On Sunday, 5 February, Mr Sauli Niinistö of the centre-right National Coalition Party was elected as the 12th president of the Republic of Finland. In the final round of the elections he beat the Green Party candidate Mr Pekka Haavisto overwhelmingly with 62.6% against Haavisto’s 37.4%. The National Coalition Party now controls both the Prime Minister’s and the President’s office.
The difference of Niinistö’s result to Haavisto’s was the biggest in the history of two-round presidential elections in Finland. The three previous second rounds have always been rather tight, the biggest difference being 54% for Mr Martti Ahtisaari against 46% for Ms Elisabeth Rehn in 1994.
Niinistö has been the sovereign leader of the opinion polls throughout the six years from the previous elections, in which he lost against the current president Ms Tarja Halonen with 48% against Halonen’s 52%.
Both Sauli Niinistö and Pekka Haavisto are pro-EU politicians, which left many voters without an acceptable candidate in the second round. Mr Paavo Väyrynen of the Centre Party and Mr Timo Soini of the True Finns gathered altogether about 27% in the first round, and Paavo Arhimäki of the Left Alliance 5.5% on top of this. So the toughest nationalist and leftist EU-critics (including big constituencies in the north of Finland) were without a suitable candidate, which resulted in the all-time lowest turnout of this election system, 68.9%. For some leftists, Haavisto’s earlier stance toward the possible membership of Finland in the NATO was too moderate and suspicion remained what are his real intentions in this issue, although both Niinistö and Haavisto stated during the campaign that they oppose the Finnish membership during this mandate period.
However, one could say that Pekka Haavisto made history in many ways. His alternative to Niinistö was after all more humane, more socially concerned, more value-liberal and emancipatory and more involved in international politics in the wide sense and not only in terms of promoting the interests of the Finnish export industry. Haavisto mobilized a huge number of politically non-aligned people and even raised a significant amount of money from small donators during the second round campaign – something which has not taken place previously. Haavisto even mobilized some 20-30% of the True Finns voters behind him, which is remarkable for a person living in a registered partnership with a man of Ecuadorian origin, Mr Antonio Flores. Even Mr Flores played a visible role in Haavisto’s campaign.
The most interesting question around the elections is their general effect on Finnish politics. Has the atmosphere of intolerance now been converted into a landslide of emancipation? Can the Green Party benefit from Haavisto’s success? Will the long-time political veteran Paavo Väyrynen be able to regain the presidency of the Centre Party in the summer and turn the party into an EU-critical force once again? What will happen to the Social Democrats after the disastrous result of 6.7% for Mr Paavo Lipponen? These questions remain to be answered and the next test will be the municipal elections in October this year.