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Finland - Presidential Election

The presidential election in Finland, 15th and 29th January 2006

The presidential election in Finland, 15th and 29th January 2006

12/12/2005 - Analysis - 1st round

On 15th January 2006 the finnish will be called to vote in the first round of the presidential election. This takes place very six years on the third sunday in January and since 1994 has been by direct universal suffrage in two rounds.

Tarja Halonen (social democrat party, SDP) is the second president to have been appointed in this way after Martti Ahtisaari (sdp) eleven years ago. in 1988 president Mauno Koivisto (SDP) was elected according to a system that mixed universal suffrage and election by an electoral college. Before this date the head of the finnish state was appointed by parliament (in 1919 and 1946) or by a college of grand electors. On 15th January next if none of the eight candidates standing achieves an absolute majority of the votes cast a second round will be organised on 29th January next.

The new constitution, adopted in 2000, limited the powers of the president of the republic of Finland. The latter is still however the commander in chief of the armed forces and heads the country's foreign and security policy in collaboration with the government and no longer alone as before. We should note that it is customary in Finland for the president of the republic to hand in, if necessary, the membership card of his political party for the duration of his time in office.

Candidates must be born finnish citizens and be appointed candidate by a political party or a group rallying a minimum of twenty thousand voters. If there is only one person standing for the presidential position the election does not take place and the single candidate is elected automatically as head of state. The head of state, who cannot undertake more than two consecutive mandates, assumes office on the first day of the month following his election.

Eight personalities are standing for president of the republic of Finland:

- Tarja Halonen, outgoing president elected on 6th February 2000 with 51.6% votes against esko aho (centre party, kesk) and candidate of the social democrat party (sdp);

- Sauli Niinistö, candidate for the national coalition party (kok) of which he was formerly the chairman. former finance minister (1996-2003), he is one of eight vice-presidents of the european investment bank (eib) based in luxembourg;

- Matti Vanhanen, prime minister in office at the head of the government coalition that rallies the centre party, the social democrat party for the swedish people (SKP). he was appointed unanimously as candidate for the presidential election by his party;

- Heidi Hautala, the green candidate (VIHR);

- Bjarne Kallis, candidate for the centre christian democrats (SKL);

- Timo Soini, candidate and leader of the extreme rightwing party, the real finnish (VP)

- Arto Lahti, independent candidate.

An appraisal of Tarja Halonen's term in office (2000-2005)

Qualified as honest, competent and kind by a great majority of her countrymen, Tarja Halonen, the first woman to be elected as head of state in Finland, is the most popular president since the country's independence in 1917.

71% of those interviewed said that they were "satisfied" with their president's work. Former social affairs, healthcare, foreign affairs and justice minister (Tarja Halonen is the woman who served the longest as minister) the president has succeeded in maintaining her image of an ordinary woman, close to her fellow finns. Hence at the jazz festival in pori in 2003 she did not hesitate in dancing on the stage with james brown to his song "sex machine". A single mother, Tarja Halonen brought her daughter, now aged 26, up alone. Before her election as head of state she insisted on declaring publicly that she was no longer a member of the lutheran church and that she had been living with her partner for the last fourteen years. Since then the president has married her partner, Pentti Arajävi, a doctor in law at the university of Joensuu. Her humanity and ability to understand the daily problems that the finnish have to face are very often quoted as two of her greatest qualities. The president is also respected by the finnish for her numerous commitments in favour of the defence of the poorest and of greater solidarity. In the 1970's Tarja Halonen chaired the seta for example, an organisation fighting for the defence of the rights of homosexuals.

During her term in office the president of the republic of Finland has asserted herself in the international arena, notably by attending a number of european councils and during her official visits outside of Finland. In September 2000 in new york she also chaired with the president of Namibia, Sam Nujoma président, the millennium summit dedicated to the future and role of the un in the 21st century. From 2002-2004 she led, along with the president of Tanzania, Benjamin William Mkapa, a world commission on the social dimension of globalisation created on the initiative of the director general of the international labour organisation (ilo), Juan Somavia. Finally, Tarja Halonen is the originator of what is to become the consultative assembly of the 12 million gypsies european wide, the rom and travellers' forum launched in December 2004 by the council of europe with a view to "ensuring the effective exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms by the roms and travellers, to prevent all kinds of racism and discrimination against them and to take forwards their integration in the countries where they live." The forum will hold its first session on 13th, 14th, 15th December in Strasbourg rallying gypsy representatives from 42 member states of the council of Europe.

However and as dictated by the constitution the president has not interfered in internal affairs but has pointed out whenever she had the chance of the importance, in her opinion, of the welfare state, the defence of the poorest, cultural diversity and tolerance. She is standing for re-election and is supported by the left alliance (vas), a party that is however critical of the policy undertaken by the social democrat party. Justifying its support of Tarja Halonen the party's president, suvi-anne siimes, said that it was good that Finland had a woman leading it and that Tarja Halonen had succeeded during her mandate to widen the foreign policy agenda and the concept of the security policy by highlighting human rights, the civil management of crises and international justice. Tarja Halonen also enjoys the support of the central organisation of finnish unions (sak).

The candidates

The liberal forces did not manage to come to an agreement on a joint candidate in the first round. The national coalition party appointed Sauli Niinistö and the centre party the prime minister Matti Vanhanen. Due to his european activities, Sauli Niinistö has for several years been on the sidelines of national politics. The conservative candidate made it to the front pages of the newspapers at the end of last year during his holiday in thailand where by hanging on to an electricity pole he survived the tsunami that wreaked destruction in part of south east asia. Sauli Niinistö then criticised the slowness with which his country's authorities had reacted to the news that revealed the great number of finnish victims taken by the tidal wave. the national coalition party candidate who is standing as the "president of the workers", is believed by the press and political analysts to have been particularly effective during the televised debate that took place on 7th December last when the eight candidates standing for the supreme office were brought together for the first time. The first televised debate of the presidential campaign took place on 20th November on mtv3 when the three main candidates, Tarja Halonen, Matti Vanhanen and Sauli Niinistö met for questions on the part of Jorma Ollila, the CEO of Nokia. During this programme the president highlighted the need for co-operation, the prime minister declared that he wanted to become a spiritual and reformist head of state and the national coalition party candidate said that he wanted to "wake the finnish up." according to the opinion polls the television is the media in Finland that "makes" the election. During the last presidential election on 16th January and 6th February 2000 nearly half of the population (46%) said that they had made their choice after having listened to the candidates during televised debates.

Outdistanced in all the opinion polls by Sauli Niinistö, Matti Vanhanen is in a difficult position. in addition to this and as prime minister he has to work on an almost daily basis with the president of the republic whom he is standing against in the election. both of the liberal candidates have said that they are in favour of a decrease in taxation whilst Tarja Halonen has pointed to the requirements in terms of education, healthcare and public services which must absolutely receive adequate resources, which is not the case at present. the president has promised that during her second mandate she will continue to work more efficiently, defend the welfare state and dedicate herself to the foreign policy and security. she has described herself as being "slightly more experienced, professional, familiar with the task and more accustomed to matters in the best sense of the term," than six years ago.

The presidential campaign

As is often the case in Finland the question of the country joining NATO has arisen during the electoral campaign. all opinion polls show that most of the population is very much attached to the country's neutrality (the official doctrine in Finland is one of military non-alliance in times of peace and neutrality when there is war). According to a survey undertaken by suomen gallup and published in November by helsingin sanomat, 55% of the finnish say they are against their country joining NATO, versus 26% who are in favour. However in a poll undertaken in October last for television nearly half of those interviewed (49%) said they might support their country's integration of NATO if the president of the republic and the prime minister requested it and justified their decision with sound arguments. The number of finnish in favour of their country joining NATO has increased by 5 points in a year and a half. Women and those living in rural areas, employees and young people under 25, students and the unemployed are more against integration. Politically the members of the national coalition party are the only ones where a majority says that it is in favour of Finland joining the atlantic alliance (51%), the members of the left alliance are the most opposed to it.

The fact that finnish soldiers might be sent anywhere on the planet to fight comprises the main argument of those against NATO integration (74%). Many of those against it also believe that Finland's security is sufficiently guaranteed by the european union or that membership of the atlantic alliance would increase military expenditure and that it would lead to deterioration in Finland's relations with its russian neighbour. Those in favour of the country's integration into NATO emphasise the fact that it would be preferable not to wait for a crisis to happen to join and stress the fact that finnish soldiers are already taking part in peacekeeping assignments under NATO command.

Nevertheless the finnish should not be called upon immediately to decide on the question of their country's membership of NATO. Tarja Halonen believes that Finland's security policy must continue to be based on popular approval: "In a democracy a credible security policy is based on the support of the people. The present policy enjoys this and this must continue in the future," she declared last year during her new year's greetings to the population.

The powers of the president of the republic and their possible modification comprises one of the main themes of the present presidential campaign and this whilst the government and parliament had committed themselves not to modify the constitution and that the two main government parties, the social democrat party and the centre party decided not to interfere with the powers of the head of state. However Finland must recruit and train soldiers who will participate in the eu's tactical groups who will be on alert as from January 2007. On 1st December last prime minister Matti Vanhanen announced that the government was going to put forward a modification in the fundamental law comprising the addition of an article stipulating that Finland's participation in a military crisis management operation was the responsibility of the president of the republic. Any modification of the fundamental law in Finland requires a simple majority vote on the part of the parliament followed by a vote of confirmation by a two-thirds majority of the members. The issue will however not be examined until the next general elections in the spring of 2007. If the country was to take part in an operation at the very start of 2007 i.e. before the vote on the modification of the constitution the government would have to resort to an "emergency law" to decide on the dispatch of finnish troops, a law that would then have to be adopted by a five-sixths majority of the members of parliament.

According to the latest polls undertaken by suomen gallup and published on 3rd December in the daily helsingin sanomat, Tarja Halonen's audience credited with 52% of intentions to vote has decreased (less than five points in comparison with October). Sauli Niinistö, whose electorate is mostly in the south of the country is due to win 24% of the vote (+4 points) and prime minister Matti Vanhanen would win 18% (+3 points), mainly in the north and east of Finland. Green candidate Heidi Hautala is credited with 3% of the intentions to vote, bjarne kallis, henrik lax and timo soini are due to win 1% each. Two thirds of the finnish (65%) say they will certainly vote on 15th January next during the first found of the presidential election.

The outgoing president has the particular support of women (62%, versus 72% however in October), the under 25's (64%) and the over 64's (51%). Her electorate easily rises above the total number of social democrat supporters. According to all polls during a second round Tarja Halonen would win in all events with around 70% of the vote in the face of Sauli Niinistö or Matti Vanhanen. However a duel, which is improbable at present, between the two liberal candidates would be much closer run and would, according to the polls, witness the victory of the present prime minister with 51% of the vote versus 49% for his adversary from the national coalition party.

Results of the first round of the presidential election on 16th January 2000 in Finland

source Helsingin Sanomat

Results of the second round of the presidential election on 6th February 2000 in Finland

source Helsingin Sanomat
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
Other stages
2nd roundD-7