haavisto in the second round of voting. Niinistö received 63% of the vote and will replace the Social Democrat Tarja Kaarina Halonen, Finland’s first female President, who has reached the end of her maximum two six-year terms.
The result strengthens the power of the National Coalition Party and marks the first time that Finland has been ruled by both a conservative President and a Prime Minister at the same time. In response to the results, Niinistö said:
“The president in Finland has to understand that there are many different thoughts and opinions and that they must be taken into account so that he could be the president of the whole nation”.
Niinistö failed to win a majority of the votes in the first round of the election, receiving 37%. This triggered a second round with the runner up, Haavisto, who had received 19% initially. It was the first time that the Green party had reached the second round of a Presidential election, with their previous best performance of fourth in the 2006 with just 3.5%. Haavisto was also the first openly gay candidate to run for President in Finland, although this didn’t seem to play a large factor in the Presidential debates.
Significantly, both candidates supported continued membership to the Eurozone in an election dominated by Finland’s role in Europe, whilst the Eurosceptic party the True Finns were unable to build on their success in last year’s parliamentary elections. In those elections they managed to received 19% of the vote and 39 seats in the parliament forcing a six-party coalition to be put together to exclude them and the previous rulers, the Centre Party. In this presidential election however, their candidate and party leader Timo Soini finished fourth and received just 9.4% of the vote. The Centre Party’s Paavo Väyrynen managed to rebuild some of their support following disappointing parliamentary results last year with 17.5% of the vote and third place in the first round and the former Social Democrat Prime Minister, Paavo Lipponen, finished a disappointing sixth with 6.7%.
Niinistö, who is a former finance minister and speaker of the Finnish parliament, will assume office on 1st March 2012 and will be the 12th Finnish President since the country became independent from Russia in 1917.