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Finland - Presidential Election

Tarja Halonen is re-elected president of the Republic of Finland

Tarja Halonen is re-elected president of the Republic of Finland

30/01/2006 - Results - 2nd round

It was without any real surprise but after a rather difficult and closer run campaign than originally forecast by the polls that Tarja Halonen (Social Democrat Party, SDP) won the second round of the presidential election. The outgoing President won 51.8% of the vote versus 48.2% for her rival Sauli Niinistö, the National Coalition Party (KOK) candidate. This result was almost the same as the one achieved in the second round of the previous presidential election on 6th February 2000 when Tarja Halonen won with 51.61% of the vote versus 48.37% for her rival Esko Aho (Centre Party, KESK).

The participation rate, 77.2% was high but three points less than six years ago. One voter in three (34.9%) chose to vote early. People having chosen to vote like this were greater in number than the rest of the electorate to vote in favour of the outgoing President: 53.9% of them voted for her versus 46.1% for Sauli Niinistö.

Tarja Halonen, who originates from a modest family and brought up by her mother, a home-help in the popular part of Kallio was the first in her family to obtain her 'A' levels. A trained jurist she first worked for the Finnish Trade Union Confederation (SAK) and was then secretary general of the Finnish Students Association between 1969 and 1970, before being appointed to the Prime Minister's secretariat in 1974 and entering the town council of Helsinki, the capital in 1977 where she held office until 1996. She was elected MP in 1979 and took charge of several ministerial portfolios (Social Affairs and Health, Justice, Nordic Co-operation and Equality of the Sexes etc...) She was also the first woman to lead Finnish diplomacy from1995 to 2000.

Sixty-two year old Tarja Halonen who is qualified as an honest, reliable and competent woman, close to her fellow citizens by most of her countrymen, is the most popular President since the country's independence since 1917; her popularity rating lay at 94% in 2004, a unique result in Finland's history and it was still around 70% in 2005. A single mother, Tarja Halonen insisted on declaring in public in 2000 that she was no longer a member of the Lutheran Church and that she had been living maritally for fourteen years. Since then the President married her partner Pentti Arajävi, a doctor of law at the University of Joensuu. Her humanity and ability to understand the daily problems the Finnish have to face are quite often quoted as being her two greatest qualities. The President is also respected by the Finnish for the number of commitments she has made in defence of the poorest such as minorities and for greater solidarity.

During her second term in office Tarja Halonen succeeded in asserting herself in the international arena. Although as required by the Constitution, she did not involve herself in domestic affairs; she did however (and each time she had the opportunity) recall the importance – in her view – of the Welfare State, the defence of the poorest , of cultural diversity and of tolerance.

She, who defines herself as the "President of all the Finnish" focussed her electoral campaign equal opportunities, fairer globalisation and the defence of the Welfare State. Political analysts believe that she did however appear to be slightly confused easily annoyed, and even aggressive and arrogant on several occasions over the last few weeks – perhaps because she was over confident of her victory.

"Six years ago I was the first woman President of the Republic this time I am the first woman President to be e-elected," declared Tarja Halonen when the results were announced adding, "it's back to work on Monday." The President congratulated her adversary admitting that it had been more difficult to beat him than she had originally planned. "Thank you for having made this election a real competition," she said to Sauli Niinistö. "Thank you for having made it a battle," he replied.

In spite of a good recovery over the final weeks of the campaign 57 year-old Saulo Niinistö did fail in his attempt to become the first Conservative President since 1956. The Liberal candidate soon admitted defeat. "It is time to congratulate Tarja Halonen unreservedly and wish her a successful six years in office," he declared on the announcement of the first results. "The man has lost," he stressed kissing the President's hand adding, "The Grand Victor is along with Tarja Halonen, Finnish Democracy."

Like Esko Aho (Centre Party, KESK) six years ago, Sauli Niinistö failed to rally all of the country's Liberal forces to his name. Speaking between rounds Claus Stolpe, political expert at the University of Vasa said, "Electoral arithmetic is intransigent: to win Sauli Niinistö needs 25 points more than in the first round i.e. 90% of the vote of the other candidates." The regions in which the Centre Party has its biggest influence were amongst those with the greatest rate of abstention in the second round.

The candidate for the Conservative Union was however courageous enough to venture into the outgoing President's territory (Welfare State, employment, social); he accused her of paying more attention to international problems than to those of the Finnish. The self-proclaimed "President of the Workers" tried to eat into Tarja Halonen's electorate and succeeded in becoming a real alternative to the outgoing President as proven by his first round result when he won a greater number of votes than traditionally won by his party in the general elections.

His stance on NATO – Sauli Niinistö is in favour of Finland joining the Atlantic Alliance whilst more than half of the Finnish are against it – seems to be the point which mainly prevented him from winning against Tarja Halonen. Sauli Niinistö's good result does however place the Conservative Union in a strong position just over one year from the general elections.

The re-election of the President coincided with the 100th anniversary Finnish women acquiring the right to vote and to stand for election; they were the first to have won this right in Europe. Even today Finland is the second country in the EU behind Sweden (and fourth in the world) in terms of the number of women represented in political instances (37.5% of women in the Eduskunta/Riksdag, Finnish Parliament).

Tarja Halonen will officially start her second mandate on 1st March next. In the second half of 2006 she will, along with Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (KESK), ensure the Presidency of the European Union.

Results of the 2nd round of the presidential election 29th January 2006 in Finland

Participation rate: 77.2%

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